What Is Paper Engineering?

Mary McMahon

Paper engineering is the science behind developing paper products ranging from food wrappers to cardboard boxes. Specialists in this field study topics in forestry and biology, chemical science, and related areas so they can create paper products appropriate to a wide range of industries. Paper firms may use engineers in their research and development departments, and there are some more exotic applications for this area of expertise as well. Paper engineers may work on topics like conservation of antique documents, forensics to trace paper to a crime scene, or the invention of edible papers.

Paper pulp from recycled products might be used to make toilet paper.
Paper pulp from recycled products might be used to make toilet paper.

The science of making paper is complex. Humans have been making paper products from a variety of materials for thousands of years in numerous cultures. Paper engineering can involve the study of historic as well as modern paper production. Engineers may want to develop more efficient or environmentally friendly methods of paper manufacture, for example, using techniques like renewable sources of fiber and the addition of recycled materials. They can also work on topics like more durable paper, papers that take dyes more completely, and other issues.

A bag made of recycled paper.
A bag made of recycled paper.

This work can include evaluation of trees and other sources of raw material for pulp production to determine which provide the best source, and how they can be most effectively utilized. The next step in paper engineering involves the development of processing methods to create pulp. Engineers must consider how a product will be used and may need to think about other concerns, like the environmental impact of pulp production. They also work on finished paper products, including custom products for customers like pharmaceutical companies and publishing houses.

Careers in paper engineering can be highly variable. It is usually necessary to hold at least a bachelor's degree in biochemical engineering, paper engineering, or a related field, and some positions require advanced degrees. Researchers can work in lab and manufacturing environments on the development of products as well as quality control. Some engineers may travel to promote products and conduct research, or to meet with clients to discuss products in development.

People who want to apply paper engineering to fields like conservation, forensics, and archeology may need additional training in these fields. This work can be dynamic and may provide an opportunity to interact with people from a variety of academic backgrounds. Part of this aspect of paper engineering can include the development of nondestructive and noninvasive tools for examining and assessing samples, as destruction of a sample could be undesirable.

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