Wisconsin Rapids Converting Facility: A Century of Innovation

Nestled in the heart of the state of Wisconsin, Billerud's Wisconsin Rapids Converting Facility boasts a rich tapestry of history, innovation, and community engagement that spans over a century. From its humble beginnings in 1894 as the Consolidated Water Power Co., the facility has evolved into a beacon of technological excellence in the paper-making industry.

Pioneering Innovations

The journey began in 1894 when a group of paper making pioneers set out to harness the potential of the Wisconsin River. The group owned water rights and property along the Wisconsin River in the twin cities of what was then called Grand Rapids and Centralia (which later merged to become Wisconsin Rapids). They embarked on a mission to consolidate their land, small-scale operations, and various waterpower initiatives into a single, strong entity. Collaboratively, they undertook the construction of a dam, intending to capture the river's power for paper mill operations and contribute any leftover electricity to the local community.

Technological Advancements

In 1904, the company achieved a groundbreaking feat by initiating the world's first electrically powered paper machines, setting a precedent for technological advancements. In the early 1900s, the production expanded to include various paper grades, ranging from newsprint and wallpaper to coated papers for magazines and catalogs. The introduction of new paper machines, coating technologies, and the acquisition of additional facilities contributed to the diversification of the product portfolio. This period also represents a significant milestone in the mill’s sustainability journey. In 1930, the mill launched a forestry program to secure a sustainable supply of wood for future use.

Life Magazine and Glossy Paper Innovation

Consolidated was ingenious when it came to inventing new ways to make paper, including being the first company to create machined enameled or glossy paper. Every time someone reads a magazine, they can thank Peter Massey, a Consolidated employee, for creating a cheaper, easier way to produce glossy paper. This innovation led to Consolidated securing an exclusive contract with Life Magazine. Starting in 1938, Life was printed solely on Consolidated paper. This significant contract warranted the construction of a dedicated building for the #15 paper machine. Consolidated continued to make improvements in enameled paper production with a blade coater and holds forty-nine patents for various inventions, ranging from machinery to coating methods.

No. 15 machine was built in 1937 and carried the motto, "Built for Life, operated for Life." This machine was constructed in less than a year. It was ordered in May 1937 and started up in February 1938.

Further Diversification and Growth

During the second half of the 1900s, the mill continued to grow and diversify its operations with new, groundbreaking machines and expansions. The converting plant facility for heavier weight coated paper was inaugurated in 1974, the same year as the Water Quality Center and Water Renewal Center were constructed. The No. 64 paper machine started producing paper for magazines and catalogs in 1979. The expansion of the No. 16 paper machine began in 1990. It started up in 1992, producing heavier weight coated printing paper for annual reports, brochures, and other items.

The Wisconsin Rapids Converting Facility was acquired by Billerud AB in 2022. Today, the mill converts rolls of graphic and converting papers made at our Michigan mills into folio and digital sheets used primarily in commercial printing and marketing applications, including magazines, catalogs, books, and labels. The converting facility encompasses approximately 470,000 square feet and includes six folio and one digital sheeter, one offline carton packing machine, an automated skid wrapping system, two nine-story automated vertical storage facilities with the capacity to store more than 34,000 tons of inventory, and an automated paper storage and transport system.

Sustainability and Community Commitment

With roots tracing back to the late 19th century, the Wisconsin Rapids Mill has been a cornerstone of the local community. From its inception and mission to harness the Wisconsin River's power, the mill has evolved into a major employer, employing approximately 915 people. Together with our employees, the Wisconsin Rapids Mill supports a wide range of community organizations and events with a focus on education, sustainability and local health and human service needs. The mill donated $12,000 to the local community in 2022, with strong community participation driven by our employees who generously contribute their time and talent to volunteering both individually and in various company-sponsored efforts to enhance the quality of life in Wisconsin Rapids and the surrounding area.

Turning cartonboard sheets into rolls.