Johan Richter (1901-1997)
2009 Paper Industry International Hall of Fame Inductee
Johan Richter was born in Liar, Norway in November 1901. He received his Master of Science degree in Engineering Design and Development from the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH), in Trondheim, in 1924. As part of his degree, Richter had his first engineering assignment with the Narvik iron-ore terminal where his father also worked.
After graduation from NTH, he spent four years in France as a mechanical engineer where he met his Norwegian wife-to-be, Astri. Richter was a cross-country skier and managed to make sure that his employment was in the mountainous areas. During the week, in France, he designed turbines and pumps; the weekends were dedicated to skiing, mountain climbing and the occasional ski-jumps.
He returned to Norway from France to join Thune Workshop, Norway, working on a bleaching system for what is now StoraEnso. In 1932, he lost his job at Thune Workshop due to the worldwide depression; on every street corner in Oslo, men were out of work. His unemployment was short lived. Knud Dahl of the nearby Myrens Verksted had heard of the promising young engineer and hired Richter to head up an organization called Kamyr with the responsibility to design, develop and market new machinery that would bring badly needed orders into the workshop. Kamyr was formed in 1920 as a partnership between the two workshops Myrens Verksted (part of Norway’s Kvaerner Group) and Karlstad Mekaniska Werksted (Sweden’s Johnson Group). It lay dormant until Knud Dahl employed Johan Richter.
In late 1930s, Richter invented and developed the Continuous Bleaching Process which was so successful that there was a frenzy of new installations around pre-war Europe, including mills in Austria, Poland, Hungry, and other parts of Eastern Europe. The first installation in the U.S.A for International Paper Co. was so successful that Kamyr received all of the company’s bleach plant orders in America.
Richter also invented and developed the Continuous Cooking Process. In 1940, Kamyr built a pilot digester in Kalix, Sweden to aid its development. As it turned out, developing the bleach plant was a piece of cake compared to developing the new digester. It took 10 years before the first commercial digester was successfully installed at the Fengerfors mill in Sweden producing about 30 tons per day compared to today’s chip-hungry digesters that cook up to 2500 tpd.
Richter became CEO of Kamyr AB in 1950 and from 1959-97 he was the Chief Technical Advisor to the Kamyr Group both in Sweden and U.S.A. and continued the development until 1997.
In 1958, Richter and his wife Astri moved to France where they lived for 22 years before moving back to Oslo, Norway. By moving to France, Richter was able to work from home for Kamyr AB but spent a lot of time traveling to Karlstad, Sweden as well as Glens Falls, New York, U.S.A. He was well over 90 when he left his advisory R&D post.
In the early 1960s, Richter guided the development of continuous counter-current diffuser that replaced the rotating washers in the washing systems as well as the bleach plants resulting in huge reductions in water consumption.
Richter’s strength included extreme hunger for innovation. He did not regard innovation as one-off event, but rather a process of systematic improvement and search for new opportunities. He was also a very effective salesman. A mill manager needing technical help requested Knud Dahl of Kamyr, “whatever you do, don’t send Richter here. I will only end up buying a new machine.”
With a lifetime of systematic innovations, Johan Richter shaped a business that was – and remains – ahead of the game. His contributions revolutionized the pulping and bleaching processes that became the basis of contemporary chemical pulping and bleaching technologies.
When he was 94 years old, with 754 international patents in the field of wood pulping equipment and processes, Richter was still puzzling over possible new and improved solutions. For his contributions, he received many prestigious awards including: Knights of the Norvegian St. Olavs Order; Swedish Academy of Sciences, Gold Medal; TAPPI Gold Medal, and Doctor Honoris Causa The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm. He also was elected Honorary member of the Norvegian Academy of Engineering Scientists.
Richter died on June 13, 1997 at the age of 96.