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Dave Carlson

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A True Gem to the Industry!

Dave Carlson’s career has spanned 56 years… and counting. His incredibly rich professional history is as diverse as it is long, covering a multitude of corrugated specialties including factory building and supervision; machinery relocation and installation; plant management; technical services on corrugators, starch adhesive systems, and converting machinery; corrugated testing protocols; Statistical Process Control (SPC); quality management systems; ISO 9000; ECT and box compression theory; containerboard properties; freight regulations; hazardous materials packaging; and more.

Carlson’s technical accomplishments are wide-ranging as well. He has written guidelines used by TAPPI, the Fibre Box Association, and the Uniform Code Council for direct printing of bar codes on corrugated. He was also instrumental in developing TAPPI’s SPC video training series and has taught TAPPI’s SPC education course. In addition, from 1997 through 2019, Carlson was on the Editorial Board of TAPPI Journal (TJ), marshalling the peer review of new corrugated-area research.

Carlson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA, both from Northwestern University. His career began in 1964 as an engineer at Container Corporation of America (CCA) where he remained until 1973. He subsequently worked at Hoerner Waldorf as an engineer and was also manager of Quality Assurance, first at Champion International and then at Stone Container Corporation and still later as director of Quality Assurance at Smurfit Stone. The years from 1973 to 2007 involved a series of roles and company name changes, as the industry evolved through mergers and acquisitions. After his retirement in 2007, Carlson began consulting for the Fibre Box Association (FBA) as technical and environmental manager. He continued in that role until 2017, when he retired again. Dave Carlson has been a TAPPI Member since 1978; his continued contribution to TAPPI has been incredible

“I have enjoyed participating! One of the pleasures of longevity is giving back to the industry. I learned so much from my experience at TAPPI.” – Dave Carlson

1. What sparked your interest in Standards?

When I first joined the industry working for the CCA, I helped build part of two corrugated box manufacturing facilities and served as a production manager. Ten years later, working for Hoerner Waldorf’s Technical Service Group, I became a member of TAPPI and its Corrugated Packaging Division and got involved in Standards as knowledge of them was a part of my job.

2. Is there any particular review that has impacted you? Please tell us about your experience.

The Standard reviews that impacted me most are the ones I served on as Working Group Chair (WGC). As WGC, the involvement in a review depends on the number of items participants want to change and on how the test method is written. Whether it’s a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) / ISO TC 6 Committee or a Standard-Specific Interest Group (SSIG), resolving conflicting desires and helping participants reach a consensus (that all are happy with), is important and rewarding. Twenty years ago, I was part of a group focused on revising TAPPI’s Standards Guidelines when TAPPI acquired management of the TAG to ISO TC6 Committee. It was important to develop methods that meet the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) protocols. That task was challenging, as well as rewarding.

During that time, TAPPI also organized a better working structure for Standards reviews and new Standards by having Divisions complete those activities for Standards following the ANSI approved Guidelines within their areas of technical responsibility. As part of the new Guidelines a group of technical experts called a “Standard Specific Interest Group” (SSIG) was recruited to be responsible for each TAPPI Standard. To make sure procedures were followed, another review group called the Standards Advisory Review Group (SARG), reporting to the Quality & Standards Management Committee (Q&SMC) was created. The addition of SSIGs and the SARG Committee enabled the Q&SMC to not worry about technical and procedural details for Standards development and review and to focus on “bigger picture” issues. Being a part of improving TAPPI’s Standards process was something I’ll always be proud of.

I recently volunteered to review a couple of ISO Standards as a part of my TC 6 activities, where the U.S. is the lead for this task, and a few colleagues mentioned it’s more of a challenge due to the different countries involved. However, it’s a bit easier to get your ideas across when you’re the lead, so, I’m looking forward to that.

3. How does it feel to be part of TAPPI’s and the Corrugated Container Industry’s history?

It feels good to be part of setting the processes we have today. I have enjoyed participating! One of the pleasures of longevity is giving back to the industry. That effort has been recognized through honors received from TAPPI and its Divisions: the Division Leadership and Service Award and the Division Technical Award presented by TAPPI’s Corrugated Containers Division in 1995 and 2003 respectively; TAPPI’s Corrugated Packaging Division’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010; being elected to the TAPPI Board of Directors in the late 90’s and then being named a TAPPI Fellow as a result; and receiving the Herman L. Joachim Distinguished Service Award in 2006 in recognition of dedicated service to TAPPI and the industry; and several other certificates and appreciation are honors that I am grateful to have received. I learned and gained so much from my experience at TAPPI.

4. Why do you think Standards are important? How have you used them in your field?

When we agree on a written test method and it is published, there’s reasonable assurance that others are following the same procedures, which is important. The key is having faith in their capability of duplicating results and the confidence to use the test method for reference. Surprisingly very few of our large customers have laboratory capabilities, and if there’s a serious problem they’ll work with independent labs. The importance is following TAPPI Standard procedures for whatever characteristics you’re measuring. Major companies understand that as long as you’re following the process with TAPPI Standards or ISO TC 6 Standards, you’ll obtain a result that people can believe in.

5. What would you tell industry colleagues, whether they be box makers, suppliers to our industry or box users that have never participated in Standard activities?

It depends on who you are talking with. Some may not understand the need to have uniform methodologies of measuring characteristics used in our industry. For example, when using raw materials, you want to make sure they’re correct. For suppliers, you can explain that this is what the industry uses, and there are recognized test methods to follow to assure compliance with requirements. You almost have the same message for your senior leadership. They may question the process and ask, “Why are we doing this? Why do we have a lab?” The answer is we need to have well-equipped and staffed labs, in-house, following recognized standard test methods to demonstrate to our customers that we are meeting/exceeding their specifications. The industry’s test methods have evolved over time to allow you to do that. You are now less likely to be taken advantage of by someone trying to “cook the books.” For example, if someone says they are measuring Box Compression or ECT while using Standards, all you need is a lab and access to TAPPI Standards T 804 Compression test of fiberboard shipping containers and T 826 Short span compressive strength of containerboard to proceed.

“There’s a real sense of accomplishment and pride in working towards a goal. The different people one encounters when working on different committees become an accessible list of people to call when in need of opinions for your company.” – Dave Carlson

6. Does working with Standards give you a sense of fulfillment?There’s a sense of satisfaction when working on a project and bringing it to fruition. You can look back and say, “I worked with a certain team to accomplish development of a new Standard, or we found a different way of measuring an existing characteristic”. There’s a real sense of accomplishment and pride in working towards a goal. The different people one encounters when working on different committees become an accessible list of people to call when in need of opinions for your company.  

7. Tell us a bit about yourself? (hobbies, education, and passion)

I started my life on the West Coast. My dad was transferred by General Motors to Decatur, IL where I attended Junior High and High School. I obtained both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Northwestern University. The MBA opened a lot of doors; 1964 was a great time to look for a job. You could have as many interviews as you wanted, and for me, nine-out-of-10 companies I visited made a job offer. One of those job offers allowed me to stay in Chicago. Plus, my initial project would be factory building and moving heavy machinery and those tasks seemed ideal and fun. That job was with a manufacturer of corrugated boxes. Once I started, I segued into manufactory and production, then technical service. Now here we are 56 years later.

For 31 years, I refereed youth and senior ice hockey. When I couldn’t keep up with the seven year old kids, about 15 years ago, I thought I’d better hang up the skates (laughs). Travel, my consulting work with the Fibre Box Association, and my work on Standards with TAPPI, ISO, and ASTM kept me more than busy. I have also always enjoyed my annual fishing trip to the Minnesota/Ontario border area; now going on 45 years. Home improvement has been added to my list of hobbies. Since we couldn’t spend money on traveling during the pandemic, I invested in the home we have owned since 1986. I have worked on landscaping, gardening, and house improvement projects and they have kept me occupied. My overall passion is doing it the right way.

8. If you could describe the value of TAPPI membership in one word, what would it be?

Community! A community of folks agreeable to work with.

Final words of wisdom:

After 56 years in the Corrugated Containers industry (and counting), I still enjoy it. Just like the famous Mark Twain quote, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” My father certainly passed down his work ethic mindset. If you don’t envision your goals, you’ll lose focus. You always need a plan! Knowing what you want to do in the next few years will help you wake up in the morning and charge ahead.

Interview conducted/ written by Souadou Camara
Editor in Chief: Janet LoBue

Thank you, Dave Carlson for your contribution to TAPPI!

If you would like to share your experience with Standards, TIPs or U.S. TAG to ISO TC 6, please write to and the TAPPI Standards team will be happy to interview you.

TAPPI Standards guidelines require that all TAPPI members receive notification of any proposed new Standard or TIPs. This message is being sent to you because you are a TAPPI member; have purchased TIPs or Standards products from TAPPI; or because you have previously expressed interest in this topic.


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