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Seaway Printing Drives Digital and Offset OEE Gains

Seaway Printing prides itself on surfing the leading edge of technology. Based in Green Bay Wisconsin (USA), this innovative publication printing company has consistently been among the first movers with their equipment and software investments. Most recently, Seaway has acquired multiple solutions from Contiweb to optimize the performance of their inkjet and offset equipment.

In pursuit of operational excellence

Seaway’s president, Kevin Heslin is committed to continuous and measurable improvement across the company’s printing operations. Among other measures, the company tracks the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of their presses and finishing equipment. OEE is a contextual measure that considers three factors: equipment availability, performance, and quality. It’s not enough to have a machine running, it needs to be producing sellable output at target speeds.

Offset presses naturally have a lower OEE than digital presses due to make-ready tasks like loading and unloading plates, setting registration, and color calibration. Other job set up tasks such as paper changes are similar for digital and offset and become critical with both high-speed inkjet and offset presses.

Seaway approached Contiweb, a leading developer of web-handling equipment for digital and analog printing equipment, about opportunities to improve the productivity of their inkjet operation. Instead of simply recommending a piece of equipment, Contiweb became a partner in innovation driving major productivity enhancements in both Seaway’s digital and offset printing operations.

Newly expanded Seaway Printing operation in Green Bay Wisconsin
Newly expanded Seaway Printing operation in Green Bay Wisconsin (USA)

Winning back inkjet capacity

Seaway acquired their first inkjet press, an HP PageWide T250 HD, in 2021 expecting that it would take several years to reach capacity. Instead, customer demand drove the machine almost to capacity in only six months.

Ian Heslin, Vice President of Seaway Printing reported, “We were doing about five roll changes per shift, and every roll change took about 10 minutes. So, each shift that's costing me about 50 minutes” At the time, Seaway was running two to three shifts to keep up.

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Adding a Contiweb CD-N Non-Stop Unwinder with automatic splicing to the 22-inch continuous inkjet press enabled dramatic productivity improvements. Contiweb’s CD-N non-stop unwinder enables paper reel changes during production, without having to stop printing regardless of the diameter of the reels.

Contiweb CD-N non-stop unwinder with HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet press
Contiweb CD-N non-stop unwinder with HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet press

“With the Contiweb CD-N we are now doing a roll change in essentially 30 seconds,” said Heslin. “ We’re gaining, an extra hour and forty minutes every day across two shifts in production and putting more paper through the machine overall. In fact, we’re doing even more roll changes per shift without slowing down.” These productivity gains, combined with the addition of a Muller Martini SigmaLine Compact for book finishing, enabled Seaway to eliminate the third shift. Seaway was the first company in North America to invest in the SigmaLine Compact, and the first in the world to run it in combination with the Contiweb CD-N and HP PageWide T250 HD.

Unexpected offset gains

When approaching Contiweb about non-stop unwinding for inkjet, Seaway did not anticipate gaining similar improvements with their Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 8-color perfector. In fact, they thought it was impossible because this level of automation had never been done before. The “lap splice” approach used for non-stop paper changes on inkjet equipment is not appropriate for an offset environment. Heslin explains, “With offset printing because of the blankets and pressure you have a situation where the lump created by the lap splice, that is about double the paper thickness, can damage the blankets. It doesn’t help me if I save a roll change but I have to replace all eight blankets in the press.“ To avoid damaging the blankets, the spliced reels can’t have any significant overlap. Contiweb was confident that they could deliver a solution and Seaway was happy to pursue another industry first opportunity.

Contiweb worked closely with Heidelberg to deliver a solution where only the edges of the paper are spliced together instead of overlapping. The result is the Contiweb CB-N Non-Stop Unwinder integrated with the Heidelberg CutStar reel sheeter. Contiweb continuously feeds paper into the CutStar which sheets it, and then it feeds the sheets into the press in one unified process.

The CB-N is a horizontal, zero-speed compensator splicer with fully automatic splicing and an integrated web guide . CB-N allows the running web and the new web to come to a halt during the splice cycle while the press is fed from the integrated zero-speed festoon. A single sided, non-overlapping “butt splice” is created that will not damage offset blankets. The solution allows splicing over to papers of different weights, web widths, and coatings without limitations on the diameter of the reels.

Seaway is the first customer to install the solution and is anticipating an improvement of at least a 10% improvement in their OEE measurements. Equipment efficiency is not the only gain generated by the Contiweb investment. Seaway is also reaping the benefits of reduced labor requirements.

Ease of use

Experienced press operators are a valuable resource in the industry today. To Seaway, managing their human resources was as critical as optimizing their equipment.

Heslin said that with the addition of the Contiweb equipment, “The paper handling process is very intuitive and very easy for our operators. They give you multiple tools for checking alignment and making sure that everything's going together correctly.” Both the CD-N and CB-N solutions are very forgiving of variations in splice preparation allowing less experienced operators to run the equipment. Heslin jokes that the fully automated HP T250 HD is now a pretty boring machine to run. He says that a key goal of Seaway’s automation efforts was to reach a point where operators were just managing, or even “babysitting” the process. He says a key part of making that happen is limiting the number of times that the process stops. “When you get multiple machines running together, normally the hardest part is getting everything running. Once it is running things tend to be pretty stable, and it's just about keeping it going. So, if I can add Contiweb equipment and I save 10 minutes on every roll change, and the whole process never stops, once I'm running for the day, it is much easier to stay running.”

Driving results takes cooperation

Driving operational improvements in a non-stop process requires that all the equipment involved is working together in harmony. Heslin agrees, “Oftentimes when you are working toward getting machines from different manufacturers to work together, it can be difficult.”

He credits Contiweb’s strong relationships with other key players such as HP, Heidelberg, BW Paper, and Mueller Martini for creating the best possible innovation experience for Seaway and introducing valuable opportunities that they would not otherwise have considered.

Robert Bosman, Sales Director at Contiweb notes, “Many companies don’t recognize the pay-back they can achieve from adding non-stop winding to a 22-inch inkjet press. In fact, it has the potential to enable up to 30% more sellable pages in a shorter timeframe. Seaway’s dedication to doing the math on operational initiatives made them an excellent partner in pursuing peak productivity using Contiweb technology. Their partnership also helped us to bring a new, ground-breaking offset automation solution to market.”