Sappi Fine Paper Finds Success by Going Lean
WESTBROOK, ME - About a year ago, John Martis, managing director of the Sappi Fine Paper North America mill in Westbrook, decided he wanted to improve his mill’s service and competitiveness.
“I realized we needed to do something to reduce our lead time, get our processed waste under control and reduce our high level of inventory in order to successfully compete,” Martis said.
That’s when Martis turned to the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) for help. “I got acquainted with MEP while with a company in Massachusetts,” Martis said, “and I realized MEP’s lean manufacturing tools, training and practices would address the situation I was facing here in Maine.”
“Sappi Fine Paper wanted to improve its ability to meet on-time delivery requirements,” said Rod Rodrigue, president of the Maine MEP. “By utilizing lean practices, the Maine MEP project managers were able to get the situation under control and assist the company in its goals to improve on-time delivery and ultimately increase sales.”
Rodrigue said assisting Sappi was an especially gratifying feeling for all those at Maine MEP. “Many people think our techniques work only with small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies,” he said, “but Sappi has 500 employees in Westbrook and the lean manufacturing practices proved just as valid for a company of that size.”
Martis agreed. “I knew Sappi could improve service by using lean tools without having to invest any capital,” he said. “So far, we are making good progress. Our changeover times have improved, as has our workplace organization and housekeeping.”
In addition, Sappi’s management team now understands and speaks the language of lean manufacturing. “We began by taking a quiet stroll through the lean process,” Martis said, “and now we are ready to sprint.”
Best of all, Martis added, the employees at Sappi understand the basis of lean manufacturing and are realizing almost instant gratification when they practice lean and implement change. “When the hourly workers do the work, they see the results,” said Martis. “That has really made a difference.”
Sappi Fine Paper North America is the pre-eminent manufacturer of coated fine paper in North America and produces such well-known brands as McCoy, Strobe, Lustro, and Vintage. Its papers are used in magazines, catalogs, annual reports, books, and high-end advertising. Sappi also makes release paper used to simulate patterns for artificial leather, paneling, and flooring products, as well as superior paper for pet food bag printing. The company is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, with four paper mills located in Skowhegan and Westbrook, Maine; Muskegon, Michigan; and Cloquet, Minnesota. Sappi Fine Paper North America is a division of the global company, Sappi Limited, the world’s largest producer of coated fine paper.
The Westbrook mill has been in existence since 1854 and is the oldest continuously operating mill in North America.
Martis said dealing with Maine MEP has definitely made a difference. “The MEP is continuously exposed to lean practices and, as a group, the project managers bring extensive experience in a variety of different industries,” Martis said. “They understand the team process and how to move it forward.”
In Sappi’s case, Maine MEP first delivered a Time Wise 101 Lean Introductory Principles course to a cross-section of upper management and supervisors. The class provided a common language for the company to use in implementing lean manufacturing in its work place.
The team was then led through very specific lean training that had direct application to Sappi manufacturing issues. These included set-up reduction training (SMED), a video analysis of existing set-up practices, task break down and time elements, spaghetti diagramming, equipment and tool inventory and location, and other lean tools.
The video task analysis led to moving internal tasks to external, eliminating non-added value activities, compiling a needed-tool list and location for set-up and a sequence script for set-up personnel. After implementation of recommendations, the process was again videotaped and analyzed for improvement.
For Martis, the proof was in the numbers. “As a result of the assistance provided by Maine MEP, the mill has experienced significant improvements in set up reduction times for one coater and for the embossers,” he said.
Sappi has every intention of continuing to improve the process, Martis pointed out, since significant reductions will lead to additional hours of production each year or allow for additional change-overs to provide a more flexible product mix to its customers.
“Additionally, from the perspective of our employees’ safety, these projects have also had a positive impact,” Martis said. “For example, the new hoses we purchased for the improvement on the coater are significantly lighter than the old ones. This prevented a potential ergonomic issue.
“Since our operational philosophy is all accidents are preventable, it’s an advantage to find and correct a situation before someone develops an injury,” he added.
Finally, Martis is adamant that he will use the Maine MEP again. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I already have plans to use the Maine MEP again in another month as we address other situations, and I would definitely recommend the organization to any manufacturer of any size,” Mantis concluded.
The Maine MEP is an affiliate of the NIST under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2000 manufacturing and business “coaches” whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits, and enhanced global competitiveness. For more information on the Maine MEP program call 1-800-637-4634.