Gary Johnson is the first to admit that most newly designed corrugated plants have better production process flows than what's seen in his company's building headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. But he also knows that sometimes adversity leads to opportunity.
From left: Don MacKenzie, director of engineering, Robert Wainman, director of manufacturing, and President Gary Johnson.
Johnson is president of Maritime Paper Products Ltd., an independent corrugated converter that's taking dramatic steps to dissolve the constraints of their 1967-era building's design. It's also enjoying the privileges of outlasting competitors that aren't as old as this building, much less the company.
This year marks Maritime Paper Products' 75th anniversary. It's a privately-owned company employing 250 people spread among four manufacturing facilities (in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Summerside, Prince Edward Island; and St. John's, Newfoundland).
Johnson cites constant innovation as the reason his company is still going strong. It's written into the company's business strategy: "Industry leadership through innovation, quality and exceptional customer service."
The fully automated takeoff section on Maritime's new Martin high boardline printer diecutter is just as high tech as the rest of the machine, easily handling multiple out product.
Maritime Paper has a diverse customer mix ranging from multi-nationals down to local small businesses. Maintaining and growing this clientele requires continuous and significant reinvestment in technologies that make sense for their service needs.
The most recent round of facility innovations started in 2004 with an $18 million corrugator upgrade and headquarters expansion. The most impressive thing about this installation, beside the fact it employs one of the most modern corrugators used in Canada today, is that it was installed in the same footprint as Maritime's old 87-in. Langston.
The new 98-inch BHS corrugator, which has the capability to produce lightweight, high strength board with multiple flute profiles, shares the facility with multi-color flexo folder-gluers with inline diecutting, a five-color high-graphic flexo diecutter, a specialty folder, a wax cascader, and, the company's most recent installation, a seven-color Martin high boardline rotary diecutter.
An employee ensures the product is closing properly on an older model flexo folder-gluer.
This machinery is supported by computerized ink kitchens, densitometer and spectrophotometer measurements, and press-side natural light booths to ensure color consistency and reproduction. Such a mix of art and science allows Maritime to offer higher line screen quality on a consistent basis, tight registration control and on-press ink control for better color consistency.
Opportunities to Improve
Even as all this new technology was installed and implemented, some of the old technology constraints remained.
An employee inspects graphics quality at a natural light station.
"After we put the new [BHS] corrugator in it was clear we had an inadequate starch system," Johnson explains. "We decided to put a completely new automated starch system in with new plumbing. That has improved our yield to such an extent that the system will pay for itself in 24 months."
Water is better utilized as well. The new water treatment center brings all washup water back, cleans it, and the plan is to reuse it in a continuous loop.
The BHS corrugator control room.
"We eventually will no longer be putting it into the municipal system," Johnson explains. "This is a huge success story. It's not only an environmental benefit but we get to reuse the water."
Another constraint Johnson is working to design out of his facility is noise. As production rates increase in corrugated plants, sound is becoming a growing health issue. Maritime is addressing that problem by investing in sound suppression, starting with its new high boardline diecutter which features noise insulation enclosures.
Maritime's next target is its air-driven trim system, which is powered by large motors. Converting to the mechanical movement of trim via conveyor belts, Johnson expects to cut down on dust and energy use as well as noise.
Lessons in Learning
Top: Another view of the Martin high boardline printer diecutter. Middle: Corrugated board on conveyor lines awaiting conversion to finished product. Bottom: An employee prepares the new BHS corrugator for an order change.
Take the layout of the Martin system as an example. It represents new technology in terms of having an integrated packaging line attached to the diecutter, but a linear layout would not fit the design of the building. Maritime called for a change in strategy that Martin would ultimately take back with them and write into their specs: a U-shape configuration.
"This installation had to be in a U," Johnson says. "It makes more sense because it puts your crew together and improves communication. The design we saw in Europe was a 300 ft straight line, so headsets and remote control were employed."
Indeed, communication is not only a functional requirement at Maritime, but a philosophical one as well. Continuous Improvement Through Education (CITE) is the name given to this philosophy, and it applies to Maritime's most important assets: its people. CITE started five years ago with the mission that employees understand customers' operations as well as Maritime's.
"We include supplier seminars, customer profiles and challenges as part of CITE. This gives employees the ability to see beyond what they're doing at any point in time," explains Susan MacQuarrie, director of human resources.
She adds that CITE's scope is growing. As the company's veterans start retiring, management realized that it would have to start preparing a new generation to share this vision.
"We developed a 13-week program, including testing and exams, and wrapped that in with the new corrugator," she says. "Everyone receives the same training so everyone's on the same page."
Landmarks on Maritime's 75-Year Journey
"We have a lines-of-progression agreement with new hires," she adds. "That means everyone is expected to move forward when it's their turn, by seniority. We make it clear in the interview process that they come in at the bottom but we expect them eventually to be running the machines."
No Inventory; Timely Production
Maritime wants to get away from many aspects of the way corrugated plants have functioned in the past. Director of Manufacturing Robert Wainman doesn't want to head in the direction many others are going. Practices like inventory buildup don't appeal to him.
"Having large amounts of finished goods inventory is becoming standard in our industry," he says. "We take exception to that. We're pushing ourselves to be a job shop with JIT service. Part of that is because of our physical constraints but it's also a long-term strategy not to add that cost to our product. By reducing the cost of inventory control and storage, we are more competitive."
Maritime wants to be more competitive with folding carton converters as well as corrugated. That's part of the rationale for selecting high-graphics technologies.
"There's more to the carton than graphics," adds Thomas Jennegren, Maritime's director of export sales. "There's special folding and gluing. Consumers are looking for special features such as pour spouts, so structural design is a big advantage for a corrugated company."
Maritime's access to The Port of Halifax gives the company another competitive advantage: access to export markets that need its unique mix of products and services.
"From this port you can reach anywhere in the world within a two-week shipping period," Jennegren notes. "We shortened our production times in-house to meet customer expectations, but we're also cutting transportation lead time."
High Graphics and Output
Johnson says his team experienced a "gee whiz" experience while investigating new technologies in Europe. "We went from investigating a printer to investing in a highly productive machine — good for any color combination from one to six," he says, adding that this flexibility extends beyond color to design intricacy.
"On traditional rotary diecutters if you have 12 pieces coming out, it's a mess," he says. "It slows you down and jams the line. The Martin configuration eliminates that issue. However, if we had just used long runs as a rationale, we wouldn't have been able to justify the machine. It's also set up to do short runs. That's the beauty of high board line machines."
Maritime also relies on a J&L specialty folder-gluer to handle "every imaginable fold and cut you can design into a box," in Johnson's words — things that used to be done by hand.
Veterans at Work
All that said, Production Manager John Crawley explains why technology alone isn't what got Maritime to where it is today.
"We have guys who traditionally run a flexo 40 hours a week but they can run another piece of equipment and understand why they're running it," he says. "When we went to seven-color we went through a training program. Of the six guys out there on the machine, five have 25 years of service. They could have stayed where they were and made the same amount of money, but these guys are excited about the challenge."
John Cox, manager of technical support, is one of those guys. He says understanding and applying state of the art technology is one thing. Making it better is another — and Maritime is playing a role there, as well.
"The progress we've made with this machine from where we were a year ago is in the registration, consistency, and repeatability," he says. "Add-ons like pH and viscosity control, and the problems we faced with those issues, are looked after on this machine. The Martin people were here for a couple months helping us with training and the startup. They also got important feedback for their future improvements."
As printing technology changes in both flexo and postprint on corrugated, Maritime plans to get even closer to folding carton printing capabilities. The only obstacle is basis weights, so it will focus on the finer F-, N- and K-flutes in the near future.
"The decision to purchase our latest corrugator was made with that vision in mind," says Sheldon Gouthro, vice president of sales. "As soon as the market's ready we'll be ready on the sales side."
Hmm. A healthy independent company with happy customers and valuable human and technological assets. In an era where integrateds are growing by swallowing attractive independent morsels, will Maritime Paper Products last much longer as an entity unto itself?
"We may be very attractive to some integrated competitors, but anyone can buy the same equipment we did," Jennegren says. "It's the people who make a company."
"I think the success of this company is that we are small, independent and we can make decisions in this room today," Executive Vice President Tom Hartlen says. "We don't have to go through the bureaucracy of big companies. Plus, if you have a good reputation in the market, people like to deal with you."