How a manufacturer of paper-based office material, operating its converting line mainly with blind or visually impaired employees, is able to combine the highest operational safety requirements with an impressive increase in output, reliability, and product quality.
is a private, non-profit organization
reliably supplying its main customer, federal government agencies, with copy paper. Like other manufacturers of paper-based office products, AVRE pays utmost attention to product quality, reliability, and equipment efficiency. Yet, their most important requirement is operational safety. This is certainly what makes AVRE special as a manufacturer of office supplies. The converting line must be handled primarily by employees who are blind or visually impaired operators, making up over 75 percent of AVRE's direct labor force
AVRE needs to be prepared for new product requirements in the future. Therefore, modernizing its existing converting line was urgently needed back in 2015. AVRE wanted to increase its production with a reliable, more flexible solution, guaranteeing higher output without losing product quality. Today, an SHM Digicut Sheeter operates in line with a Model 32 ream wrapper from BW Papersystems. Both machines are customized to AVRE’s accessibility requirements and operational safety, yet they reach an average output of 12 tons of paper in a 7.5-hour shift.
How to combine efficiency, increased output, and quality with the highest operational safety?
AVRE used to manufacture its products on two Lenox sheeters. Lenox is a historical brand of BW Papersystems for which the company still offers parts and service support. In 2012, AVRE had already invested in a modern and customized Model 32 ream wrapper from BW Papersystems. They mainly produced 8.5x11 copy paper with occasional changes to a 9x12 format. On good days, AVRE converted 8 to 9 tons of paper. But it wasn’t only time-consuming format changes that caused trouble. Growing quality and output issues of the two sheeters became more and more of a problem. AVRE had difficulties keeping the sheeters running at capacity. In addition, AVRE wanted to create additional business through a broader product portfolio, including digital formats.
Higher output, better product quality, and varied size flexibility were not the only requirements AVRE had. The new sheeter had to be equipped in such a way that it could be operated by blind or visually impaired operators, as well as by sighted maintenance staff. A potential equipment supplier would thus have to manage balancing apparently conflicting objectives: highest operational safety and special accessibility requirements with higher output and efficiency.
Designing a modern converting line for visually impaired operators requires some innovative engineering.
In 2012, AVRE became aware of a possible solution to their problems when they came to Sheboygan, WI for machine acceptance of the ream wrapper. BW Papersystems’ project managers had linked the Model 32 to an SHM Digicut sheeter to demonstrate its full potential. AVRE was immediately taken with the idea to have both ream wrapper and sheeter from the same manufacturer, guaranteeing an easy and well-proven linkage between both systems.
Using leading dual rotary cross-cutting technology from BW Papersystems, the SHM Digicut is designed to meet any quality requirements. The size flexible crosscutter and the quick-change gripper discharge offer maximum size flexibility for cut sizes and digital sizes. Using several collating boxes for different formats allows for gripper discharge changes within 15 minutes or less. All other sections of the line involved when changing formats can easily be adapted via touch panel. Only the slitters are adjusted manually. Auto-slitters are available if required.
Once these conditions were met, discussions about finding solutions for AVRE’s unique requirements could begin.
In order to meet AVRE’s accessibility requirements, BW Papersystems’ engineers developed individually designed screens. They combined default display screens for maintenance people and larger screens for visually impaired operators. Those displays use strong color contrast and extra-large characters and symbols that are easy to read and familiar to people who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, plexiglas stencils with tactile symbols can be placed over the screens, for example, at the ream wrapper unit.
Additional support in the event of disturbances is provided by voice output. Multiple sensors, safety locks, and other control systems monitor both the sheeter and the ream wrapper. Operators are immediately informed verbally about low paper rolls, sheet transfer faults, or if a door is opened while the machine is running, to name just a few of them.
In order to avoid serious injuries and to guarantee the highest level of operational safety, BW Papersystems has placed additional guarding at the slitter and crosscutter, at the entire tape section, and the gripper discharge. On the drive side of the machine, guarding is placed around the main drive to avoid accidental access.
Output records meet highest acceptance amongst operators
The result is impressive! While AVRE used to process 8 to 9 tons of paper with two sheeters on a good day, the company today produces an average of 12 tons of copy paper in a 7.5-hour shift. "During normal operation, we were able to increase output by more than 30 percent. And we are really proud of the records our operators set with the SHM Digicut,” says Charles Gardner, Director of Manufacturing at AVRE. “In a 9-hour shift, we have already achieved several times 18 tons of paper, once even 20 tons. Our record with the old sheeters was 13 tons of paper in 13 hours."
One important factor is certainly the generally higher uptime of the line. The wear of parts is considerably lower, too. And, if parts or services are needed, BW Papersystems is available around the clock. In most cases, replacement parts, coming from warehouses in the US, can be shipped within 24 hours. In case of an unscheduled machine downtime, BW Papersystems offers fast support via online diagnostics and remote services.
The high acceptance of the customized production line among the operators contributes to the fact that the system delivers top performance again and again. “The machine’s accessibility for visually impaired operators makes working on the line a pleasure,” says John Skinner, Team Lead at AVRE. He adds: “The additional guarding on areas with high risk of injury completely meet our high standards for a safe working environment.”
Furthermore, changeover times are dramatically reduced. Instead of over an hour, a new format can now be converted only after 15 minutes or less. "Looking ahead, this gives us all the necessary strategic flexibility we need," says Ken Fernald, President/CEO of AVRE. "Even though we are focusing on 8.5x11 commodity cut-size papers right now, we wish to keep the option open to serve new markets and customers with additional formats in the future, including digital sizes.”
Reaching boundaries, moving boundaries
Today, AVRE runs its converting line at 751 fpm, equaling 87 percent of maximum speed. Most of the time, the company is making production requirements, but they are very close to maxing out their capabilities. AVRE is thinking about adding a second roll stand to the line to double production if required.
"We are looking forward to being able to expand production on the AVRE line with a second roll stand," says Sven Gruenwoldt, Sales Director at BW Papersystems. "Both the SHM Digicut and the Model 32 ream wrapper offer sufficient capacity to handle double the production volume resulting from an additional unwind. And he proudly adds: "We are already hearing of new production records set by the operators from AVRE".