Safety Meets Efficiency for AVRE Operators

The Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment (AVRE) is a private, non-profit organization. Through its business division, AVRE supplies 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 AVRE’s most important requirement is operational safety. The converting line is handled primarily by blind or visually impaired operators, who make up over 75 percent of AVRE’s direct labor force.

Back in 2015, the company realized it urgently needed to modernize its existing converting line in order to be prepared for new product requirements in the future. 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.

AVRE formerly manufactured its products on two Lenox sheeters. Lenox is an historic 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. AVRE mainly produced 8.5×11” copy paper with occasional changes to a 9×12” format.

On good days with this equipment, AVRE converted 8 to 9 tons of paper. Yet it wasn’t only the 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.

An operator on the SHM Digicut at AVRE. More than 75 percent of AVRE’s direct labor force are blind or visually impaired operators.

Higher output, better product quality, and varied size flexibility were not AVRE’s only requirements. 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 need to balance these apparently conflicting objectives: highest operational safety and special accessibility requirements, plus higher output and efficiency.

In 2012, AVRE became aware of a possible solution to its problems when visiting 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 of having both a ream wrapper and sheeter from the same manufacturer, guaranteeing an easy and well-proven link 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.

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, plexiglass 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 the alerts.

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.

The result is impressive. Today, AVRE 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 18 tons of paper several times, once even 20 tons. Our record with the old sheeters was 13 tons of paper in 13 hours.”

Another important factor is 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 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. “The machine’s accessibility for visually impaired operators makes working on the line a pleasure,” says John Skinner, team lead at AVRE. “The additional guarding on areas with high risk of injury completely meets our high standards for a safe working environment.”

Furthermore, changeover times are dramatically reduced. Instead of taking more than an hour, a new format can now be converted within 15 minutes or less. “Looking ahead, this gives us all the necessary strategic flexibility we need,” says Ken Fernald, AVRE president and CEO. “Even though we are focusing on 8.5 x 11” 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.”
Today, AVRE runs its converting line at 751 fpm, equaling 87 percent of maximum speed. The company is considering 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 AVRE operators.”

Learn more about AVRE at Part of Barry-Wehmiller, BW Papersystems brings together 10 brands—BW Bielomatik, BWP Zerand, Curioni, JAG SYNCHRO, Kugler-Womako, MarquipWardUnited, SHM, VortX, WillPemcoBielomatik, and Wrapmatic—that synthesize manufacturing in the paper process industries. For more information, go to