A 2021 Innovator of the Year: Seaway Printing Focuses on Efficiency and Automation
In today’s printing industry, the concept of innovation is wide in definition, but rather narrow in its goal. Leading companies have grasped many tools to define themselves, increase profitability, and differentiate. They utilize new technologies, systems integration, an expanded product mix, exemplary customer service, and more.
As a group, the eight companies included in the 2021 class of Printing Impressions’ Innovators of the Year demonstrate new approaches that can move printing businesses forward and possess strong insight into where the industry is going. Even amid the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, these companies succeed, grow, focus, and inspire.
This year’s innovators were nominated by a group of printing industry experts and consultants, who identified them as notables. The summary of Seaway Printing that follows shares what makes this company innovative, interesting, and exceptional. The insight it presents may provide the inspiration you need to take your company to a new level, or in a new direction.
Seaway Printing | Green Bay, Wisconsin
Founded in 1884, Seaway Printing works primarily with publishers to produce books and magazines. According to President Kevin Heslin, the company’s equipment mix is about 80% offset and 20% digital, including the recent installation of an HP PageWide inkjet web press. For now, Seaway is using its digital presses mostly for short runs, but is expanding these run lengths based on the increasing capacities of the technology.
“They have become an innovative manufacturer,” praises consultant Mike Philie, of the Philie Group. “Through their investment in the latest technology, they have decreased bottlenecks and increased the velocity of the work going through their plant.”
Regarding what makes Seaway Printing an innovation leader, Heslin says the company’s production focus is more on process flow, and not just on job flow. As a part of this focus, his team looks for similarities within processes and then builds on those, instead of constantly addressing differences.
Further, he says the company has established itself as an early adopter of technology and has been able to achieve numerous “wins” by doing so. The enterprise’s approach to new technologies has brought both improved alignment and efficiency, and has allowed Seaway to grow the business while controlling costs. Most profoundly, though, Heslin reports Seaway purposefully narrowed its focus and stopped trying “to do all things for all customers,” a former practice that led toward a lot of work that was of “mixed profitability.” Instead, Seaway is focusing on its profitable, core competencies. “Our efficiency enables us to enjoy decent margins and not have to chase jobs on price.”
When asked the secret of Seaway Printing’s success, Heslin says, “Trite as it sounds, we do what we say we’re going to do, and we have the manufacturing capacity in place to make it happen.” He reports that customers regularly share their satisfaction with the company and consider them easy to work with.
In the near term, according to Heslin, Seaway Printing will dig further into the possibilities of automation. With the recent addition of the company’s first robotic system, he sees a changed path ahead, particularly as a way to address challenges in finding qualified labor.
Heslin also sees a deeper move into inkjet, and the transformative capabilities of digital technology. “From there,” he says, “we will see what our customers want us to do.”
For broader industry trends, Heslin mentions how improvements in automation have also increased the viability of offset printing, even amid the rising popularity of inkjet technology. He indicates Seaway has taken advantage of this recent trend.