When Sappi made a strategic investment in excess of $200 million to expand into the packaging business at our Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, Maine, we had already anticipated a strong market desire to move away from plastic and toward renewable, paper-based packaging.
Then the Covid crisis struck. While no one could have predicted the pandemic, the decision to extensively rebuild Paper Machine 1 (PM1) at Somerset had positioned Sappi to meet the sharp increase in demand for high-quality paperboard. As some competitors shuttered their mills, SNA’s diversification into packaging kept our paper machines operating.
“Innovation at Sappi is all about anticipating market needs—trying to forecast where the market need might be and then making sure we have those products in the pipeline”, says Heather Pelletier, Director of Research and Development. “The rebuild of Paper Machine 1 could not have been better timed based on the market demands for renewable, paper-based packaging.”
Sappi started the newly rebuilt PM1 in June 2018, and in just 26 months, the Somerset Mill had ramped up from producing zero tons of paperboard to over 300,000 tons a year of high-quality paperboard for folding carton, food service, and commercial printing applications. The mill generated record sales volumes and EBITDA in 2021 while achieving the full run rate.
“Our packaging looks great on the shelf and performs extremely well in downstream converting processes while being the lightest SBS in the market”, says Deece Hannigan, Vice President of Graphics, Packaging and Specialties. “This saves costs for both our customers and for Sappi.” Increased sustainability efforts have also added to the efficiency and profitability at Somerset.
Those investments include converting the mill in 2014 to run at full capacity on natural gas instead of oil, which reduced energy costs and decreased carbon emissions. The conversion significantly reduced the use of oil in the mill’s lime kiln and power boiler, and it decreased the ash-disposal quantities handled by environmental equipment.
Another major investment was a $25 million capital project in 2017 that updated the mill’s woodyard to modernize the wood debarking, chipping, and chip distribution systems. The investment improved reliability and reduced white wood losses and costs, as well as gained efficiency through the increased production of wood chips. These upgrades improved our product consistency, raised our bottom line, and continued to build upon our sustainable practices.
With these forward-thinking investments, Sappi epitomises the legacy of innovative papermaking in Maine, where it all started with our invention of coated paper 150 years ago. Sappi’s history of investing in sustainability, new technology, and state-of-the-art machinery led us naturally to the packaging business and unmatched levels of quality and service.
Somerset is now the largest combined pulp and paper mill in the Sappi group, producing nearly 1.6 million tons of pulp and paper product a year. The investments have provided hundreds of new, good-paying jobs in Maine and prepared the Somerset Mill very well for growth.