Using digital technology tools in order to optimize packaging line output is not a new concept, but some manufacturers don’t always feel it’s necessary. Maybe they don’t quite understand it, or maybe their current packaging line is very modest. Whatever the reason, it’s no secret that companies are always looking to save on their Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and they see the direct cost of these digital tools. When companies are successful, they end up with more demanding production rates. That means more output is needed. Is a line expansion warranted? Possibly – but how do you know? Though, for most, the likelier first go-to option to keep up with demand is running the packaging line machines for lengthier amounts of time or running them at a higher speed – an easy resolution in theory. However, the increases put pressure on the packaging line. When this happens, two common scenarios tend to surface, causing packaging costs to indirectly go up due to line inefficiencies.
The first occurrence is a result of extra wear, which consequently, can lead to errors and mechanical breakdowns of machines or other types of equipment issues, especially if not planning for more frequent maintenance cycles. No matter how new the machine, it’ll eventually happen, and breakdowns waste productive time. There’s the time in shutting down the machines, identifying the problem(s), adjusting the timing, restarting, etc. This can result in unnecessarily longer periods of downtime, affecting overall production schedules.
The second occurrence comes in the form of product bottlenecks and backlogs as a result of ramping up production without balancing speed or executing precise recalibration on keystone machines up and down the line. A packaging line running smoothly from start to finish is characteristic of efficient production and a step toward optimal production. Unfortunately, jams or backlogs, commonly seen in the primary and early secondary parts of the packaging line, are inefficiencies that limit production rate potential. However, with the number of advancements in digital technology, there are ways to help packaging lines avoid or minimize inefficiencies and run at peak performance. Leveraging data and analytics to gain insight and find ways to increase efficiencies is a strategic method used in a variety of industries, including packaging production lines. In the past, equipment was looked at more from a sheer mechanical perspective and its more singular ability to operate efficiently, with subsequent newer equipment to then set the standard of next generation performance. Today, things are different. While it remains true that newer equipment can potentially offer enhanced performance, it doesn’t work alone. Software can be integrated on every machine on the line, which provides digital intelligence – machine performance data and production algorithms that help manufacturers tweak and/or partially update equipment functionality before declaring the entire machine obsolete.
Advancements in software capabilities and user-friendliness coupled with manufacturers facing fierce competition and squeezing out every COGS penny has caused its usefulness to grow exponentially. Companies creating this software for the packaging industry, such as ProMach Digital Intelligence, take the guessing out of reasons for unplanned downtimes and give real-time data and reports to analyze how machines are running. For example, ProMach Digital Intelligence’s productivity and maintenance software packages can give production information for each machine on a production line and the information can be accessed on any tablet or device anytime within their dedicated network. Additionally, they help customers customize reports based on their company’s specific needs.
The goal of companies such as ProMach Digital Intelligence is to ensure the packaging line is operating faster and/or meeting its full potential – and is doing it efficiently. In ProMach’s case, they have created ways to deliver on-demand and scheduled reporting modules for continuous improvement initiatives, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) metrics, key performance indicators (KPI) based on customer input, total production maintenance (TPM) programs, and real time alerts to accelerate downtime troubleshooting on machines. Their software offering is designed to tell exactly where the problem is and notify why the problem is occurring. Monitoring and reporting are a necessary addition to assess machine health and production line pain points before they become a major problem.
A scenario like this could occur: a soda company’s filling and packaging plant is at a performance rate of 75%. New goals set by the company require the production rate at this plant to increase by 10%. Analyzing the operation, the lead engineer sees no current issues with production and cannot determine what could be done to increase production rates. This soda drink company has ZPI software, so they can analyze specific data from each machine. With a closer look at the overall metrics, the engineer sees that while the feeding, unscrambling, filling, and capping stations are running at top speed, the subsequent labeling and coding stations cannot keep up with the rate of output from the previous machines, causing a slight bottleneck slowdown to occur. This is a bottleneck that was not recognized initially, and the small overflow is significantly reducing output. With this analysis, the engineer discovers the best course of action to open the bottleneck up and increases production rates to meet the new goal.
In utilizing this type of digital technology – productivity and maintenance software – along the packaging line, manufacturers are insuring they’ll get the most out of what they have and minimize the line inefficiencies costing them money. Pinpointing exactly where the problems occur allows for quicker resolutions, reducing downtime and eliminating avoidable errors. As a representative from a major soda manufacturing and bottling company was quoted, “It’s the difference between reacting to the breakdown after they’ve happened and anticipating them in advance in the hope of avoiding them.” To ensure the production line is running at peak performance, get the knowledge of in-depth reporting and leave the analytics to the experts.