While watching a packaging line operating smoothly, the quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle might come to mind, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” However, if one element stops working, everything grinds to a halt, wasting precious time and money, and “the whole” quickly becomes worth nothing.

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“One of the challenges to the overall efficiency of packaging lines is the number of individual components and machines that must run to have a fully functional packaging line,” says Rob Frappier, branch manager for London, ON-based JMP Engineering, a system integration company that specializes in automation, controls and information systems. “In most cases, if any part of the line experiences a problem, the whole line comes to a stop.”

According to Mike Wagner, global segment lead for packaging at Rockwell Automation, unscheduled downtime is what everybody sees. “But getting to its root cause can be a big challenge.” Thus, improving packaging throughput requires good practices and data, along with state-of-the-art machinery.

To get a handle on packaging line efficiency, processors need a good plan, adds Wagner. “If you don’t start with a good design and good products that are consistent, you’ll potentially have to throw away batch material,” he says. “If your film or packaging materials aren’t right, your machinery won’t run right, and you’ll be chasing your tail.”

Maximo Leyva, innovation leader for BW Container Systems headquartered in Romeoville, IL, says a poor line layout design and improper packaging equipment might not be able to meet production demands and a processor’s flexibility requirements, and will negatively impact overall efficiency.

“When machines are stressed to their limits, their reliability is often diminished with shorter mean time between stops,” says Leyva. “This phenomenon is typically exposed when old production lines are required to increase throughput by increasing their overall speed.”

Wagner advises processors to maintain strict control over all their production standards, including how the line is integrated, what control systems are used and how they interlock, as well as how safety is implemented. “All these things need to be documented and have defined standards,” he says.

Control designs must be evaluated to ensure the system can do interlocks between processes, and it is producing consistently. If this is not happening, Leyva says, line controls and integration can potentially decrease optimal throughput.

“Packaging lines have become smarter, and machine centers usually ‘talk’ to each other; however, many packaging lines are not properly fine-tuned to allow smooth starts, stops and speed changes of each piece of equipment when line conditions change,” he says.

To help prevent unexpected mechanical breakdowns, Wagner says processors must be certain all procedures, from machine setup to loading film, are written in a sequence of steps that cannot be performed out of order. “Machines have become more complex, but the hardware that makes up the machines has become very reliable, so you don’t get as many mechanical failures,” he notes. “But if procedures aren’t written or followed [e.g., a preventative maintenance schedule], you are going to have failures, and there’s where your unscheduled downtime can come in.”

According to Mike Pieper, industry manager of consumer packaged goods for Siemens, once the packaging lines have been optimized to work holistically, a manufacturer can evaluate its packaging lines by calculating overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and minimizing the “Six Big” losses: breakdowns and failures; setup, changeovers and sanitation; minor stops; reduced speed; startup and shutdowns; and quality defects/scrap/rejects. (See sidebar below: Conceptualizing factors affecting theoretical output.)

The age of the machine can be a contributing factor to these “Six Big” losses, states Craig Souser, president of JLS Automation based in York, PA. He says as equipment gets older, it can slow the packaging line throughput due to “partially worn parts that are not operating to specification and need better maintenance, cleaning and tightening of tooling, including air lines.”

“As machines suffer wear and tear, and the parts get filthy, misadjusted and so forth, certain components may unexpectedly fail and stop the machine,” says BW Container Systems’ Leyva. “The duration of these stops may range from a matter of minutes to days.”

One way to avoid these causes of downtime, according to Paul Grainger, technical key account director in the US and Canada for Tetra Pak, is to pay attention to details and specifications. “You have to go back to basics,” he says. “You must make sure you have a consistent package leaving the filler, and that the equipment is clean and maintained precisely to the OEM specifications.” If packages are allowed to be oversized or equipment settings are constantly moved around and tweaked to suit an out of specification package, then it will very likely start causing problems down the line and lead to more lost time and lost product.

Additionally, well trained operators are a must, Grainger says. This is why Tetra Pak has an operator certification program, with recertification required every two years, to ensure those who are running the machinery can do so safely and produce the highest-quality packages and products.

Variety—the spice of life and a packaging challenge

Today’s processors are trying to keep up with consumer demand for different products and flavors, as well as constantly differentiating their products through changing packaging designs. “Rarely do you see a facility that produces the same product in the same packaging over and over,” says Tim Dykstra, sales engineer for Concept Systems headquartered in Albany, OR. “Companies are making more product varieties and often create customized packaging for a specific customer or seasonal occasions.”

This variety of product types and packaging styles can create a lot of issues and have a big impact on throughput due to changeover. Mike Edgett, industry and solution strategy director of process manufacturing for Infor, calls this kind of variety the biggest challenge for many companies. “If frequent switching between products is necessary, the downtime/cleanup required will significantly deteriorate the overall efficiency of the operation,” he says. Consequently, a company might want to measure the pros and cons of a changeover versus the costs of holding extra finished goods inventory.

Equipment manufacturers are beginning to understand the strain variety puts on the packaging line and are introducing new machines that directly address this issue. For example, Bosch Packaging recently launched its new Two-in-One biscuit packaging line as part of its Seamless Systems.

“To eliminate bottlenecks, minimize downtime and optimize product flow, Bosch balanced the speed of all line components and provided a streamlined design for overall equipment effectiveness,” says Daniel Bossel, product manager for Bosch. “Seamless Systems are designed with the operator in mind, with the same look and feel throughout the entire line, by using one human machine interface [HMI] and standard operating procedures.”

For instance, the Two-in-One biscuit packaging line is designed for pack style flexibility with very fast changeovers, allowing manufacturers to change from slug to pile and vice versa within a few minutes. Also, count changes, such as going from 14 to eight biscuits per package, can be done in less than one minute. “After being portioned as a pile or slug, the biscuits move to the flow wrapper, which is capable of wrapping both packaging formats and ensures a hermetically heat-sealed package,” Bossel says.

In some facilities, packaging lines may need to be upgraded and reengineered. For instance, GeboCermex helped design the new bottling lines at a Bacardi-Martini plant in Beaucaire, France. At the site, 20 different products and 24 glass bottle formats from 200ml to two liters are processed. GeboCermex found it could reduce the facility’s six bottling lines down to two high-speed lines. It did this, in part, by specializing the two lines, designating one for large production runs and the other to be highly flexible for small and medium-sized runs.

“We worked on optimizing the efficiency and reliability of the site while reducing floor space, which improves the circulation of people and product flows,” says Olivier Goffin, director of the beer, wine and spirits market at GeboCermex. “It was by reasoning according to the length of the production run and not the brand that we were able to achieve this result that enables smoother production with far less downtime.”

Line 1 is equipped with a pressureless combiner that operates at up to 300 bottles per minute, while line 2 allows units to enter the line at a rate of 150 bottles per minute without applying pressure. At the end of this line, a Cermex AN pick-and-place case packing robot uses its customized gripping head to grab 36 bottles and place six per case in six cases simultaneously. When a new bottle format requires a change of grippers, just 15 minutes is needed before the line can be restarted.

With recent advances and cost reductions in technology, processors and packaging facilities have the option of employing automated changeover processes to improve efficiencies, says Concept System’s Dykstra. “It is not unheard of for a [manual] changeover process to take a half hour or even an hour,” he says. “If a company produces several batches or packaging styles, changeover downtime can be detrimental to production output.”

For instance, the manual adjustment of something like a simple conveyor may require checking all the adjustment points, color sensors, registration mark sensors or vision systems, which takes a substantial amount of time. However, an automated rapid changeover system can drastically reduce downtime and eliminate the potential for human error.

“An automated rapid changeover system involves a simple control system with a recipe/batch system incorporated,” Dykstra explains. “An operator enters the product type on an HMI or scans a barcode, and the PLC automatically performs the changeover. The guide adjustments are made precisely using small servo motors with encoder feedback, while the sensor or vision system modifications are accomplished by sending the new parameters over Ethernet to these network-connected sensors.” Dykstra adds his company has seen applications where changeover times have been cut from 45 to 50 minutes down to 10 minutes using this type of solution.

Processors also are looking for variability in using the same piece of equipment, says Tetra Pak’s Grainger, and more flexible platforms are being created to accommodate this demand. For instance, switching a machine filling one-liter packages to 750ml packages using traditional filling equipment previously required parts to be manually changed out.

However, Tetra Pak’s new technology makes it possible for the machine to go through the various settings by itself and perform the changeover automatically, minimizing a source of major time loss and helping to increase OEE.

Automated data collection

Optimizing overall packaging efficiency is easier said than done, especially in a hectic processing plant. However, before you can address downtime, you have to detect it.

“Food and beverage processing plants are high-speed environments,” says Roy Thomas, solutions consultant for Aptean, an enterprise software company headquartered in Atlanta, GA. He has visited over 200 processing sites and finds a common theme among them. “If you use paper or a spreadsheet to log data, you have yesterday’s information today, but every day, you have a new fire to put out.”

Based on his observations, Thomas has determined four main reasons why packaging lines do not operate efficiently:

  1. The information is not being collected.
  2. The collected information is not correct.
  3. The operator is not involved.
  4. The operator does not have the skills to interpret the information being shown.

A real-time, automated data collection system, commonly in the form of a manufacturing execution system (MES), can help address these issues.

For example, the Aptean solution, Factory MES, provides operators a real-time operational feedback loop. It also employs short interval control (SIC) to divide the operator’s daily performance into manageable time intervals.

 “The SIC is conducted every two hours,” Thomas says. It measures the performance at 10 to 12 o’clock against the results at 12 to 2, 2 to 4, etc. “This reveals if the operator’s performance is getting better or worse.” If it is getting worse, the immediate knowledge can empower production teams to make improvements and/or corrections, impacting the next few hours of production.

However, if operators only see information in the form of codes on a screen, they may not readily understand its meaning and won’t be able to fix a problem before it affects performance. This is why Rockwell Automation’s Wagner says smart manufacturing is needed to empower the people who have a direct impact on production. “It’s really key to look at each piece of equipment and make sure you have a way to inform your operators and allow them to take action,” Wagner says. “Control systems are able to get more granular, identifying problems down to the switches and door locks. We can tell you, ‘Door 1 is open. Here’s a video.’”

Real-time data, big-time effects

Automated data collection is having significant impact across the industry. For instance, Berner Foods, a food and beverage supplier in Roscoe, IL, was lacking complete information from the shop floor, preventing the determination of the root causes of performance issues. Gary Gold, Berner’s vice president of quality and continuous improvement systems, employed Aptean’s Factory MES, and the company experienced a 300 percent increase in throughput.

“I can determine exactly what is causing some of our issues and what we can do to make corrections,” he says. “And once we implement corrective measures, we can again look at the data provided by Factory MES in real time to see if we’re doing the right things.”

In another case, Fort Collins, CO-based New Belgium Brewing Company, the third-largest craft brewer in the US, realized it was only producing 150,000 cases of beer each week on lines that could produce 294,000, despite having ramped up its bottling line to meet demand.

“Our brewery’s manual systems generated a huge amount of data, but we had no way of presenting it in context,” recalls Joe Herrick, packaging systems manager for New Belgium Brewing. To address this, the company contacted Schneider Electric and purchased a solution using Wonderware MES, which tracks and records the bottling process automatically as well as transforming raw data into user-friendly presentations. The software facilitates shift changes by providing new workers with data on the performance of the previous shift.  

“We have increased the efficiency of our packaging line by 30 percent, which allowed us to extend our packaging capacity to about 1.3 million barrels each year,” Herrick says. “Improved manufacturing efficiencies, plus increased line production, means we’ve saved more than $400,000 in previously planned labor costs and decreased downtime by 50 percent.”

Conceptualizing factors affecting theoretical output

Industry manager of consumer packaged goods for Siemens, Mike Pieper, describes the three major areas of losses and how they are classified by overall equipment effectiveness (OEE):

Downtime loss: A combination of planned and unplanned downtime losses. Planned losses include product changeovers such as sanitation/CIP actions, regulatory requirements, etc., while unplanned losses may result from major stoppages due to mechanical or electrical failures and startup and shutdown losses. OEE refers to downtime loss as the “Availability” component.

Speed loss: A combination of minor stop losses and reduced speed losses. Minor stop losses are all stops that halt production for only a short duration of time (i.e., failures <x min., such as a blocked sensor, or while in an idle state). Reduced speed losses occur when a machine is not running at the required or machine-capable speed due to upstream or downstream faults or other machine-specific issues, i.e., improper machine setup or tuning, etc. OEE refers to speed loss as the “Performance” component.

Quality loss: A combination of startup rejects, which is the wastage that occurs during setup or warmup, and production rejects, which is wastage that occurs during a production run. OEE refers to this as the “Quality” component—how much good product made it through the packaging line “choke point.”


For more information:

Tim Dykstra, Concept Systems, 866-791-8140, tdykstra@conceptsystemsinc.comwww.conceptsystemsinc.com

Craig Souser, JLS Automation, 717-505-3800, csouser@jlsautomation.com, www.jlsautomation.com

Roy Thomas, Aptean, 770-351-9600, roy.thomas@aptean.com, www.aptean.com

Jean Marc Passemard, GeboCermex, 33 3 80 70 71 28, jean-marc.passemard@gebocermex.comwww.gebocermex.com

Mike Pieper, Siemens, 513-841-3452, mike.pieper@siemens.com, www.usa.siemens.com

Kim Paulson, JMP Engineering, 519-652-2741, kpaulson@jmpeng.com, www.jmpeng.com

Paul Garms, Bosch, 715-243-2503, paul.garms@bosch.com, www.boschpackaging.com

Tom Clary, Schneider Electric, 469-365-6651, tom.clary@schneider-electric.com, www.schneider-electric.com 

Paul Grainger, Tetra Pak, 940-565-8800, paul.grainger@tetrapak.com, www.tetrapak.com/us

Mike Wagner, Rockwell Automation, 414-382-2000, mwagner@ra.rockwell.comwww.rockwellautomation.com


Max Leyva, BW Container Systems, 630-759-6800, sales@bwcontainersystems.com, www.bwcontainersystems.com