Every job has its problems, but in my experience, production line managers have three consistent problems that can wreak havoc on their packaging line. Left unresolved, these problems cause downtime and cost thousands of dollars. Technology company Stratus estimates that unplanned downtime across all process industries costs $20 billion each year.
I often speak with line managers who are at a loss for how to tackle these issues, so below I’m offering some strategies to address the most common problems line managers need to fix.
Problem one: “I don’t know why the line keeps stopping.”
The top complaint I hear from packaging line managers is that their line frequently stops and they have no idea why. Every time a line stops, managers lose the time they need to fulfill their orders. Not only is this frustrating, it can cost a lot of money.
Although I can’t tell you exactly why your line is stopping, I can tell you that there are systems you can adopt that will automatically gather data from your printing and coding equipment and send that data to a centralized location. Some companies use an Industrial Protocol such as EtherNet/IP. Each piece of the equipment in the line is tied into this system and report error codes of what went wrong. This saves businesses many hours of unplanned downtime simply by letting them know what went wrong quickly so root causes can be fixed as soon as possible.
Problem two: “My staff isn’t as effective as I’d like them to be.”
Anyone who has ever managed a packaging line knows how much one employee can potentially stymie an operation. Let’s say you’ve hired new staff who don’t know the line’s process yet; if they aren’t properly trained on your system quickly, you’ll likely spend a lot of time fixing errors. In this situation, line changeovers are going to take longer than they should.
My solution: leverage smart printing and coding equipment. This type of equipment is designed to be used intuitively with easy-to-understand user interfaces. Also, many equipment choices can tie into your line control system allowing configuration information to be automatically pushed down to each piece of equipment, taking manual steps out of the equation and making changeover as easy as pushing a button.
But I also realize that not every company afford that kind of solution. Other low tech options exist, for example, line managers can load printer settings through memory sticks. This standardizes work and changeover for employees on the line, allowing the line to run smoothly and reducing the number of employee mistakes.
Problem three: “I don’t have what I need to execute the production plan.”
This is a tough one, and it is one of the biggest complaints of line managers. Sometimes, they just don’t have what they need to execute the plan, whether it be product ingredients or the packaging they will fill. Without the right inputs, production targets for the day are immediately at risk.
Think of this frustrating situation: you open the box of folding cartons or you get the packaging film to the line, and only then do you realize that it has a defect. “Great,” you think, “now we can’t use that.” Ideally, your employees catch these errors before they become a problem, but that doesn’t always happen.
This brings me to my solution to this problem: look at your inspection and quality control process. Is it standardized? Quality checks are where these kinds of problems are detected. Although production planners will know the inventory, they can’t plan on unusable inventory, whether rotted product or poor quality packaging. Therefore, quality checks are imperative in the overall packaging process; the more you can automate those quality checks, the easier it is to keep the line moving.
Don’t forget to look upstream at the suppliers of the product and its packaging. At the packaging manufacturer, automation software like 100 percent inspection could help ensure that packaging that gets shipped to the plant is right every time. This can help ensure line managers consistently have what they need to hit their production targets.
For those with smart printing and coding equipment, connecting to the IIoT through productivity software can quickly identify problems on the line and address them — helping to alleviate everyday challenges and meet your daily targets. And while plant managers know that automation has a big future in machine-based work, if you don’t have the budget to adopt new software, you can still standardize the processes, that way you’ll be better prepared for future automation opportunities as they arise.
Jessica Wettstein is the director of Product Planning at Videojet Technologies.