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Packaging Automation Isn’t Enough - Use Smart Factory Analytics to Maximize OEE

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By Emilie A Lachance - January 15, 2021

 Packaging is one of the most crucial steps in the manufacturing process for consumer packaged goods and food products. It is usually the last step before products are sent off to customers. Plant managers pay close attention to the output from the packaging process, in order to make sure that quality levels are high and that giveaway is at a minimum.

Besides their impact and importance on finalized products, packaging systems can also provide insights into the manufacturing process as a whole. By monitoring the packaging process areas, we can develop proxy insights into other critical production areas.

Properly working packaging equipment that is running correctly helps us to identify the entire process yield and can be an indicator of quality and production issues in another area of the production process. This is because if a packaging area slows, but we know that the equipment is running properly, it’s an indicator that an area or areas feeding the packaging area are not delivering the right quantity or quality of products to the packaging area.

This is why monitoring packaging equipment health is important, but also monitoring packaging equipment throughput is also important, as this can provide a deeper understanding of the overall operational efficiency and yield.

Packaging equipment operators measure the OEE of packaging equipment, and use this information to make important decisions that maximize profitability of the entire operation, as it has been shown that OEE has a direct correlation to a firm’s earnings.

However, we all know that automation is taking over more areas of manufacturing, including packaging.

Automation technology has allowed manufacturers to produce more product in less time and with higher levels of quality and productivity. Robots and cobots are used to increase capacity and lower labor unit costs. Automation also allows manufacturers to re-assign skilled and talented workers into positions and areas where they are most needed.

Manufacturers are increasingly investing in automation in packaging areas as well. After all, packaging automation allows production to be much more efficient as machines can run for more hours and be more accurate than humans can. Automated machines, when properly applied and running well, are incredibly consistent and able to perform a wide variety of packaging tasks such as picking and placing randomly placed objects, de-panning and de-nesting consumables without causing any damage and boxing items and palletizing materials.

Since automation can require significant investment, monitoring the OEE of this new machinery can be important to ensure that the predicted ROI of these investments becomes a reality.

However, as additional automation is implemented, workers can become further removed from the actual processes, which can mean that it can become more difficult to identify key production factors such as downtime causes or  reasons for decreases in yield when things don’t go as planned.

In his report titled OEE is Key in Packaging Automation, Scott Carlberg, Motion Product Marketing Manager at Yaskawa America, states that ‘most often the OEE bottleneck is directly related to the automation solution that has been implemented on the packaging machine or line. This automation bottleneck can not only impede the end user’s ability to increase the effectiveness of the manufacturing line, it can also limit the end user’s ability to implement new and innovative packaging designs’.

Therefore it is very important to have the proper tools to monitor and increase OEE after automation has been implemented. Many manufacturers believe that packaging automation is the answer to their inefficiency problems and rely solely on it without taking monitoring actions, expecting to see improvement results.

Common pitfalls of packaging automation that may hurt your efficiency rather than helping with it are:

  • Overestimating the technology which leads to higher maintenance cost and lost of productivity
  • Choosing the wrong automation technology based on its ease to use and not what your production needs
  • Failure from workers to accept the technology and understand its capabilities, or lowering workers enthusiasm as they feel replaced by the technology

An important common pitfall was also found by Roy Thomas, a solutions consultant for Aptean, an enterprise software company headquartered in Atlanta, GA. He has visited over 200 processing sites and found a common theme in their use of automated technology: not processing information correctly.

Thomas broke this theme down into four main reasons why packaging lines are not processing information correctly and operating inefficiently:

  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.

Thomas says “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.” 

The problem with this lack of proper collection of information is the fact that packaging operators and production managers do not know what are the problems hidden under inefficient production and at times they do not even know if the equipment is functioning properly, due to the fact that automation is thought of working fully efficiently on its own.

If data is collected in an outdated way, such as spreadsheets, packaging operators will always fail to observe and record accurate information, trace the root of problems, and act on time.

Smart factory analytics are a necessary complement to your packaging automation efforts.

So packaging lines can deliver important proxy information with respect to the productivity of the overall operation. As long as you know that the packaging machinery is operating properly, you can surmise that production throughput and downtime issues reported in the packaging area are actually caused by upstream production areas.

However, when you introduce automation to the packaging area, you remove first hand knowledge of what is happening by the operators, meaning that it gets harder to know exactly what is going on. Not only do you lose the ability to gather insights from the packaging area that are tell-tales to the rest of the operation, you also can lose visibility into the packaging area operation itself.

Smart factory analytics delivers real-time production data, including KPIs like OEE, and the data is presented in accessible and easy-to-understand graphs, charts, and historical trends even when workers are removed from near the process, as when automation is implemented.

Being able to access operational and OEE data for packaging equipment in real time means that problems can be addressed as they arise. “Manufacturers typically think they know what’s causing inefficiencies in their process,” says Mike Alyounes, weigh price product manager for Ossid, “but when you actually measure the process, you realize there are factors you didn’t even think to look at.”

An example of this is an Ossid customer, whose machines were reporting a production of only 25-28 trays a minute. After a proper smart analytics tool was installed which measured OEE in real-time, downtime was identified as the customer’s cause of their low throughput. Understanding the problem and knowing what to fix, Ossid’s customer managed to boost their production from 25-28 trays a minute to 46.

Mark Davidson, a principal analyst at LNS Research says that one of the best production practices is to “measure and display OEE in real time to operator or production line managers, along with supporting information that enables operations staff to understand root causes of OEE availability, line performance or quality issues.” Mike Pantaleano, a regional manager at Rockwell Automation, agrees by saying that this type of data is “the basis for understanding the real causes of inefficiency, waste and lost capacity,”. “It also empowers plant personnel to make informed decisions around optimizing assets within a production facility or across a manufacturing enterprise.”, he adds. So, instead of lowering operators’ confidence and enthusiasm by making them feel replaced by automation technologies, training them in smart factory analytics and having them use it in their daily lives will allow them to have bigger responsibility and ownership over their tasks. 

Packaging lines are essential operations for food and CPG manufacturing companies and are the canaries in the coal mine for the overall operation. As these lines become automated, visibility into packaging line KPIs is reduced and troubleshooting root causes becomes far more difficult. Implementing Smart Factory Analytics when you implement automation solutions is essential to restore production visibility and maximize the OEE, and profitability of your automation investments.

Worximity offers smart factory analytics solutions to go along with your automation efforts. These will help you improve your OEE much faster and understand your packaging and production operations much better. Worximity solutions are vital for the success of your company’s operations.

Interested in learning more? Book a demo today!

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The Worximity Smart Food Factory solution is a low-cost hardware system that can be up and running in a few hours combined with an easy and intuitive yet powerful analytics dashboard that provides fast ROI to start and a roadmap to full-on IIoT success.

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