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PackML as ‘enabler’

Among the participants in a packaging machinery automation roundtable discussion that takes place tomorrow at The Automation Conference is Tom Doney, Nestle Engineering and leader of the OMAC Packaging Workgroup’s PackAdvantage committee. I had a chance to chat with him last week about PackML and here are some of the ideas he shared.

• What all CPG companies would like to get a better handle on is this: Once a new packaging line is up and going, how is it actually doing? If it is not doing so great, then why? What are we going to do to fix it? Then once we think we’ve fixed it, is that fix sustainable?

• What’s too often missing in packaging operations today is some form of automated reporting system. Too much reporting is done with a clipboard. We write down that over this shift we had x number of stoppages and y number of downtimes. After doing that for each unit of operation, we begin to get a picture of what’s going on. What’s needed is some kind of reporting structure or communication structure in the packaging machinery that can report on its status. That way we can automate this stuff and in fact have it display somewhere to help us track just how the line is doing. And if it’s not performing up to expectation, that communication structure I mentioned earlier should have enough granularity to let you dig down and see which machine is the one causing the big problems. With that information we should be able to come up with a fix. PackML is an enabler for some of these things, and it could go a long way toward making our fixes sustainable.

• Among the reasons the PackML standard has not been that widely embraced is that the consumer packaged goods companies have not been asking for it with any consistency. We need to be clear and consistent on what it is we want. Communicating machine states is well enough established, but I think we need to have some more dialogue on what’s called the “common look and feel.” As you walk from one machine to the next, the look of the operator terminals should all be the same, even though the machines come from different manufacturers.

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• The technology providers who supply the packaging machinery OEMs will have to play a role in all of this, too. As we in the machinery buying space begin asking a machinery provider to write control code in a certain way to accommodate the standard, the technology providers should find a way to smooth out that process. They were very active where PackML is concerned just a few years ago, but then it went quiet. We’re hoping that will change.

• One reason Nestle has taken it upon itself to reinvigorate the PackML initiative is because, as a global user, we see the benefit of having a packaging line in Dubai act like a line in Brazil act like a line in the U.S.

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By the way, there’s still time to register for The Automation Conference May 22-23 at the Hilton in Rosemont, IL. See you there.

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