Line 4 at United Distillers' Plainfield IL manufacturing plant produced 1.7 million cases of 1.75-L bottles of vodka and gin in 1996. That's 57% of the plant's total output. No wonder line efficiency is mandatory. In the past year output on the line has increased by more than 3 cases per day. Better yet the distiller has saved $400 on this line. Those savings are attributable primarily to two changes made last spring. The first was switching from ordering polyethylene terephthalate bottles in corrugated reshippers to purchasing the PET bottles in bulk pallet loads. Second was using an H-Bliss-style case rather than the previous RSC reshipper. Knocked-down Bliss-style case blanks are shipped separately. "Most of the savings are from reduced inbound freight costs" says plant manager Mark Fahey. "You can get roughly 50 percent more bottles on the truck in bulk than you can in reshippers" he says. "We also save on corrugated because we don't have to pay the upcharge for the supplier to set up cases and fill them with empty bottles." Plant engineer Bob Patel adds "At the time we were using reshippers corrugated costs were getting out of hand. The Bliss box uses 15 percent less corrugated than the reshipper so we created some significant material savings." And while the line still produces 1.7 million cases annually the changes have increased output efficiency. Patel explains that by producing more than 3 additional cases per day on the line United can meet market demand in far fewer production days. That frees personnel to staff the other four production lines at Plainfield. "There are tremendous labor savings" he admits although specific figures were not revealed. The added efficiency stems from new and/or upgraded equipment all added within the past 16 months. The machinery includes: * A Busse (Randolph WI) depalletizer and Moen Industries (Santa Fe Springs CA) case erectors. They help United produce about 14 cases/day compared to just over 10/day with previous semi-automatic depalletizing and uncasing. Pallet loads of reshippers were conveyed to the former depalletizer that lifted one tier of boxes at a time from the pallet into position for two operators to remove boxes and place them on a conveyor for downstream operations; * A customized high-speed case taper (see sidebar p. 46) that produces 55 cases/min 27% more cases than the former hot melt unit; * New inspection systems from Heuft USA (Downers Grove IL) and Imagineering Systems (Wheeling IL) that improve inspection of fill height/cap placement and label placement respectively. A previous inspection system could not detect overfills. Label placement was checked visually by line personnel.