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Lessons learned: packaging machinery

700 packaging professionals share their advice about packaging machinery.

Pw 6373 Lessons Machine1

Over the past several months, Packaging World has shared advice on packaging departments, materials, and projects from 700 packaging professionals who responded to a May 2008 survey. Our four-part special report series concludes this month with lessons learned about packaging machinery. Edited for clarity, the answers to this question range from prepurchase advice through operational suggestions for older equipment.

A number of responses were cost and quality related, including this one from a Kraft Foods Europe manager: “Don’t compromise on quality. You will use this equipment for 20 years plus.” A Schering-Plough employee observed, “While you get what you pay for, machinery can only do so much.” Others provided different takes on that same view, including the following:

• You get what you pay for. Lower-cost equipment will meet a short-term need, but will cost more in the long run. More-expensive suppliers have more depth and ability to provide long-term support.

• Take the capital expenditure hit up front, and choose to pay for better machinery so there is no constant “payment” on the operational side.

• Reliability and after-sale service are more important than a low price.

• Spend the money on quality components and construction; it costs less than fixing shortcuts.

Others turned their attention to machinery components and controls. For example, one advised, “Don’t skimp on the control system on the first prototype.” Another stated, “You only need the automation that is absolutely necessary for the project. Separate the necessities from the niceties. Taken care of, used equipment will work fine for most projects.” A third offered this: “When selecting equipment, make sure it is capable of being upgraded to newer technologies that will save you dollars down the road in capital expenditures or operations.”

Machines and people

A food packager provided the following response, one I had really never thought about before: “There is no such thing as automatic machines, they always require an operator and/or a mechanic.” His response underscores the invaluable importance of the human side of machinery, an aspect mentioned by many. “The machinery is only as good as the operators!” noted one. Another wrote, “The machinery only works as well as its operators allow it to work.” A knowledgeable food manager offered this overview: “Equipment has its limitations, but often the operators of that same equipment impose further limitations on it unknowingly. Always find out what the manufacturer’s specs are and make sure the operators work to those limits, not their own, which may have been built up through the years.”

This packaging professional captures helpful experience with his advice: “Machinery needs to be designed to be as simple as possible for operators. For example, use machinery that has hard settings for packaging changes rather than ‘pointers and rules.’”

A machinery builder manager emphasized, “Always have the right people involved. Have the people who will be buying, working with, and working on the equipment involved from start to finish. And always have a rep from the equipment company involved from start to installation.”

Another respondent combined several nuggets in the following advice: “Always conduct a trial run before bulk production, as no two machines are the same. A lot depends on the skill of the operator.” One respondent summed things up well with this response: “There are three things that matter: the machine, the components, and the skill of the operator.”

Maintenance matters

On the personnel side, numerous responses centered on the essential need for proper maintenance. One participant offered this sage, direct advice about packaging machinery: “Invest in a good maintenance department.” Relatedly, a manager with the R.C. Bigelow tea company provided this comprehensive summary: “Establish specifications and develop programs that ensure that the anticipated quality expectations are consistently provided. Good maintenance programs save money, improve efficiencies, and reduce scrap. Preventive and progressive maintenance programs must remain dynamic and flexible as the equipment ages. Programs are enhanced with additional checks based on hour-meter frequencies.”

The fundamental interaction between materials and machines was reflected in responses such as these: “Small differences in raw materials can make a significant change in how the machine runs!” and “A little change in packaging design can have an effect on the speed of a packaging machine, so I test every change, such as a change in paperboard caliper or supplier.” Another contact emphasized to “test the machinery with the material you plan to use. Material does matter.”

To read more maintenance responses, see  Lessons Learned: Maintenance matters.

Uniquely quirky

In our report on packaging materials lessons learned , one theme that emerged was the discrepancy in the performance of the same material between suppliers and even the variances among rolls, such as for films. The idea of individuality or quirkiness was also echoed in the machinery survey question, such as in this comment: “Like back-to-back autos off an assembly line, every machine has its nuances.” Said another respondent, “No two machines are the same, even if they’re the same model number and manufacturer.” The following manager agreed, writing that “the most important lesson learned is that each machine has its own utility, advantage, speed, versatility, and endurance. The machine selection requires a careful analysis of requirements and the features needed.” Still another wrote, “Machines are never the same. Multiple machines by the same builder, with the same settings, and the same input product still equal different issues.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Several people also cautioned against the old trap of making assumptions when troubleshooting or otherwise, though this manager from converter Alcan Packaging also offered a specific solution: “Assume nothing. The use of high-speed photography can be beneficial in resolving problems.”

Another pointed to the value of ongoing education through experience. “There is always something else that you can learn to make your equipment better,” he wrote.

That’s how we feel, and thus, we will continue our Lessons Learned series next month with the launch of a regular column that will highlight insights from hundreds of packaging professionals on a variety of packaging topics.

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