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Maximizing your packaging assets

More than 200 industry professionals respond to the question, “In what creative ways is your company making use of underutilized personnel or machinery?”

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In a recent survey, we received 200+ responses to the question, “In what creative ways is your company making use of underutilized personnel or machinery?” Here are some of the responses, edited for clarity.

Responses related to cross-training were the most frequently mentioned:
•  We allow no overtime, and move personnel from four plant locations to where they are needed. One day, a truck driver may have to be a forklift driver or work on a packaging line. This utilizes the people you have and possibly will eliminate the need to lay off employees.
•  Those who have time between jobs will test equipment operation, conduct shop inventories of materials and equipment or tooling, and put their own workstations in order.
•  Through technology, creating flexibility in manufacturing, multiple products, grooming people to build multiple skills, etc. We have done more cross-training in all areas of the company to better utilize talent and allow for better planning if cutbacks are necessary. We have managed the workforce to keep the best workers on board.
•  Personnel are being asked to wear different hats and take on more responsibility.

Further personnel-related thoughts:
•  Every employee is asked to do more with less; even nontechnical employees are learning systems and how to use equipment that they never needed to know in the past.
•  Using workers to investigate damage incidents to help cut these types of costs.
•  We always find ways to utilize employees for future efficiencies in manufacturing such as cleaning, inspection, preventive maintenance, upgrades, etc.
•  We recently used plant operators rather than contractors during a plant renovation project.
•  We utilize our employees for improvement projects throughout our facility instead of contracting the work out.

Equipment machinations
Some machinery-focused responses included the following:
•  We will be cleaning up stored or unused equipment and putting it up for sale if it is functional, or we will be selling it for parts.
•  Repurposing equipment, refurbishing old and used equipment, and offering setup assistance to possible customers.
•  Larger investment in machine overhauls versus investment in new machines.
•  Turning to mobile packaging solutions to move from line to line.
•  Repaired used print engines and demo equipment and have offered them to our customers to buy.
•  Cleaning and lubricating machinery.
•  We have refurbished a few machines that were in "mothballs" instead of buying new ones. We're also moving machines around to different plants to put them closer to where the customers are in order to save on freight.
•  Renting-to-own used equipment.
•  We have started up a mechanical packaging operation as part of our packaging division. The mechanical packaging division locates used equipment and then fixes and upgrades it to sell to our customers.

Several responses centered on business decisions:
•  Although our company's primary market is automotive, we are now pursuing many of the vertical markets that we had ignored, such as primary container labeling. Our present equipment is versatile, permitting us to pursue other markets and keep our employees working.
•  We are accepting marginal business that we would have passed on last year.
•  Taking on contract manufacturing.
•  Taking contract manufacturing orders at-cost to keep a higher utilization rate on the equipment.
•  Combining delivery routes, and requesting customers to piggyback orders.
•  Offering to the market new packaging mixes previously thought of as too labor-intense to pursue.

Other responses
Many of the responses were across the spectrum, including these:
•  We welcome much input to gain good value and results. Working closely with our printers helps tremendously.
•  Reduce the operation and prolong the vacation for employees to reduce utility usage.
•  We look closely at streamlining our runs and changeovers, and we schedule qualified associates for the more demanding runs.
•  Making longer, larger, bigger production runs after initial setup.
•  Cleaning or painting.
•  More supervision and attention to detail allows for less errors and more effective operations.
•  Existing client inventory fulfillment handled by assembly workers during slack periods.
•  We are looking at alternative ways of replacing OEM parts.
•  We've moved to four 10-hour-day workweeks to minimize setup, cleanup, [and utility usage]. The employees love the idea!

Then there were these exceptions:
•  Frankly, we do not have the luxury of having underutilized personnel or machinery.
•  Labor costs are such that we can't afford to keep personnel that we can't fully utilize.
•  Not in this economic environment, where many of us are in survival mode.
•  At this time, we do not have underutilized machinery. As far as underutilized personnel, we move people from one department to another if the department they work in slows down. So far, this has worked for us.
•  Frankly, everyone here pretty much runs on eight cylinders.
•  We’re hiring additional staff to run more equipment.
•  We are having a record year!

Finally, there were some other views:
•  Force personnel to get married and take unpaid leaves.
•  Writing applications for a bailout.
•  There is no such thing. If something or someone is underutilized, they go out the back door.

Lastly, there was this response from a manager with a deli sandwich packager who saw the economic downturn is an opportunity to provide a welcome dose of optimism: “We are using slow times to improve the efficiencies of our production and equipment because now we have the time to do so, and this will make for future improvements once the economy improves, which it will!”

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