Controlling Labor Costs on Automated Secondary Packaging Equipment

06 May 2016 //

Cost SavingsPackaging System UpgradeProject Planning

On today’s highly automated and flexible secondary packaging equipment, it’s not unusual to find several or even dozens of mechanical and electronic adjustment points to accommodate repeated product changeovers. However, on older machines and lines where new products are frequently introduced, oftentimes operators rely on their experience rather than defined settings to change over a machine from one product to another. This practice is not effective in terms of labor time spent on setting up and operating a machine, line efficiency and/or the quality of packages produced.

Controlling labor costs associated with changeovers requires a disciplined approach to capturing, saving and reusing defined settings. Many automated systems need to run several dozen different SKUs, which makes saving the settings seem overwhelming. However, establishing centerlines once and saving that data in an easily accessible manner is always worthwhile as it saves substantial labor time and removes the temptation for operators to “just wing it.”

Line Layout 

It’s somewhat unusual for a modern, automated secondary packaging system to require a full-time operator, but there is the occasional need for assigning a full-time person to monitor the machine, replenish supplies, and tend to ancillary functions, such as date coding and labeling. This challenge can often be mitigated with some forethought to the overall layout of the line. For example, the secondary packaging machine can be placed next to the primary packaging machine so a single operator can monitor and supply both systems. This unconventional layout, often designed in a “U” shape, may be the difference between needing a full-time operator and being able to use existing labor most efficiently.

Consumable Run Time

Whether using rigid or flexible materials, the run time between replenishment is often a determining factor in the labor cost associated with operating a secondary packaging system. In situations where these costs are significant, there are several alternatives to ensure efficient equipment operation without committing extra personnel or time:

  • Packaging material monitoring systems. Constantly monitoring consumable materials to ensure appropriate levels are maintained can eliminate the need for an operator’s presence.
  • High-capacity consumable supplies. For rigid packaging materials such as corrugated trays or RSCs, magazine capacities can be adjusted to hold more product and increase the time between operator interactions. For flexible materials, such as shrink bundling film, systems with large-diameter rolls can increase run time between roll changeover by several hours, thereby freeing up labor resources for more productive tasks.
  • Automated replenishment systems. Automatic splicing systems for flexible materials like LDPE film will provide multiple shifts of run time before an operator is required to replace materials. This allows for predictability in reloading materials and the most efficient allocation of resources.

Careful thought and planning goes a long way to dramatically reducing labor costs associated with operating either new or existing automated secondary packaging systems.

Looking to centerline your operation? Contact EDL Packaging Engineers today to discuss your equipment needs.