How Custom is Too Custom When it Comes to Packaging Equipment?

20 May 2016 //

Equipment PurchasingPackaging Line EfficiencyProject Planning

Normally, a packaging machine is designed to meet certain base requirements and performance standards. Beyond that, there’s an endless array of customization available to meet individual manufacturer’s wants and wishes. While it’s certainly commonplace to add some customization to the base machine design to best fit a particular application, the question is when does customization go too far?

Below are four considerations related to customization you should think about when spec’ing out your next packaging equipment purchase.

1. Pigeonholing a Design

Most packaging equipment is designed to either accommodate a single size or a fixed range of products/packages. In these scenarios, the machine design is relatively straightforward and chances that the overall investment will get out of hand are slim. However, when spec’ing your next machine, it’s important to look around the corner and talk with the marketing and sales departments to determine if there’s a need to investigate future flexibility requirements.

For example, if a company currently supplies a 6-count pack to a big box store but the possibility exists for a future change to smaller pack counts, it may be prudent to investigate and invest in the additional, custom capability to create 4-packs now. Investing in what might be a $20K customization now could eliminate the need for a new, $250K system three years down the road.

2. Open-ended Design

If your packaging equipment needs to accommodate an extreme range of product sizes/counts or may need to account for a large range of future possibilities, it might be conceivable to have a one-size-fits-all machine—but only if it’s a highly customized, one-off, do-everything design. If this situation arises, it might be worth the time to investigate reducing the range of products to lower the upfront investment.

A good example of this type of scenario is the window industry. Here, the difference between a machine that can run the entire size range of products versus 90-95% of that range may be huge in terms of the complexity and level of customization required. By excluding the oddball 5-10% extra-large and extra-small windows from the design requirements, the machine can be less complicated, require a smaller footprint, and have a lower price point, while packaging the core products well.

3. Overreacting to the Past

If your company had previously purchased a machine from manufacturer XYZ, and that machine proved to be nothing but a hassle from day one, it’s hard not to overcompensate for those experiences in your next packaging equipment RFP. However, trying to resolve previous problems by customizing and overdesigning the replacement system isn’t the best way forward. Instead, tell the equipment manufacturers you’re considering working with about the issues you experienced and let them use their expertise to find the best solution. More often than not, a simple resolution is available that won’t require a highly customized design. For example, if a previous machine was unable to adequately shrink a package, rather than requesting a customized shrink tunnel that can achieve a temperature of 450 degrees, let the manufacturer determine a solution, which might be a simple as improving the airflow.

4. Going Overboard on Controls

Today, there are more options for control systems than ever. Companies like Allen Bradley/Rockwell and Siemens continue to introduce new equipment that’s more capable and powerful. And given the availability of all of these powerful controls, there’s usually a desire to have the latest and greatest systems with as many bells and whistles as possible. However, this may be a good opportunity to pause and compare your wants and needs and ask the equipment manufacturers what type of controls systems are truly needed for the proposed machine.

The big benefit of keeping the controls simple is removing added costs from the project. Customizing a machine with the top-of-the-line PLC and large screen HMI can increase the price tag well over $10K! Another aspect to consider is the proficiency your operators have with control systems. If they have no prior experience with automation or similar control systems, then highly customized controls may become a barrier to efficient operation.

Whether you’re looking for a new shrink bundling equipment, or are investigating customizing a packaging system design, contact us. Our team would be happy to help you determine what customization options you may—or may not—need.