Is Your Small Food Manufacturing Business Ready for Packaging Automation?

29 January 2016 //

Food ManufacturingTray Packaging

Initially, labor and material costs associated with case packaging for low throughput quantities makes sense. However, as food manufacturers find their way from local farmers’ markets to grocery store shelves in response to consumer demand, leaders must decide whether or not to invest in additional capital equipment. The shift from manual to automated packaging can be worrisome for a growing start-up, although failure to make the change can cost even more in the long run.

Here are three basic steps to use to help determine whether packaging automation is the best next step for your product and business.

1. Evaluate Your Business Goals

While it may seem intuitive, identifying your business goals is the best place to start when determining if your business should move from manual to automated packaging. For example, it may not make sense for a small salsa manufacturer to automate if their goal is to only ship to a select number of local stores. On the other hand, if that same business seeks to expand into 100 regional stores, automation is a viable consideration. This goal “road map” will help you discover your best business direction and equipment investment.

2. Assess Current Packaging Environment

It’s often said that people can’t get where they want to go unless they know where they’ve been. The same is true when looking to grow your business. Taking inventory of your current manufacturing process can shed light on the level of automation your business needs now and in the future.

Manufacturing areas you should assess include:

  • Current production rate
  • Any process bottlenecks
  • Primary packaging types

Digging deeper into any additional planned product and packaging types, as well as guidelines or requirements set by your current or prospective product retailers, will aid in identifying packaging and equipment goals. Consider:

  • Packaging weights
  • Carton dimensions
  • Pack counts
  • Handhold requirements

3. Evaluate Your Material and Labor Costs

Not every small manufacturing setting requires high-speed, fully-automated lines. Some run effectively with a semi-automatic, or a slow- to medium-automated packaging line.

When assessing secondary packaging options, it’s important to look at all of the factors that can affect your bottom line, including:

  • Time and resources associated with manually packaging and pallet-loading cases
  • Material, storage and freight costs associated with corrugate shipping containers
  • Equipment and material space savings

You’ll then be able to conclude the feasibility of automation for your organization, calculate potential dollar savings and ultimately set a capital equipment budget.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Once you’ve completed your fact-finding steps, you can make an educated decision about automation for your business. You should also share your findings with any potential packaging equipment manufacturers so they can align a system with your product and business goals. Depending on the product and packaging requirements, you may even realize additional savings with with the use of a tray former wrapper or shrink bundler.

Contact us today to learn more about the role packaging automation can play in taking your small food manufacturing business to the next level.