The Advantages and Challenges of Packaging Machine Flexibility

Posted on November 5 2015 by Jarlath Harkin

In packaging machinery, the term “flexibility” is almost exclusively used in a positive light, describing a piece of equipment’s ability to handle many different products or formats. While flexibility is certainly a noble goal, failing to acknowledge that a packaging machine that must handle many products or functions will require some compromises can often lead to unpleasant surprises and lost efficiency. Think of it in terms of a car. You can’t expect to purchase a vehicle that will be the best at both transporting the kid’s hockey team in comfort and doing hot laps at the track.

A good starting point to achieve the most benefit from packaging equipment flexibility, while minimizing the potential downsides, is to be aware of the advantages and challenges that it offers.

Advantages of Flexibility

  • Flexibility in design can extend the useful lifecycle of a particular piece of equipment. This is particularly true for consumer products, where the lifecycle is a lot shorter than it used to be. A customer recently shared that they plan to use a piece of secondary packaging machinery for approximately 4–5 years before they lose the competitive advantage on a new product and packaging format, and then will need to retool that line to do something else.

  • Flexibility in packaging machinery allows for rapid reaction to minor or temporary changes required in secondary packaging formats, even when the primary product remains common. For example, supplying club stores with secondary packaging formats that are unique to them and may be temporary.

  • Flexibility allows for accommodation of variations in the product being packaged. An example of this would be products that have density variations due to manufacturing processes or changes to input components.

 Challenges of Flexibility

  • Flexibility in packaging machinery will ALWAYS require compromise in at least one key area: performance, speed, price, changeover time/consistency, footprint or complexity. While undesirable, this challenge can be mitigated by analyzing these areas and proactively determining the order of compromise. Acceptance and management of this can also help in supplier selection. If someone tells you that you can have it all without any compromise, you may want to think again. It’s kind of like a used car salesman telling you the 5,400 lb., 8-passenger SUV you are considering will also deliver the “best” mpg and 0-60 mph in 5 seconds. 
  • Flexibility in machinery requires discipline in operation. This typically relates to adjustments of a mechanical or electronic setting and the need for operational discipline to establish centerlines needed to run a particular product or format. In many years of designing equipment, we have come to appreciate that not having established procedures and protocol for when and how to use an adjustment point is the root cause of efficiency losses.

Final Thoughts

Flexibility in packaging machinery is a great to have, but knowing the potential pitfalls associated with adding too much of it is important. If you need help prioritizing your needs and understanding the right balance between design and flexibility, contact us today. We’ll help ensure that you get the most out of your new packaging machine.


This entry was posted in Packaging System Upgrades, Packaging Line Efficiency