Ask the Experts: What to consider before automating your packaging line

If you’re thinking about automating your entire packaging line, what should you consider to determine whether it would be practical or cost-effective for your plant?

EXPERT #1: “When making a change to your packaging system or process, consider the total cost of ownership, which includes several variables. Examine not only the savings that you can achieve by automating your line, but also the possible material cost savings. For example, if you’re currently manually case-packing your material in corrugated boxes, you can reduce your material and labor costs by 50 percent or more by switching to an automated stretch-wrap bundling system using low-density polyethylene film.”

EXPERT #2: “The automation process must generate a payback that results in enough revenue or savings to pay for the equipment in a short length of time. Keep the following in mind when considering automation: Be sure to define what automation means to you. For some companies it’s simply making a cumbersome, labor-intensive packaging process more practical for an operator. It may not consist of producing high rates or large quantities, but may simply be adding controls and a weigh system to an existing packaging line to relieve an operator of several steps that a machine can handle. Think practically when choosing an automated packaging line. For the new equipment to be successful, it must be reliable and dependable. If there’s too much maintenance or downtime, production efficiency drops. Include features that make troubleshooting problems simple and quick. If the equipment is too complicated, it may require a technician or engineer to operate it. Select equipment with off-the-shelf cylinders, motors, bearings, and other components. If the project is dirty or corrosive, don’t expect standard components to do the job. Have adequate factory and field support to educate your operators and maintenance personnel. Support people should be available when you need help.

automation-saves-cash“Most important, automating a packaging line can provide these benefits:

  • Reducing direct labor cost.
  • Eliminating potential injury.
  • Processing more material where labor is scarce.
  • Extending production time beyond human endurance levels.
  • Improving finished product appearance.”

EXPERT #3: “Look at labor costs, including employee salaries, insurance, and benefits, when considering packaging automation. In the case of manual bag palletizing, which isn’t only a labor intensive job, but risky, because workers must handle heavy bags, there’s an increased possibility of insurance claims due to worker stress or injury. Until you have a claim, it’s hard to estimate a cost. Therefore, you must realize that while the automated equipment might have a longer payback based on worker salary and benefits, it may be essential to avoid injury and related insurance claims that could be substantial.”

EXPERT #4: “Questions to consider when considering automated bagging: Can the product be put into a bag? Some materials are best marketed in other types of containers such as bulk boxes, barrels, or FIBCs because they don’t easily fill bags. If the product can be put into a bag, what style of bag should be used? What’s the required production rate in tons per hour? Is this rate determined by batch or by continuous production? Can the bagging system meet this rate? How many employees will the new system require? Can you use existing employees? How many employees will this system eliminate? Will it eliminate a total shift? What’s your annual cost per employee? Is there enough room in the existing facility to accommodate this change, or would you have to add additional building space? Will this automation system put more material out the door and thus increase the bottom line? What are the total expected savings?”

EXPERT #5: “First, your yearly production has to reach a certain level of output to justify such a large investment. Consider these factors: Do you have a seasonal production? Do you usually operate on more than one shift? Will you be able to reduce to only one shift and still reach the same production level with automation? A point of reference when considering full automation that we often use for customers is a production rate of 800,000 to 1 million bags per year. Second, do you anticipate a remarkable growth in each of your respective markets? Are you going to introduce more products to your markets, or is your product marketed in such a way that the demand for it will increase drastically? Before purchasing such equipment, we encourage you to research your markets so you have a clear picture of what’s coming. After you get a crystal clear picture, you’ll be in a better position to make a sound decision. If the markets you serve have been stagnant or even slightly decreasing, you may want to reduce your overall operations costs with automation to become even more competitive. If the market trend is in favor of full automation, you have no choice but to follow it. In all cases, market research is the key to making better decisions. Third, how should you pick your supplier and what factors should you consider when exploring the many different manufacturers of bagging, palletizing, and material handling systems? The first thing that comes to mind is the initial cost of the system at the time of purchase. What’s often forgotten is the after-purchase support and reliability of the equipment and the overall capabilities of the company.

“Answer these questions prior to purchasing:

  • How fast can the company supply parts?
  • What’s the cost of maintenance?
  • Will the supplier be there 5 years down the road to support me adequately?
  • Can the supplier integrate the whole line so there’s only one contact, one phone number, and, obviously, one company to deal with?
  • Can the supplier provide customized added-value solutions to help you reach your ultimate production goals?

“Do your homework carefully and don’t base your final decision on the initial equipment price because there are so many other factors to consider. If everything is done properly, your return on investment can be less than 2 years for the total project.”

If you’re considering automating your packaging line, now’s the time to engage a supplier who can help you with all of your automating questions.

We provide ROI analysis, cost savings opportunities, and a panel of experts who can help you make the right decision for your facility.  There’s no time to waste: reach out to us today.

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