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Top changeover challenges for food and beverage manufacturers (and how to solve them)

New products hit store shelves each day, with up to 21,000 new food and beverage products released in a year. That doesn’t account for the new package sizes and packaging designs that brands develop and launch to keep up with ever-evolving consumer demand. As the marketing and development continue to innovate and tailor products to the liking of consumers, the production side quickly is handed a new puzzle to solve. Adding product sizes and formats translates into shorter production runs, and the inevitable result is more frequent changeovers, including secondary packaging. Adding changeovers without losing line efficiency (and money) is easier said than done. While a mainline brand has the product volume to keep changeovers to a minimum, small- to medium-sized brands may be forced to accommodate two, three or even more changeovers in a single shift. Whether the line switches to a smaller bottle for a variety pack or from boxes to pouches, achieving a rapid and accurate changeover is essential. “Compared to 20 years ago, food and beverage manufacturers are under greater pressure to maintain a certain level of speed and agility to hold down their per-unit costs,” says Derek Bolland, Director of Engineering at Douglas. “New products go to market almost monthly for some companies,” Bolland says. “That’s why gaining the ability to adapt to these changeovers in their secondary packaging line is appealing and a must.” Let’s take a look at some of the biggest barriers to recovering efficiencies lost to changeovers on the secondary packaging line, and how to remove them.

Parts and components add complexity to changeovers

Older packaging equipment is not built or designed for fast, efficient changeovers. The simple reason is in years past, they weren’t needed. “Once they decided to go to market with some kind of product, the packaging would look the same for years,” Bolland says. “So that same piece of secondary packaging equipment would last for years. In an older-model case packer, one changeover can mean using 50 or more parts and many adjustments.” It’s easy to see how that adds time to the changeover process, along with opportunity for human error, which would lead to a line stoppage and the product waste that comes with it. “If one piece is off, the whole machine can’t run properly,” Bolland says. “And from there, it can take time to identify the needle in the haystack, to fix the problem and get the line running again.” Design of your secondary packaging machine can simplify the parts and components, thus helping producers gain back some of that time lost to installing parts and recovering from faults. “One thing we try to do is reduce components needed for changeovers,” Bolland says. “We reduce the number of parts our customers need to physically take out and put back in. We group products and pack patterns that our customers run, and minimize the number of change parts while eliminating change parts and change points altogether wherever possible.”

Machine layout and orientation

Designing a production line is very much an art and a science, and it takes a careful analysis to ensure that you don’t inadvertently turn the production floor into a maze. Sometimes, Bolland sees just that when he visits manufacturing facilities. When it’s time to launch a changeover, it’s quite the production. The machinist is winding his way around this maze of conveyor belts, gathering tools and parts, maybe even climbing a ladder to access the section of the machine to reach the adjustment points. It leaves him wondering: How many extra steps are they taking just to swap components on a case packer? For that reason, manufacturers are thinking about the real estate on the manufacturing floor when it’s time to add secondary packaging equipment, so they can conserve space and avoid the maze effect. “Thoughtful, compact machine design cuts back on the walking, which is actually an effective way to save time on changeovers,” Bolland says. “At Douglas,” he went on to say, “all access points are kept to one side of the machine, including adjustment points, operating screens, magazine holders and gluing systems for case packers.”

Achieving consistent repeatability

One metric of a successful changeover is repeatability; that is, how well do you replicate a successful machine task on the next run without wasting more time fiddling with the machine settings? A case packer with manual controls often requires fine tuning to get to that precise, problem-free handling of the product. One solution is developing processes and training personnel. But today, machine automation programs changeover settings into the machine controls. So even after several changeovers, the machine easily restores the old settings to pack the cases exactly as it did earlier. This is a significant area where automation increases line efficiency, and generates high ROI.

Shortage of skilled workers

As illustrated earlier, an older case packing machine has many change parts and components, and requires a skilled machinist to complete the changeovers with speed and precision. However, food and beverage manufacturers face the ongoing issue of hiring and keeping experienced operators. Newer case packers are designed with fewer parts, controlled by easy-to-use, easy-to-learn human-machine interface (HMI). In the end, you need fewer hands and less experience to complete a changeover on secondary packaging equipment. This means even a novice can operate the machine, so machinists can focus on more complex tasks and other critical needs on the production floor. [Learn more about What manufacturers can do about the growing workforce skills gap]

Rapidly changing package sizes and formats

Changing packaging sizes and formats requires a top-to-bottom look at the entire production line, and secondary packaging is no exception. When brands launch a line that’s packaged in a handy single-serve pouch instead of the standard box, the manufacturer faces a choice: Get a change part so the case packer can grab the pouch or rely on manual labor to package the pouches for shipping. However, ordering a custom case packer to complete the job can take several months of lead time, not to mention the fact that success of any product is never guaranteed — where’s the ROI in that investment? That’s where food and beverage companies need flexibility in their secondary packaging line. A modular approach in machine design would help manufacturers gain agility to accommodate new product launches. The modular approach is all about being built for flexibility, so as products and demands shift and evolve, the production line can be easily adapted to meet the production needs in less time. “At Douglas, once a food manufacturer purchases a case packer, they can order a prefabricated component when they need it,” Bolland says. “All they have to do is send the samples, and their Douglas associate can help them identify the right component so they can get that line up and running with a significant reduction in lead time.” Modular design also means gaining the ability to easily connect secondary packaging machines — case erectors and sealers — so you can build the line you need for a specific production and change it as needed. The modular approach gives manufacturers the ability to change formats with less lead time, reduce overall new equipment costs, and lets CPG makers stay agile so they can be competitive in a razor-thin market. [Check out A Rundown of Flexible Packaging Solutions]

Waste caused by priming and cleaning

A changeover doesn’t simply add time to the process, it also adds a certain amount of waste. Stopping and priming are unavoidable effects, and when you calculate the volume of wasted product and materials in a year that results from these processes, it adds up to a lot of money on the table. One calculation that goes into adding any line is whether wasted products would offset the gains in timing. “However,” Bolland says, “something as simple as shortening conveyors can reduce the number of products needed for priming. This also reduces the number of products left behind on the line, saving time and effort on cleanup.” When there are more SKUs to make and pack up during a shift, quick changeovers are key to reducing manufacturing costs. Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

Pizza production: Making end-of-line packaging fast, consistent and simple

It is common for frozen pizza startups to generally start out doing everything by hand. Assembling the pizza pie and then stacking the plastic wrapped products into the shipping container is all manual. Gradually, as business grows with demand and the business has more capital to invest, the startup replaces manual pizza-making processes with automation. Usually, the last segment to automate is the end-of-line packaging. The process to add secondary packaging equipment frequently comes with questions. Based on lessons learned from other steps in their journey to automation, pizza producers want to confirm investing in a case packer that would add efficiency, not unwanted complexity. Here’s a look at how this evolution takes shape, and how a pizza producer can gain efficiency.

The need to update from RSC cases to wraparound cases

Frozen pizza is one of the most popular products in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. In 2019, 197.8 million Americans consumed frozen pizzas, with U.S. sales reaching $292 billion, according to data cited by Statista. Projections show robust growth over the next five years, with sales projected to reach $376.95 billion by 2025. In light of all that opportunity, what frozen pizza startup wouldn’t want a space in the frozen foods aisle of a major retailer like Walmart or Aldi? Contracts with major retailers come with specific requirements for secondary packaging. Most require that the products arrive in easy-open, shelf-ready packaging, sometimes with display features. “This shelf-ready packaging saves retailers time and labor stocking shelves, while also reducing accident rates,” says Jon Hoyme, Regional Sales Manager for Douglas. “For example, producers may want a case design that breaks in half, so frozen pizzas can be set upright on a freezer shelf,” he says. For the pizza manufacturer, this means manually packing standard RSC shipping cases will no longer meet their needs. Forecasts indicate this will increasingly be the case. According to a recent industry report quoted in Packaging World, retail ready packaging for frozen foods products will see 8.1% annual growth through 2024, the highest of any retail sector. The answer lies in tray and case packers that have the ability to work those side-loading wraparound cases for the shelf-ready packaging retailers want on their shelves.   [Learn more about RSC vs wraparound cases]

Fast, fault-free changeovers

Investing in a case packer is no small investment. For a small-to-medium frozen pizza startup, a machine designed for fast, foolproof changeovers is essential. “Unlike a larger pizza manufacturer, it’s not unheard of for smaller manufacturers to have two to three changeovers in a shift to fill the orders,” Hoyme says. That’s because pizzas come in multiple sizes, from 6” to as large as 16”, they can be round or square, or get packed in traditional plastic wrap or set in a boxed container. When that pizza maker is making pies for a private label, the variables in their production line increase. Larger, mainline brands are cranking out various pizza sizes and shapes non-stop at a very high volume, so it’s not unusual for them to need just one or two changeovers a week. Smaller pizza makers, running at 200 pizzas a minute, every minute wasted on a changeover comes at a high cost. The last thing a growing pizza producer wants is a case packer machine that adds a new set of complications — frequent faults, confusing processes and uneven repeatability. During a changeover, speed is everything, and modern case packers are better designed to switch easily from size to size. For example, Douglas’ most recent model of case packer, the CpONE, has 35% fewer change points and 40% fewer parts. “Those who opt for complete automation, with many change points controlled by a step or servo motor, some changeovers can be completed in as little as 5-7 minutes,” Hoyme says. “That’s where they realize their ROI.” “When they’re making 200 pizzas a minute, that time savings in changeovers adds up over the course of the year pretty quickly,” Hoyme says.

Adequate training

In manufacturing, maintaining adequate staffing is a challenge. One worry that comes with adding a new automation unit is whether the business will be able to find and keep staff to operate the new case packer. Switching from hand packing to automation is a big transition for the workforce, and in a tight labor market, it’s not always an easy transition. That’s why Douglas designs its case packers so it’s simple enough for a non-machinist to operate, and provides plenty of on-site, hands-on training, rather than focusing solely on classroom training. Hoyme says that hands-on instruction means employees retain more of the training, they become more familiar with the machine, and have the ability to “make smart decisions and ask smart questions.” Once the case packer is ready to join the line, the benefits start showing up right away. “There’s savings for the producer, less changeover time and higher production line efficiencies,” Hoyme says.

Getting to OEE

When it’s time to automate end of the line processes, whether you’re in pizza production or another food specialty, Douglas makes it fast and seamless for you to start realizing the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) you expect from your investment. Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

How JIT inventory and Shelf-ready packaging are helping retailers

This year has proven to be remarkable in many ways. March 2020 was memorable in how it gave the world a glimpse into the workings of the supply chain. As the coronavirus began spreading and taking hold in the U.S., consumers flocked to their favorite big-box retailers and grocery stores to stock up on food and necessities. That led to the much-talked-about toilet paper shortage of 2020. Yes, there were empty shelves. But as any maker of consumer packaged goods (CPG) knows, it wasn’t a true shortage. Year after year, toilet paper sales have fallen into some easy-to-predict buying patterns that hadn’t changed much, and it was not anticipated that 2020 would be any different. When toilet paper sales surged to 71% higher year-over-year from March 1 to May 2, 2020, according to Nielsen, it created an unprecedented situation. Truly, it was a shock to the system. Without a doubt, consumers found this frustrating (and understandably so), but to watchers of business trends, the shortage brought to light just how efficiently our supply chain system works, as it moves consumer packaged goods from a manufacturing facility to market. As you well know, there are no stockpiles of toilet paper waiting in the warehouse, just in case people might want to buy more. Inventory costs money. Once the roll comes off the manufacturing line, it stays moving until it hits the retail shelves. This super-lean system throws up a multitude of challenges to makers of consumer packaged goods. Not only are CPG manufacturers constantly looking for solutions to make their line more efficient, they’re also meeting the ever-evolving standards of retailers. Retailers are also looking for ways to boost efficiency, and sometimes, that has ramifications for the CPG manufacturers. In light of the TP situation, let’s take a look at a few.

Just-in-time inventory

Just-in-time (JIT) inventory is a concept that applies to retailers and manufacturers. Though their approaches may differ, the shared goal is minimizing storage to reduce costs of inventory. Just keep it flowing. What this means is retailers are stocking just enough product to meet forecasted demands, and on the manufacturing side, CPG makers are keeping just enough raw materials on hand to meet the immediate needs of production. If your CPG manufacturing line isn’t optimized, a retailer’s JIT inventory system can create a new set of inefficiencies to solve, and here’s how … When retailers pursue JIT inventory, an Achilles heel can quickly emerge on the manufacturing side in the form of changeovers. Prior to JIT inventory, CPG manufacturers could juggle a multitude of products by maximizing the volume of each run, so a production week would have as few line-stopping changeovers as possible. When retailers were willing to accommodate a bit of extra inventory, this gave manufacturers a workaround with time-wasting changeovers. With JIT inventory systems, retailers are focusing more on leaner shipments so they’re receiving only the volume of product that meets the current, forecasted needs. This puts the responsibility on the manufacturer to adapt. One solution is to find space to store excess product until the retailer wants it. When faced with the expenses of land, facilities and labor, finding a solution to make changeovers work emerges as the better long-term solution. Another second solution for CPG manufacturers is turning to innovations and upgrades to manufacturing equipment. The result is faster changeovers, machines with more intuitive controls and fewer touchpoints resulting in fewer parts that can break.

Shelf-ready packaging

In the ongoing competition for the pocketbook of the American consumer, another cost-saving solution retailers are using is shelf-ready packaging. This solution is all about optimizing either the packaging, or how it is packed, with the aim of reducing the labor needed to get products on the shelf. Shelf-ready packaging can mean positioning products on containers so they can be easily stacked in aisle pallets at warehouse supermarkets, or it can mean easy open cases that are ready to stack on the shelf. When different segments of the market — grocery, warehouse and convenience stores — each have their own requirements for shelf-ready packaging, it adds a new dimension to your changeovers. Not only are you working with retailer-specific packaging, you’re also working with retailer-specific secondary packaging.

Fragmented market

No two retailers have the same needs when it comes to sizes and types of products they want to sell. When it comes to bottled drinks, convenience stores, dollar stores and warehouses each have their own specifications for sizes, packaging and flavors for the CPG makers who want a piece of the shelving territory. As these realities of working with retailers illustrate, optimizing your manufacturing line is a complex process. When you can meet their needs, it will keep your products stocked on the shelf. Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to keep things running? Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

How CPG manufacturers can regain efficiency

The realities of today’s market for consumer packaged goods (CPGs) are all about meeting the needs of a diverse and fragmented public. It’s not enough to box up your core product and ship identically packed boxes to retailers. Wholesalers, big box stores, dollar stores and convenience stores all have specific requirements, from the size of the product itself all the way down to specifications in secondary packaging. For a Production Manager, this means there’s an ongoing challenge of optimizing efficiency while jumping between shorter runs. With that in mind, here are four inefficiencies CPG manufacturers commonly face:
  • shortage of qualified machine operators, and keeping them on the payroll, is a battle just about everyone is fighting.
  • Thanks to the wide variety of sizes and flavors CPG manufactures have to meet the needs of their customers, changeovers are unavoidable. Machines that are ill-suited for rapid changes, with lengthy cleaning and maintenance procedures, add time to the process.
  • Unexpected downtime caused by faults creates delays, disrupting tight schedules and generating waste. While some of these faults can be traced back to human error during changeovers, introducing new configurations the machine wasn’t built for can also be a root cause.
  • As a CPG manufacturer adds products and packaging configurations, it’s not uncommon to discover new bottlenecks that need to be solved. That’s where a Production Manager will be looking to human and technical solutions to optimize line utilization.
Below are some best practices CPG manufacturers can deploy to solve these inefficiencies.

Improved diagnostics

With machine diagnostics built in to the equipment through the HMI, Production Managers and machine operators have the ability to review what went wrong and why. Eliminating the guesswork instantly reduces the time spent on recovering from faults and failures on the line.

Bridge the knowledge gap

Shortening the learning curve with simple, clear processes and instructions will bring trainees up to speed quickly. How easy is it for equipment operators to solve problems? Are you leaning on their aptitude for retaining seldom-used procedures from a one-time training session, or can they access solutions at their fingertips?

Speed and ease of changeovers

Too many change-points and parts subtract precious minutes from available production time and create variability in configurations that makes scheduling runs less predictable. How easily can your team execute an accurate, precise and repeatable changeover?

Focused purchasing processes

When it comes time to invest in new equipment, is your team focused on price as the final deciding factor, or does your purchasing process take into account what will run well day-to-day and provide the most return on investment?

Access to support

Another important consideration when purchasing equipment is the location of the original equipment manufacturer, and their availability to help. If the OEM is located overseas, ask plenty of questions on what that means for your access to service and engineering support.

Stronger alliances

New products are a must to surviving in today’s competitive CPG environment. But if marketing and production aren’t connected, the product launch can quickly turn into a battle between managing expenses and minimizing delays. Working together can ensure good product design and adequate lead time to procure the needed equipment. Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to meet the demands of today’s complex market? Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.

How manufacturers can reduce downtime from changeovers

Reducing downtime during changeover is a goal that any cost-conscious manufacturer would pursue. The reality of today’s market is there’s a great variety of products and sizes to meet consumer demands. It’s becoming more common for retailers to set specific requirements about the material and packing methods used, such as shelf-ready packaging. That means the responsibility is on manufacturers to accommodate these requirements with shorter runs and an increased number of changeovers. With changeovers, circumstances can arise that cause downtime. When mechanical failure or human error add even more minutes to downtime, it can cause problems like missed deadlines, increased waste and profit losses. Changeovers can’t be avoided, but their effects on downtime can be minimized through workforce training and mechanical solutions.

Workforce training

All too often, the manufacturers encounter a limited talent pool of experienced machine operators who can execute a quick, successful changeover.

Gain repeatability

Talk to any two operators, and they’ll have different opinions on which machine settings are best. Establishing standard settings raises confidence that the machine will work after a changeover. Improving repeatability results in less time spent adjusting and tweaking the settings, along with eliminating reliance on personal preferences that lead to inconsistent outcomes.

Coping with components

The number of parts and tools needed to execute a changeover can lead to confusion, variability and error. That only increases the odds of breakage and faults. While an Operations Manager would focus on smarter procedures to pare back the minutes of downtime, mechanical solutions can help them achieve their goals with greater consistency. Whether that means updating existing secondary packaging machinery or investing in new, automated equipment, here are a few considerations.

Reduce complexity

When there’s a changeover, each part has a number of change points that link and lock to the machine. More change points mean more opportunity for line-halting breakage and machine failure. Reducing change points to one single point along with streamlining the number of components results in a faster, faultless changeover.

Intuitive design

Because of scheduling demands, a machine operator can be rotating through different machines through the work week, or an operator may only complete one changeover a week. When it’s time for a changeover, shift managers are doing battle with the clock and a lengthy learning curve. The design of the machine parts can eliminate some of these headaches around changeovers. Clearly marked change parts for size and function, along with a clear and logical sequence, shortens time needed on changeovers, reduces human error that leads to faults, and allows managers to make better use of their team.

Reduce waste

When it comes to changeovers, waste comes with the territory, due to the cleanout and priming processes. Simple improvements to the machine design such as a shorter conveyor reduces the amount of product needed for priming. These improvements provide waste savings when it’s time to transition to a changeover. The ability to reduce waste brings more precision into planning. Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to execute quick, precise, easy-to-implement changeovers? Douglas’s SmartSelectTM Automatic Changeover is just one of the features available to help you do just that. Fast, repeatable changeovers in less than five minutes, recipe-driven for repeatability and the flexibility to generate product-specific recipes. Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.