Frame 35672

Are Your Packaging Operations the Missing Link?

Nov. 9, 2020
Kevin Roach, CEO of Harpak-ULMA explores human factors, advanced applications, and machine safety relating to packaging operations.

For organizations pursuing a digital transformation strategy, a smart, connected platform is a solid start to ensuring packaging operations won’t be the weak link in the produce-to-ship cycle. Historically, information “silos” have presented a challenge to capturing, contextualizing, and processing data produced in any production process. Deploying an intelligent, connected, highly automated packaging platform streamlines systems connectivity, empowering improved data access and coordination across production systems. Contextualized production data is the basis of a data-driven decision culture. Information-enabled packaging platforms make real-time, contextualized data readily accessible to any relevant enterprise stakeholders or systems. This is a must-have for Producers seeking to develop practical insight into opportunities for better process efficiency, improved quality, reduced costs or faster fulfillment.

The Human Factor

The impact of a smart connected platform is not relegated to process improvement alone. The global manufacturing workforce is in massive transition. The U.S. continues to report a widening gap in skilled labor availability where competition is high (producers report from 35 to 80+% employee turnover rates). Labor volatility consumes significant money, time, and resources to replace and train new employees. Improperly trained labor can result in production disruptions, scheduling challenges, and even puts product quality and safety at risk. Such worker shortages have emerged as a threat to growth and productivity in multiple regions around the world. Investments in digital infrastructure and automation can play an important role in reducing the impact of employee turnover. Simplified operation reduces learning curves, while easier integration supports increased adoption of new or emerging technologies.

Consider applications such as Augmented Reality (AR) that literally guide staff actions with overlays of visual instructions. Systemwide diagnostics and easy-to-understand display screens help younger, less experienced workers detect issues and ease troubleshooting. Embedded help and on-line user manuals also reduce training curves. Together these capabilities make it easier for staff to operate, troubleshoot or conduct changeovers on your packaging line. Also, contemporary machine safety systems employed by these platforms not only reduce safety risks but improve productivity. When safety is integrated with machinery-control systems, packaging equipment is less prone to nuisance shutdowns compared to hardwired systems. Integrated safety systems reduce the probability that workers will override the systems and put themselves at risk.

Chasing Perfection?

In an increasingly complex and demanding market, where demand for mass-customized production capabilities and rapid technological innovations are challenging legacy packaging techniques, smart and connected platforms stand out. Shifting from a cost reduction-focused mindset to also embrace innovation and cutting-edge packaging technologies can revolutionize how producers do business, including simplifying aspects of regulatory compliance. A smart, connected platform enables the identification of packaging errors as they occur through work-in-progress quality and compliance monitoring as well as real-time production reporting that accelerate quality sampling. Such capabilities reduce the “produce to ship” cycle time, bringing production closer to the universal goal of real-time shipping upon completion. As important, these techniques result in more consistent remediation and production rates that over time, can statistically justify the reduction of quality sampling and further close the gap on real-time produce to ship capability.

Which Horse to Ride?

Establishing the quantifiable impact of a smart, connected platform on operator ease-of-use, line flexibility, staff safety, and performance in terms of maintenance expense, machine uptime, asset utilization or other KPI’s is the first step. Once the decision is made to evaluate the impact of a smart, connected strategy the next question should be “which platform to standardize on?” The automation controls used by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) vary in terms of capability, completeness of vision, integration, maintenance, and serviceability. Any smart, connected packaging solution should demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Easy to securely integrate into other production systems and devices; uses standardized communication protocols
  • Advances operational flexibility by supporting more product varieties and diverse packaging sizes
  • Embedded modern machine-safety technologies that streamline worker-safety and training challenges arising from an evolving workforce
  • Delivers real-time diagnostics and simplified system upgrades or replacements—all of which means faster troubleshooting
  • Employs an open architecture that makes widespread parts availability and easier integration possible
  • Solid technology roadmap, with the capacity to support additional connections and expansions

It Takes a Village

While the idea of digital transformation is garnering a lot of press and awareness, any such initiative may face one or more common internal hurdles, including a shortage of native digital talent, or insufficient senior leadership support and focus. As with any business initiative, the ability to clearly articulate and quantify value is critical—so seeking additional expertise to help teams establish a detailed justification may be warranted. More often than not, numerous organizational stakeholders stand to gain from the digital transformation of packaging operations, not just production or maintenance departments. Increasing the availability, velocity, granularity, and accuracy of production information can help sales and marketing generate a more compelling or satisfying customer experience, improve the finance team’s planning and analysis capabilities, or create a real-time digital thread between product development and engineering. The events of early 2020 highlight the risks of ignoring both the opportunities and risk mitigation digital transformation implies for every producer. Employing a smart, connected packaging platform is one of the most relevant and impactful strategic choices producers can make to help them do more and go faster.