Line efficiency – how to improve it
Over the years I have witnessed many packing lines and I have been on the receiving end, and instrumental in the delivery of line efficiency programmes.
So what is the key to achieving high packing line efficiency and how can you tell when it has reached its maximum?
There are many aspects involved, and only when all are properly and consistently managed will your packaging line reach its maximum efficiency.
How should the data be recorded? Automatically if possible. Most will have to resort to manual methods at first. That’s fine – just ensure somebody has responsibility for recording and they are bought into it. Don’t wait either. Record before you start to make any changes if possible, thereby allowing you to judge the effect of any improvements.
How will you motivate your line team? A good team leader can do this, but needs the tools to do it. Tools required include: hourly data records and data reporting, a capable and available line engineer, empowerment to make decisions, and a list of the right people to call on in the event of difficulties or barriers.
How should you present your data? – it should be easily readable at a glance. Charts are good with a point for each hour, or more frequently. Digital displays are even better. Many companies are using large television screens for reporting data. These can be good, but be careful the screen is not too crammed with data, thereby rendering it useless. It should be possible to tell at a glance how the line is performing.
When should you review performance? At the very least daily. If it seems to help, hourly or at the end of a shift. The Daily Review: This should be snappy – the team should be ready with solutions, it should be a case of deciding who owns the actions. No ridiculous questions or unnecessary actions – these don’t improve efficiency. Of course, if you are just starting out, you can expect these meetings to take a little longer. The team may need to adjust to this new way of working, but the aim should be a 5 minute review daily.
Efficiency is supported by supporting departments, Technical, Quality, Micro, Engineering teams – if your organisation is working correctly, these departments will already be working on ways to improve efficiency. Make use of them. Ensure they are invited if there are any actions delegated to them, and at the very least email them a list of actions for them to address.
Regular Maintenance is important. So many times this will be ignored to allow that all important product to be packed to meet a last minute demand, yet it’s the regular maintenance that makes a packing line more reliable and will push efficiency towards its upper limit. A detailed and comprehensive schedule of maintenance is an absolute must for driving efficiency up.
Ad-hoc Maintenance. This is when that Line Engineer comes into his/ her own. You need something fixing and it needs to happen quickly. The key to efficiency here lies in the work done well before the time of the breakdown or stoppage:
•Employing somebody with a positive attitude who is tenacious and good at problem solving
•Training that person properly and giving them all the tools they require – both physical and mental
•Ensuring the resources you assign are able to attend quickly and are available for the duration of any ad-hoc maintenance, and then able to stay on the line for a period afterwards to ensure the line gets back to normal efficiency.
Automation – is it always possible? We haven’t yet come across a process that can’t be automated. With robot manufacturers getting increasingly more innovative, the opportunities are growing day by day. Don’t listen to anybody who tells you a process can’t be automated. Contact us at iDi Pac and we will find the solution for you.
Bolt it down. Variability is the enemy of high efficiency. Your line may need to be flexible to deal with different products. That’s normal. But if part of your process has a variable aspect, work towards fixing it to one specific setting and fix it mechanically. We at iDi Pac have witnessed examples of practices which claim to be a black art and requiring years of training subsequently being fixed and thereby leading to stability and better efficiency.
Tinkering. Stop it! On line technicians can be the worst for this. It comes from a good place because they are trying to get the line to work, but it often results in settings going so far from normal it can then be hard to get a process back under control. The classic case is often witnessed at shift changeover: a new team come on to the line and change line settings. An hour later the line has stopped after running fine with the same product for hours previously.
You may think your packing lines are already pretty good, or you may not even have any idea how efficient they are. Whichever end of the efficiency spectrum you occupy, there is always room for improvement.
It’s a case of never being satisfied. Your goal should be to do the most with the least.
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