Packaging failure

When packaging goes wrong, production stops, Line Managers start to look stressed, Senior Managers look around for someone to blame. If you are a packaging specialist you may find yourself under scrutiny. Now is not the time to panic. It is time to trust in your approval processes and concentrate on resolving the issue. The steps below will help you get to the bottom of the matter.
Ownership. If you find yourself in the middle of a blame game, rise above it. Publicly state you are going to own the problem and see it through to the end. Delegate current tasks if you need to. Those running around in a blind panic will admire your focus on what they may see as the biggest issue to hit them this year. You score points for being the focal point for this issue.

Groundwork. What has been done already? Go to the source of the issue. Physically spend time on the packing line talking to the people who discovered the issue and the rest of the team. While you are talking to people, try and figure out who is the person who knows this product or line inside out. Get names and contact numbers – it may prove hard to track them down later.

Sample. Get samples. Make sure you have one from each tool cavity or print position. These are often identified by a number somewhere discreet. Get more than you think necessary. You will need to pass them around and people will play with them, possibly destroying your evidence in the process. You aren’t going to cause any extra waste by taking more faulty components away. You will also need samples of components which interact with your problem component; when analysed separately, they might reveal nothing, but it may become apparent the fit is poor because both are slightly out of specification.

Ask questions. Has this happened before? Has there been any maintenance done recently? When was it first noticed, and what was the trigger? Has the batch been quarantined? If not, get QA people involved to trace this back, you need to focus on resolving the issue to get production back up and running.
Gather data then create more data. You can’t really have too much; specifications, quantities, costs, batches affected and dates. You can demote pieces of data later on, but for now, no data is bad data. Then see what is missing. Collect samples, figures and create a Dimensional analysis report. Construct graphs and charts from data you have collected so far if it seems relevant. You are looking to generate key bits of data.

History. Look through past history of the packaging. Have there been any recent modifications to tooling or specifications? Contact the supplier on the telephone. It is easy for a supplier to compose their response in an email. You need to hear them and their reaction when you first contact them to tell them there is an issue. If there is any err-ing going on you need to push them there and then.

Analyse. You may think you have been doing the analysis as you went along. You may also have jumped to a conclusion because of one or two things you have seen. Try and put your preconceptions aside. Take all the available data to a separate room away from your desk. Invite colleagues you think are objective and analytical to join you. If it is just you, go through each piece of data again. Now is the time draw everything together to reach a conclusion. If there are contradictions between your data you may need to do a further investigation.

Communicate. When you have reached a conclusion or a list of options, communicate it to key stakeholders. Explain to them that there is detail behind it if they want to see it – they won’t intrinsically know you have done hours of research to get here and will be impressed with your thoroughness if you briefly explain the steps you have taken. If the investigation covers several days, do an update at the end of each day. The key stakeholders will need to report on the issue to their manager every morning until production resumes. By providing them with the information they need, you are becoming the expert and the key contact for this issue.

Review. This is the most ignored, but possibly most important step. When it is all resolved and the issue has been put to bed, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and gets back to their day to day. Organise a meeting with the key stakeholders and line operators (they are often great at coming up with ideas) to go through how the issue arose, and what could have been done to prevent it. You are looking to leave the meeting with some key actions to put in place (not necessarily by you) which will prevent it happening again for this and other packaging. If suppliers sent you faulty components, work with them to ensure controls are put in place at their end to prevent recurrence.

Good luck with troubleshooting. Most of all – keep a cool head. Knee jerk reactions often cause more problems. You may need to prevent people around you from jumping to a conclusion – everyone has their own opinion on the issue but all are biased in some way – even you. You may need to get someone from outside your company to analyse the situation. Sometimes a clear head from outside your business can see through all the preconceptions clouding your view.

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