Lean forward

8 October 2018

Machinery is on the front line of modern lean production techniques for packaging. Matthew Rogerson talks with experts from leading brands to learn about the latest developments in this area.

Machinery used to be blamed for not being fast or adaptable enough to churn out high-quality products, in sufficient bulk, in response to the very latest trends. Now, however, lean production techniques are giving companies the flexibility they need to exploit short-term consumer fads while they are still hot.

David Rose has nearly four decades’ experience in equipment and package engineering, training and teaching. He identifies several key things that are changing the way packaging materials are processed.

“The first major trend is for speed and efficiency. There is a demand for higher-speed equipment, which, in turn, places increased demand on the materials being processed, regarding performance and tolerances, pushing the current packaging manufacturing processes to the limit.

“To address this and prevent it becoming a problem, greater collaboration and partnerships between the packaging material converters and manufacturers, and the packaging machine manufacturers is needed to ensure machine and material developments move together.

“An additional development across operations is in weight reduction of materials. Increasingly, lighter packaging and materials are causing issues with distortion and handling; removing too much material requires additional secondary or tertiary packaging to compensate. This, in turn, can lead to raised costs or greater environmental impact, so the weight reduction has to be balanced to prevent the savings being lost in gains further down the line or supply chain.”


Flexibility in distribution

Within the retail sector of the supply chain, a number of recent developments are affecting machine manufacturing, including increased discounted supermarket sales. While the distribution networks might resemble those of the major multiple retailers, they operate under a different philosophy. For example; lines in given categories are usually limited, with a one-in-one-out system for stock-keeping units (SKUs).

Stores also operate with fewer staff, and rely heavily on shelf-ready packs or prefilled merchandising display units in order to keep costs down. This may require additional pack formats, adding cost and complexity to the manufacturing operations in additional material variants and line or machine changes.

For local convenience stores – which tend to be operated by major retailers – the main challenge lies in limited shelf and storage space. Smaller traded unit sizes are required, so engineering teams must change the configuration of packaging and processing lines accordingly. Again, this may require additional pack formats, adding cost and complexity.

The final retail-related challenges are with ecommerce, the requirements for which are still developing, but are likely to form a significant proportion of the total market. Pack damage, particularly leaking, has demonstrated weaknesses in primary and secondary packaging, and may be addressed though changes to sealing, or even new pack formats.

“With the increasing pressure for speed to market, there is a greater need for close co-operation to allow manufacturers and converters to develop and invest in equipment to keep pace with the machine manufacturers,” says Rose. “Time needs to be allowed for suppliers to invest in new equipment to be able to supply to new specs. Plants need to work with the machines to be agile and lose as little efficiency as possible.”

Daniel Magnin, Nestlé’s head of packaging equipment and operations, can attest to the benefits of close cooperation between engineers, machinery builders and brand-owners.“Packaging has evolved from its basic protection function and has acquired enhanced features,” he says. “It needs to serve consumers’ current lifestyles; they want to eat on the go, in portions, and expect customisation.

“The challenge today is to offer packages that are optimised throughout the supply chain and designed to be used by the largest number of consumers, regardless of their age and abilities.

“We must take into account an ageing population, longer life expectancy, and the growing number of senior citizens living alone and independently.”

As Magnin points out, the fast-moving modern world requires companies to make packaging that fits the individual needs of customers, but in the volumes that are expected from the world’s largest packaging companies.

“Machinery must meet new production requirements, in particular with higher productivity and flexibility,” he continues. “One of our priorities is to implement the ‘lean’ manufacturing principles that have proved so effective in the automotive industry. This entails ensuring hygiene and that machines can perform at a higher level, for longer, without breaking down.

“It also means a focus on reducing material loss and overall waste, and increasing efficiency and flexibility in order to make rapid and precise changeovers, while adapting to product and consumer changes. New materials are generally more demanding, which means stricter monitoring of machine parameters while maintaining production speed.”


Production is the key

Developing production lines is vital, despite the enormous capital costs and time that this entails. Nestlé uses models to validate equipment and ensure that each product goes through the process identically, whether it is the first or thousandth of the day, with no deterioration in quality or efficiency.

Ahead of machine production launch, it is important to understand how a package will come down the line, identifying where any potential bottlenecks might exists so they can be designed out of the final line.

Once a baseline of how the line is expected to behave has been established, standards, operating methods and reporting process can be fixed so that any issues can be handled quickly and cleanly before production losses occur.

This is not limited to Nestlé as L’Oréal’s packaging and development director, Philippe Thuvien, explains.

“The world of cosmetics is facing increasingly aggressive competition,” he says. “Attractive designs are a must-have to differentiate new products.

“This sector is also paying more attention to costs. A balance must be struck between delivering the product the consumers want at highest quality and using precision-engineered machines to reduce costs at all times.

“L’Oréal adapts its manufacturing processes and packaging machines in order to address these challenges. The objective is to find the most suitable method for the performance, quality and reliability requirements. On basic products and high volumes, this involves having powerful machines in terms of speed with very few adjustment points to make the process more reliable.

“For complex and/or high-value-added products, the focus will be on flexibility in order to better respond to the brand requirements in terms of innovation and to adapt to several products. The more L’Oréal optimises its deadlines for making the machines and tools available, the better it is in regard to reactivity and capacity to produce at the best possible cost.”

It is not just the brands and their engineering departments that are engaged in increasing the efficiency of machinery; system builders are also looking for solutions to problems.

“For liquid foods, such as chilled prepared soups, yogurts, savoury dips, ice cream tubs and desserts, ‘wrap-around’ sleeving – where products are packed into plastic tubs and then into a cardboard sleeve – is becoming more and more popular as a cartoning method,” says Michelle Newman, marketing manager for Bosch Packaging Technology’s Kliklok division.

“This is due to its ability to improve a manufacturer’s sustainable credentials through the decreased use of packaging materials. As an example, the wrap-around concept uses less board than a traditional carton. This surge in popularity for wrap-around packaging has led to equipment suppliers delving deeper into R&D in order to better fulfil the needs of their customers.

“As a result, advanced systems are available that have been optimised to provide maximum productivity, reliability and efficiency gains. Wrap-around systems have been engineered with a strong emphasis on design, build and functionality in order to accommodate the wide variety of products in today’s prepared foods industry – driven by increased consumer demand for choice.

“The design and construction of systems built entirely for purpose means that areas such as product changeovers and intuitive human machine interface (HMI) controls can add real value on the production line – saving operator time that can be spent concentrating on other tasks. Labour can be underestimated in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO), so it is important to factor these into the equation when considering capital investments in cartoning equipment.”

Hygienic design is also a key consideration particularly for companies that must always comply with hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC) regulations.

Even here, it is possible to design a system that is certified to IP65 ingress protection levels. Systems are available that have been built around a robust stainless-steel mainframe, with external drives and of a cantilevered construction for ease of access for cleaning.

This also provides excellent visual and physical access to the product throughout the machine operation.

Overall, machinery occupies an increasingly important space in packaging development. As well as making the products, it must be able to handle multiple demands simultaneously, in the fastest possible time, safely and efficiently. The machines of tomorrow must be able to continue to cater to the needs of consumers, customers and manufacturers, by providing the engine room of the packaging industry.

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