When Do I Automate My Packaging System?
While the packaging industry is made of up many companies that fill, cap and label a wide range of products, including thousands of products every day, many new companies begin with a unique or new product that will be packaged by hand. Most new products will not immediately become popular on a global or even national level, but may work their way to that status. With limited production runs, smaller companies can get away with filling by hand, tightening caps manually and applying each individual label...for awhile. The question then, is when is the right time to automate the packaging process?
One of the biggest factors in deciding when and in what way to automate the packaging system will always be production demand. For growing companies, a point will likely be reached where manual labor simply cannot keep up with the number of product that need to be shipped on a daily basis, or the amount of labor necessary would create too much overhead to continue packaging by hand. As a product becomes more popular, packagers must consider the speed necessary to meet demand, and though the entire process may or may not require automation, higher demands will often lead to at least some components, such as filling or capping, moving to automatic machinery.
As noted above, when production demands increase, additional labor will be necessary to meet those demands. Simply put, employing thousands of workers to hand package product may not be the most reliable or economical manner of packaging a product. Even automated machinery will require some manual labor to operate and maintain equipment, but the actual packaging of the product can be done with little to no manual labor with the right machinery. Keeping an eye on the labor force and comparing payroll with the cost of equipment can help a packager identify the right moment to start thinking about automation.
Packaging machinery takes up space on the production floor, just like those doing manual labor. If a product starts with limited production in a small space, completely automated packaging equipment simply may not be feasible. A packager must have the space available to install and operate such equipment. However, even for those with limited space, semi-automatic machinery can increase efficiency and reliability over hand packaging items. Again, once production demands and the labor force to meet those demands increase, additional space will likely be needed. Packagers should plan for automation when choosing their new, or larger, production space.
Hand packaging, unfortunately, can lead to inconsistent packaging. Bottles may be filled to different volumes or levels when relying on the human eye. Closures may be tightened inconsistently, both too tight and too loose, with fatigue becoming a factor after an eight or more hour day. It may also be a difficult chore to apply labels in the same manner and wrinkle-free when repeating the process for long hours. Packaging machinery can help make the process more reliable as production demands grow, removing the inconsistency in the tasks described above as well as others, such as rinsing, coding and bundling.
Of course the product must be profitable for the purchase of packaging machinery to make sense. As with any business, it takes time to see that bottom line start to grow. Automated packaging machinery may be right for some products from the very beginning of production, but for others, it may be a process of automating the line over time, maybe even one machine at a time. Packagers must weigh the cost of equipment against the cost of continuing to meet production demands using the current method of packaging. Taking all the factors discussed above, packagers must make sure the economics make sense for automation at any given time during the life of the products.
Of course, as mentioned, many different levels of automation exist in the packaging machinery industry. From manual capping machines for consistent and reliable sealing to semi-automatic and automatic fillers for a substantial increase in the speed of production, equipment can be manufactured to meet the individual needs of almost any company. For more information on the different levels of automation and packaging machinery in general, browse the LPS website or call and speak with a Packaging Specialist today.