Upfront costs associated with new equipment and employee training might make some companies wary of adopting automated solutions. However, there can be big benefits to automated packaging — and new technology is making it easier than ever to automate more and more steps of the process.
Here are five benefits of automated packaging lines.
1. Extra (or Improved) Quality Control.
In the past, automation solutions weren’t always robust enough to fully automate the job of overseeing packaging line quality control. Instead, the tedious and repetitive work of inspecting all items was left to human workers.
With the development of new technology — especially machine vision using artificial intelligence (AI), which allows computers to “see” errors like human workers do — this is changing. The designers of some modern quality control systems are going so far as to say that their systems don’t make mistakes and can catch nearly 100% of errors.
Automated quality assurance (QA) systems also work tirelessly, meaning their ability to catch errors won’t wax or wane over the course of a shift. Coupled with other automated equipment in the packaging process, this can mean highly consistent packaging and longer productive hours.
2. Improved Production Speed.
With the right automation solution in place, it’s possible for companies to significantly improve production speed and product throughput. It’s not unusual for an automated bagging machine, for example, to bag items much more safely and several times faster than the average employee.
Automated packaging solutions can also multitask and fold multiple steps of the packaging process — like sealing and labeling — into one single step. This way, these solutions free up not just one employee, but potentially several. As a result, these technologies can both increase speeds and allow packaging companies to shift their staff to tasks that require human workers or simply benefit from the human touch, like shipping, receiving, and picking.
At the same time, these automated systems can also improve the consistency of packaging and reduce the rate of errors introduced during the packaging process.
While increases in speed vary depending on packaging types and processes, all packaging lines can benefit from the constant output offered by automated systems. This frees up labor on the packaging line, potentially reducing labor costs as well. Automated systems can also be used to more consistently pace the packaging line, which can further boost productivity and profitability.
3. Improved Ergonomics and Lowered Risk of Employee Injury.
In manufacturing and packaging, where it’s common for employees to perform highly repetitive tasks over long shifts, it’s not uncommon for employees to suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), sometimes called ergonomic injuries.
These injuries are some of the most common in industry, accounting for one-third of all workplace injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also typically require more than a week of recovery time.
Reducing the amount of repetitive work that employees need to do can naturally decrease their risk of MSDs. Process automation systems are already a great fit for repetitive or tedious tasks because these tasks often benefit from consistency. By swapping machines out for workers in steps of the process that demand highly repetitive motions, it’s possible to both increase productivity and reduce workers’ risk of injury.
4. Reduced Labor Costs.
Right now, with the unemployment rate reaching historic lows in the US and consumer demand continuing to rise, packaging companies are beginning to feel the effects of an increasingly competitive labor market. Workers have more options for employment, driving up wages and ultimately increasing labor costs.
One possible solution to this problem is automation. By automating as much of the packaging line as possible, companies can ensure that workers are only being hired when they are needed, and then remove workers from the packaging process when they aren’t needed.
5. Improved Information Access.
More and more often, designers of packaging line automation systems are making the design of HMIs (human-machine interfaces) a high priority. These improved HMIs can make it easier for workers and managers to access information relevant to individual machines and packaging line processes.
The pivot to better information access also comes at a time when system designers are focusing less on individual machines and more on turnkey and integrated solutions to packaging line automation. As a result, when workers have better access to information via an individual HMI, they may also have access to data and analytics from the entire packaging process, allowing them to make the most informed decisions possible.
Standardized HMIs also make these machines more user-friendly, reducing the training that workers need to operate them successfully.
Automated packaging lines can offer significant benefits for product manufacturers. By taking on the burden of repetitive and tedious tasks, these systems can reduce the risk of ergonomic injury and shift workers to higher-value tasks where they’re more desperately needed. These systems can also boost productivity and improve quality control measures, all of which translates to improved profitability in the long run.