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The case of the slippery stoppers

The pharma plant had just bought a new, state-of-the-art monobloc filling and stoppering machine. It was running slow, so they sent me an SOS.
I soon had eyes on the machine and it looked beautiful. The problem was feeding the stoppers. A vibratory bowl feeder and track oriented and fed the stoppers to the insertion station. It could not keep up with the rest of the machine.
Something was odd. “What’s that?” I asked Franklin, the building manager. “Why is there a rag in the bowl?”
“It has silicone spray on it. The operators put it there to lubricate the stoppers,” Franklin explained.
“When you bought the machine and sent sample stoppers, did they have silicone on them?” I asked.
“I think we just took some boxes of stoppers from the warehouse and sent them off to the builder.” Franklin told me.
“Fiddlesticks on slippery stoppers,” I told him. “The silicone is preventing the feeder from getting good traction on the stoppers. They will never feed correctly. You either need to replace the bowl or use dry stoppers.
“If you use dry stoppers you will need to get the residual silicone out of the bowl. Cleaning will not do it. You will need to polish the bowl and track with a fine emery cloth to get rid of it.
“Learn from this, Franklin. Whenever you buy a machine, make sure the sample parts you send are exactly, and I do mean exactly, as they will be run.”

KC Boxbottom, packaging detective, is on the case to solve tough packaging puzzles. He is the alter-ego of John Henry, CPP. Known as the Changeover Wizard, Henry is the owner of, a consulting firm that helps companies find and fix the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He produces a free monthly newsletter called Lean Changeover, which contains articles and tips on changeover and related issues. Reach him at [email protected].

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