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Keeping a bar packaging line up and running

With products in all shapes and sizes moving at dizzying speeds, the packaging of bars comprises one of the fastest and most efficient processes in the packaging world. However, while automated high-speed lines have seen continuous technological advances, there are factors that can significantly impair productivity. While some of these issues are common and have long been causing manufacturers headaches, others are less obvious. This makes them an even greater, hidden threat to production efficiency.


In essence, what you don't know can hurt you. And understanding a problem is the first step in finding a solution.

 

Here, we identify five main causes of downtime on bar packaging lines and look into the reasons behind them. We will also provide tips on how to minimize and even avoid these hidden inefficiency causes altogether.


1. Cleaning and maintenance

Although cleaning and maintenance usually are planned downtimes, they are among the most recognizable causes for loss of capacity. Cleaning is an inevitable and often time-consuming part of the production schedule. With ever tighter rules for product safety and the need to ensure traces of allergy-causing products such as nuts are completely removed, cleaning becomes more and more important. Driven by increasingly high production volumes, bar lines have to process vast quantities of products with very different consistencies, some brittle or sticky, some perfectly shaped and molded and others irregular like nuts or clusters. Product breakage and waste can clog the system, leading to jammed parts, accumulation of dirt and compromised hygiene standards.


To see a video with more information on bar line packaging, visit www.packagingdigest.com/barline

The degree to which products produce crumbs, break and rub-off depends on the gentleness of the product handling and can be reduced significantly by smooth and even distribution. The key to achieving this is use of conveyors with smooth interfaces, perfect matching side guides and minimal mechanical load on the products to avoid the rub-off of particles.


Cleaning time is also largely dependent on equipment design. Depending on the design, disassembly of belt systems for cleaning can take anything from only minutes up to several hours. Easily removable belts and panels, tool-less belt change and a line that is customized to the individual products and requirements can keep these downtimes to a minimum. Indeed, the latest generation of bar packaging systems is designed with reliability and minimized maintenance in mind and takes into account specific production requirements. Therefore, around-the-clock operation requires more robust equipment than lines used only on weekdays in single shifts.


2. Format changeover

Bar packaging is experiencing a surge of demand for increasingly complex product tastes and varieties. Products are sold as special editions, in dietetic varieties and are boasting new, different flavors. In addition, variations in product size from miniature to bite size, regular, large and king size, along with ever-evolving types of secondary packaging such as bags, multipacks and cartons with different counts have made production increasingly complex.

The high demand for variety along with shorter lead times and tight operating budgets has resulted in pressure on manufacturers to faster process greater volumes with fewer lines. This can result in a significant increase in changeovers, which are another major source of downtime.


Traditionally, format changes would stop production across the entire line for extended periods of time. Lines handling products in high volumes, like bar packaging, should be optimized to allow the quickest possible format change with minimal process disruption. Systems suppliers have long been aware of this issue and engineering developments have come a long way. Tool-less changeover eliminates the need for engineers to be present when changing formats. In addition, more reliable changeover technologies reduce the need for lengthy fine adjustments when getting the line back to full speed.


Key to minimizing changeover times is for the line to be designed with one operating philosophy in mind. Opting for a line that offers standardized tools, easy operating technology and accessibility enables operators to complete format changes quickly with minimal interference in the production process. A streamlined design also helps achieve higher levels of automation in format changeovers, such as control of the machine settings and changeover listings, which reduces operator errors and enables vertical start-up.


3. Product breakage

With highly automated systems such as bar lines, vast production volumes need to be processed and packaged with minimal human interference. While automation allows lines to keep up with high demand, one broken product can halt the entire production cycle and thus damage a multitude of good products. Systems then need to be stopped and the broken products cleared. In the meantime, product is wasted. This contributes to extended cleaning times and unnecessary cost.


It is easy to see how product breakage can seriously impair line efficiency. Key to overcoming this is a gentle product handling technology and smooth transfers. These prevent breakage and the accumulation of dirt in the first place and thus avoid unnecessary downtime. This can be achieved through advanced product distribution to eliminate back-up pressure. An expert supplier will be able to provide a system that incorporates the gentlest feeding and distribution solutions. In addition, easily removable guides allow the quick and easy cleaning of broken products or jams. It is vital to consider not just individual machines but the entire system to ensure an even and reliable product flow.


4. Lack of standardization

The demand for high-speed packaging has continuously driven technological innovations. We now have packaging lines capable of handling vast volumes at the push of a button. While these developments offer huge potential to maximize overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), the increasingly high-tech and continuously evolving nature of line equipment can constitute another source of downtime-complex and differing interfaces.


Traditionally, packaging manufacturers replace individual machines to update a line to handle the latest formats and pack styles. While on the surface this may well do the trick, the use of different machines from different suppliers with different levels of technological advancement presents one substantial weakness: interfaces.


Differing interfaces, multiple operating systems and poor connectivity between components not only make systems more difficult to operate and maintain, but also impair an even flow and consequently can result in loss of availability. Even if only one machine in the overall system does not integrate optimally, the entire line performance suffers.


To ensure the entire line runs smoothly and works in unison, a single, overall design philosophy is crucial. Standardized interfaces along with a single operating software across the entire line speed up the overall production and make it easier to identify and solve problems in the production process.


In addition, standardization of equipment components reduces the need to stock many different types of parts and simplifies procedures for engineering and maintenance, thus improving the OEE of the line.


5. Operator errors

The setup of a production line directly affects the success and performance of the operator. Multiple formats, products and lines along with demand for high efficiency and productivity mean operators are under constant pressure to ensure the system delivers. Machinery running on different operating systems and from different suppliers may well result in production lines with 10 or more different control panels. These factors, combined with reduced skill levels can easily lead to operator errors due to incorrect operation, handling and response. The result are lengthy breaks in production.


To ensure these downtimes are kept to a minimum or even avoid them from happening in the first place, automated technologies and easy operating systems are paramount. Operators must be offered systems they can understand and handle easily. Standardized operating procedures allow operators to control all parts of the equipment the same way, hence drastically reducing the potential for error. In addition, easier and quicker operation and a higher degree of automation allow staff more time to attend to other tasks that help increase uptime. It also enables staff to take on more responsibility and reduces the need for extensive training, making the overall flow of production more reliable and easy to control.


Aristotle may not have had packaging lines in mind when he coined the phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Yet hardly anywhere is this more appropriate.


Only if all of the above issues are addressed in synergy can a system really deliver and downtime be kept to a minimum. New technologies offer a degree of specialization in packaging and processing tailored to particular applications and needs. Lines can now be built specifically to serve particular format ranges, product types and materials. By using an expertly designed system, manufacturers can make use of a new generation of lines that overcome these sources of downtime. By tackling all of these factors simultaneously these unified, customized systems act as a firewall against downtime and eliminate bottlenecks. Thus, they offer an entirely new generation with the potential for a level of reliability and profitability never reached previously.


This article was prepared by Bosch Packaging Technology, based in Germany. Bosch is a leading supplier of integrated packaging systems. For more information, please visit www.boschpackaging.com.

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