Thinking of Automating Your Packaging? 6 Steps to Consider First

In her article from End-of-line packaging blog, author Toni Nigrelli-LaFleur does a nice job of pointing out some of the factors to take into account when considering automation of end-of-line packaging processes (Evaluate Your Business Goals, Assess Current Packaging Environment, Evaluate Your Material and Labor Costs).  This applies to wine, beer, and other beverage manufacturers, as well as to food companies. Take a look at the first three steps she outlines and then three other considerations that I might suggest

4. Consider Available Space – It is a seldom discussed reality that automating a process typically requires more real estate than the equivalent manual operation.  People are remarkably flexible, physically as well as mentally.  People will go to extraordinary lengths to do their jobs, even in cramped conditions.  As such, they can work in limited spaces.  Be sure to take into account:

  • Cost of space, existing or additional
  • Other uses for the available space

5.  Consider the Unquantifiable – Calculating ROI is pretty straightforward, as long as you are methodical. But what about those things that may never cost you a dime, or may take you from profitable to just the opposite in a matter of weeks?  Think about:

  • Ergonomics – You may never have an employee with a repetitive stress injury. (I hope you don’t.)  But, if you do, it can be a long an expensive proposition.  Using automation to mitigate activities involving lifting and twisting may not save you money, but it may mean the difference between being able to grow your business and spending money on fines and lawyer fees.
  • Workman’s Comp – Eliminating repetitive motion and aggravating physical movements through automation may not save you a workman’s compensation claim. But the money you spend on compensation and increased premiums can often pay for a piece of automated equipment many times over.
  • Employee Morale – You can’t put a dollar figure on the positive impact of employees that feel like their company is trying to make their jobs easier. This can lead to employee retention, improved productivity, and a host of other non-quantifiable benefits.

6.  You Don’t Have to Do It All at Once – Automation is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. Once you decide that it makes sense to automate your packaging process, look at your Goals (Item 1 in Toni’s article) and define your end point; where you want to be at the end of the process.  Then, map out a pathway to get there:

  • Set priorities. Identify the biggest bottlenecks or least efficient processes and tackle them first.
  • Consider partial automation as an interim step. For instance, case pack automatically but palletize manually.  Employee lifting devices until you can justify an automated system.
  • Make sure your ‘map’ includes ‘snapshots’ of how your operation will look after each implementation phase. This can help you avoid wasting money tearing out something you installed just a year previously.
  • You can always revise your plan along the way. In fact, it’s a good practice to reevaluate as you go along.

Don’t feel like you need to make all of these decisions on your own.  Talk to people who have experiences with operations similar to your own; fellow members of your trade group, equipment suppliers, and consultants are all great resources.  Be sure to talk to people whose opinions you trust and respect.

Would you have any additional considerations for the list?

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