Consistency of performance beats line speed every day.

“It’s not how fast your machinery says its packing, it’s how many finished products per minute you are actually placing on a pallet at the end of the line.”

Over the past 5 years I have spent considerable time in fresh produce packhouses seeing how people work, and getting to understand the unique pressures involved in providing a first class service to supermarkets. Orders arrive in in the morning for guaranteed delivery in the afternoon and in the afternoon for delivery overnight. That does not leave much time to plan. Each order has multiple products which require correct labelling/tracing and each batch must be finished to a very high standard, every time.

There are 2 terms commonly used in packhouse packing operations.

How can I maximise my line throughput?

How can I optimise my line throughput?

They sound the same, except that they are not the same. Often, when I hear the term “maximise” I hear talk of machines cranked up high. When I hear the term optimise, I hear people controlling or even turning down elements of the system so that the process hums.

And the people who turn down the elements of the system often pack more finished product per shift onto a pallet.

That sounds like an Oxymoron.

Except that turning up one machine has knock on consequences to other manual and automated processes. It tends to mean that the packaging machine nearest the end of line is constantly monitored for the line speed stated on the screen at any one time and that is the KPI that can become the norm.

By way of example I was at a pack house and the line speed was spoken about with reverence at 86 packs per minute. Sure enough the packaging machine was recording 86 packs per minute. Unfortunately however it frequently stops running because the manual operators feeding the product cannot really keep up without any impact on quality. And one of the packaging machines in the line is overworked. The result is that the packaging machine jams, product is damaged, packaging is wasted on restart, more visual QA is required to check that quality is maintained and, equally important, precious seconds are last every time the system stops. And these precious seconds are lost for good across the entire line.

And the real line speed…..53 packs a minute.

And that is why packhouse managers often say to me, it is not how fast you pack but how consistently you pack over a given period of time.

I know it is common sense but sometimes the simplest things are forgotten in the heat of a firefight.

At Brillopak, we continually develop our high speed pick and place robotic packers and our palletisers. Part of that is understanding how our machines will fit into the line/process as a whole. How can we increase speeds without impacting consistency, how can we reduce restart time and how can we communicate better with machines further up the line.

The objective is always the same; increasing our customers’ actual case packing and crate palletising throughput with less people and with no sacrifice in quality.

David Jahn