3 Ways to Improve Packaging Line Performance (Drastically!)

Let’s cut through the crap, Mr. Production Guy (or Gal). You know how to make your core product like no one else in the world. However… when it comes to putting that product in boxes, you’d just as soon blow up the packaging line and hire it out.  So…at the end of this article I’ll sum up 3 ways to improve packaging line performance – and you can hide the dynamite.

Marketing, sales and customers change products, or SKU’s, at the drop of a hat, and expect the look and feel of the package to change with it. Never mind that you just dropped a cool million five on a packaging line upgrade for the last SKU… Oh yeah, and what speed will you guarantee, ‘cause we have a new contract that requires 50 cases per hour on the new SKU – in six months.

Forever the redheaded stepchild of manufacturing, especially Consumer Packaged Goods, packaging lines tend to be the area with most production issues. The converse of this is also true – packaging is the area where improvement can yield big upsides in output and cost reduction.

There are many theories and practices on how to improve packaging line performance, such as rate optimization, flow modeling, even capital projects that upgrade certain areas of the line with faster machines. Most of these DO yield improvement, but are by nature long term processes.  We REALLY need to win the day, or perhaps the shift, heck even the hour. For me, this is the primary focus – real time performance improvement.

M2L Rocks (Managing to your Losses)

Here at Wave7, we call it managing to your losses, or M2L for short (because everything in life needs a TLA). After years of working with manufacturers, we know that the top three losses are worth 90% of your missing output! What if everyone on packaging line 4 knew the top three losses at any moment in any hour and any shift? What if those losses were so specific that operators or maintenance or production could take an action to fix the loss with NO OTHER information?

What do I mean? Well, what if your top loss for the last two hours was an infeed jam at carton erector 1? Could you fix it? Probably, and that’s the whole point, because any kind of information that isn’t actionable is abstract. When it’s abstract, it requires diagnoses and becomes historical and irrelevant quickly. To be useful, losses must be highly specific, real-time and actionable.

Most folks end up with a daily or weekly report that shows the number of stops, or the top losses for the day, or the OEE for the line. What’s missing??? Nothing is actionable, nothing is real time, everything requires analysis. What you need are specific, real-time losses broken into categories and sorted by impact to production.

Defining the Six Losses of M2L

There are six losses that M2L recognizes:

  • Starve
  • Block
  • Idle
  • Down
  • Limp
  • Tribal Speed

These can be further categorized into external and internal losses; i.e., losses that are a part of the machine/line, or losses that are caused by things outside the machine/line. External would be Starve, Block and Idle (turned off), and internal are Down, Limp (running, but not well), and Tribal Speed (manual adjustment of machine speed).

You MUST consider these losses to be based on an “entity”. For instance, lets say your packaging line has 4 machines. That means you can have 5 different M2L sections (and probably should)! Machine 2 can be Starved, but the entire line might not be. Each loss carries its own action, and has a relationship to other machines behind and in front. This relationship can be complex, and is elastic, but that’s the nature of a line.

It can seem daunting, especially when you are trying to understand the interrelationships so you know on what to focus. I’m here to tell you: that’s the definition of paralysis by analysis, and is NOT where you should be focusing your attention. You can’t win the hour, let alone the shift, when you are in a constant Sherlock Holmes mode.

How to M2L:

  1. Identify the top three losses that are impacting you for the last 10 minutes, last hour and current shift.
  2. Focus operations, maintenance and production on fixing any one of those top three issues.
  3. Watch the shift turn around move towards your goal.

That’s it!

Obviously, there are steps between where you are now and getting specific, impact sorted and real-time losses in front of your peeps, but knowing what to do is half the battle.

Three Ways to Improve Packaging Line Performance (M2L)

  1. Be specific on the loss:
    1. Bad: Machine 2 is Starved
    2. Good: Starve: Machine 2 Infeed Gate Lane 3 Jam
  2. Sort the losses by impact to production
    1. Bad: 600 different losses in no particular order
    2. Good: Starve: 54% of Loss: Machine 2 Infee Gate Lane 3 Jam
  3. Put the info in front of Operators, Maintenance, Production and Management. Big screen TVs everywhere.

So get out there and M2L the hell out of your packaging lines and machines, and grab a couple $M per month back.

Cheers, David