Automation has long been a way to increase productivity and lower costs. It has been the routine solution for replacing redundant operations, and it can reduce the costs and increase the speed of these operations while improving worker safety. Advances in artificial intelligence are making it possible to automate tasks that were, until recently, too complex to automate. Here are three factors to consider when automating your packaging line.
Your Level of Production
How fast is your production line going? And how fast do you want it to go? The right automation system is one that can keep up with your ideal flow rate, not just meet current production speed. Conversely, if you have a low volume application, manual packaging is probably ideal because you may never recoup the cost of automated packaging equipment for that particular process.
If you’re constantly switching between products or making many unique combinations, manual packaging is better than automation. Don’t automate a process that may not be in place in six months, especially if you can’t continue to use the equipment. For example, you may be able to justify a palletizer or shrink wrapper, though other packing machines won’t be able to handle the varied product mix.
How Easy It Would Be to Automate the Process
We’ve mentioned that simple processes were the first to be automated, yet complex packaging applications may still be too difficult to automate. While it might be possible, it may not be cost-effective compared to the cost of hiring skilled people to do it.
When the task is complex and variable, you may see inconsistent results from automated systems as well. This doesn’t mean you can’t automate, however; consider where in your process you could install inexpensive equipment. Explore multiple packaging automation solutions, may it be case erectors or shrink wrap systems. These are cheap and easy to automate, whereas a sprayer inserter isn’t. Automating taping and case erecting has an immediate return on the investment in reduced labor costs.
How Flexible Your Process Needs to Be
How many products do you run through the assembly line? If the product mix is high, it may not be worth it to automate unless you can justify buying a more expensive, intelligent packaging system.
If you’re packing everything from single items to large lots, your packaging equipment needs to be able to handle it, too. You might compromise by combining hand packing for large and small lots while automating the rest, assuming there is room for both and it can be done at reasonable cost. If you’re doing case packing and the lot sizes have little variation, then automation is moderately easy and not that expensive.
In general, bundle packaging and multi-packs are harder to automate than bottle orientation. Adding promotional inserts and free samples to the order increases the complexity of the packaging job and makes it much more difficult to automate. This doesn’t mean you can’t automate. Instead, consider a semi-automated solution that increases productivity and speed where possible. Your packaging line should be able to package ten to thirty percent more than the production line puts out.
There is an automation spectrum that runs from entirely automated to 100 percent manual labor. Understand your process and your goals so that you can automate where it is worth automating, and you will get the highest return on your capital investment.