What to Look for in Packaging Line Audits
When is the last time you took time to review your packaging processes to identify areas of strength and weakness? Have you ever worked with your supplier to perform a packaging line audit? Your packaging line is one of the key components to any manufacturing production. Being aware of the causes of downtime or product damage will place you a step ahead of the game when it comes to selecting what capital investments for your operation will bring you the most bang for your buck.
This is where packaging line audits can provide clear next steps to remedy any issues you are facing as well as areas that are working as needed.
Note that your entire packaging line is being reviewed together here, and there is good reason for this. By looking at your end-of-line as a whole, you open the possibilities for automation and integration in new ways rather than looking at each piece of packaging machinery separately. By visualizing your packaging line as one piece, you can find creative ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies with, or without, a massive capital expense.
A SWOT Analysis of Your Packaging Line
A SWOT analysis may be a familiar term for management and marketers. For those who are not familiar, it is an analysis of the strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O) and threats (T) to a particular subject. The subject of a SWOT analysis can vary; from a business or brand, product, process, material or even a competitor.
Utilizing a SWOT for your packaging line is a great way to identify the top priorities for maximizing throughput and productivity as well as ways to reduce operational costs and increase up-time. It's important to review your packaging lines at regular intervals to catch any new issues that arise to make a positive impact on your bottom line.
You should plan to perform audits with a professional who can identify points of weakness and strength that you may miss, and at an interval that aligns with your current and future output.
If your production is small, an annual audit may be ideal. If you are pumping out products at a high rate or managing multiple products with frequent changeovers, bi-annual or quarterly audits may be more beneficial for your operation. If you are unsure, a packaging professional can assist you with identifying the ideal intervals for reviewing your lines.
What Will You Find through a Packaging Line Audit?
A Packaging Professional will review your entire packaging line with a fine-toothed comb to help you run a smoother packaging process. Some of the steps in the audit will often include the following:
Product rejects are inevitable, as no production line is completely perfect. Whether it is overfilling or damaged goods, factoring a certain amount of rejections into your production KPI's is going to be necessary.
You may be experiencing more rejected product than you anticipated, however, and identifying the cause of the rejects is important to keeping a healthy production floor. Whether the cause be the material you are packaging with or a machine that needs some TLC, a packaging line audit will help you identify the cause of these rejects and potential ways to remedy them. In the cases that a material change may be in order, it doesn't have to be costly.
You may be packaging with a material that is not sized correctly for your product or may be too thin, or in some cases, too thick. A proper film gauge can reduce or eliminate the rejects you have and in some cases a material change can reduce your packaging costs.
During your packaging line audit, your product packaging will be reviewed for appearance. Is the final product visually appealing and as you envisioned? Are there any visible issues with the final package that could be improved? These issues may include crow's feet or dog's ears on shrink-wrapped finished goods and in some cases can be fixed with some minor adjustments to the film or the machinery.
If your machinery is not properly maintained, it may be the causing higher levels of rejects than you had previously planned for. Preventive Maintenance is extremely important to maintaining up-time and keeping your throughput where you need it to be.
While your audit is being performed, your packaging professional will be able to identify the causes of product or packaging damage in your machinery. These issues may require maintenance and in some cases may also be the sole causes of the downtime you have been seeing. If the supplier you work with has the capability and you don't have a technician in-house, be sure to see what they can do to assist you in repairing your machines and scheduling a regular preventive maintenance plan that meets your needs for production.
How Will the Audit Be Accomplished?
You should have the opportunity to sit down and discuss your current packaging line and the needs of your production with the auditor prior to the actual packaging line audit. Discuss your plans for the upcoming quarter, year and beyond. Don't forget to mention the pain points you have faced over the past year, including too many rejects, machines causing downtime, areas that make it hard to repackage a damaged product, etc.
Based on your production rates and needs, select an appropriate sample size that you can run to review your production. You will want to get a full understanding of your processes and be able to catch the common problems you see so it is important to make your sample size large enough to capture the ideal amount of data to visualize any of your needs.
Once your sample size has been determined you will run your products through your line and monitor from start to finish, recording notes and data as the finished goods come off the line. The auditor will take note of the products visual appearance and any defects that they see. They will also monitor the machinery and processes done manually to identify any trouble spots.
A data assessment will be done through Pareto analysis to identify the most crucial points of interest for improvement. This will also help to put an order of significance to the next steps in improving your packaging line based on your needs and the recorded data.
If there are any areas that can be easily remedied, these will be discussed first and adjusted. Once these simple adjustments are made, a re-run will be done to review the impact of the adjustments on your production. Another assessment will be done, and then this will be repeated until you are both satisfied and have the next steps in place for integrating machinery or automating some of the packaging processes.
A packaging line audit will help your production as a whole run more effectively, with less damaged product. It will also help you plan ahead more intuitively for utilizing capital to grow your business with improved packaging processes, or it will allow you to improve your line slowly while you spend your capital in different areas of your business. If you are interested in working with a packaging professional to perform an audit of your line, let's start a conversation.
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About David Roberge
I am grateful for my 9 years as part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I was able to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier that I was able to share that knowledge with you. I love learning, hiking, and growing people and teams both personally and professionally, and helping companies grow better.