BUYING a new packaging machine is a big decision, but industry is rushing headlong into the retail-ready revolution and the time to defer has passed. Find out which questions you need to ask from Packaging Magazine deputy editor Matthew Levinson.
The drive to shelf-ready packaging, and changes in the use of colour, are forcing manufacturers to overhaul their packaging lines.
Although the vast majority of companies being asked to load packaged products straight onto the shelf are big operators supplying into Coles and Woolworths sized supermarkets, plenty of smaller operators are feeling pressure for the first time.
It’s not all bad – with the rise of automated, shelf-ready, holistically-designed packaging machinery solutions will come labour savings, reduced occupational health and safety risks, and increased efficiency – but the more complicated and larger equipment, and faster line speeds, will show up any shortcomings in systems or operators.
It’s an expensive choice and a business critical item, so it’s vital you make an informed decision, which is why Packaging Magazine searched out the questions you need to ask, and which trends and developments in the industry will affect your line requirements.
“Based on market research with our customers, their primary requirement is reliability,” said Fibre King CEO Earle Roberts, “so if you take that through to a machine feature, you’re looking at robustness of construction and availability of component parts.”
Walls Machinery general manager Rob Lawrence agrees, “It’s hard to say because it depends on the industry, but reliability is the key, and this is probably done with electronics and a good human interface.”
“Reliability translates into local service and backup,” adds Fibre King’s Roberts, “and when you supply a machine, it’s part of a complete package these days in terms of service and design backup for future changes, changed parts, new products, new pack configurations or just ongoing maintenance and site support.”
Different manufacturers use different materials – one might pack corrosive liquids and another soft children’s toys – so you need to look at the fit between your product and the line when choosing a new machine.
Is it made to deal with the materials and conditions you plan to put it through - temperature, heavy duty sanitation, large products, caustic liquids and so on?
One option is to put all new machinery through rigorous tests, especially on parts such as trays and fills. Heat and Control business team manager (packaging) Robert Marguccio said these parts can cause real headaches relative to the choice of materials.
Fibre King’s alternative is to gear all its equipment up to heavy duty standards.
“We design for the more heavy duty applications and then that acts as an extra selling point when you’re talking lightweight product,” said Fibre King’s Roberts, “so we’ve got the same case pack design running everything from four litre oil bottles to 250 gram bags of infant formula.”
Shelf-ready places different demands on packaging – for example, low tray wall height requirements that may cause havoc with flap tucking and gluing, and smaller pack sizes that will increase line speed - so you’ll have to make sure the machine can deal with it.
“The other issue is facings,” said Fibre King’s Roberts. In the past, manufacturers would take a rectangular product and handle it narrow-face leading into the case.
“Now, the requirement is to have the presentation face on the narrow side of the carton, which often means you’re handling those wide-face leading, which gives you issues with instability and turning and jamming in the conveying work.”
Staff are extremely mobile in the food industry, but new technology features such as remote linkups, automation, and even machines that guide you through their own setup can help you avoid concentrating knowledge in operators who may not be around next year.
Instead of having to look at the entire run to work out where problems in the production line occur, automated systems can identify exactly which piece of equipment has the major downtime or even the least efficient performance, giving you the chance to catch it before it fails.
Know your product
Nobody wants excess downtime. Fibre King’s Roberts tells a story of customers waiting up to three weeks for parts to be delivered from Italy, an untenable wait when you have to get the plant back up and running immediately.
It is vital you know where your spare parts will come from, ideally locally.
“The first consideration should be the size of the company you’re buying from, the reliability and the install base in the country. It’s no point buying a piece of equipment and then six months down the track the company goes belly-up and you’ve got no service support,” said Heat and Control’s Marguccio.
That is not only a shelf-ready or even packaging concern, but easily obtainable proprietary parts can be doubly useful because you can keep a pool of spare stock to use across multiple machines.
Ask questions, look at the products and work the manufacturer has done previously and the success they had with those, especially if it does something similar.
Don’t over-extend yourself on the purchase. Look at costs, in Australia we don’t have the same volumes of product going through as in Europe or America, so it’s fine to have a machine that does a fantastic job, but you need to have the volumes to make it cost-effective.