The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.
Warren G. Bennis
Well, not quite. At least, not yet. But automation is certainly the watchword as todays manufacturers face razor-thin profit margins, Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing and ISO-9002/QS-1000 quality standards. In fact, companies must automate in order to deliver what todays customer is demanding, when he wants it and at the price he wants to pay.
Lets start by taking a look at the reasons why manufacturers automate their packaging operations in the first place. Then, well explore some of the tools that help them do it.
The availability and quality of a reliable talent pool is one of the most important business drivers in any industry. So management must get the most out of the people it has. Automation allows companies to reassign human resources to more productive areas such as quality control, customer service or product design. And while workers are sometimes concerned that machines will replace them, automated systems can let companies allow employee attrition to take its natural course without sacrificing productivity.
Theres an old saying among plant managers: Machines dont take coffee breaks. Sure, there is downtime such as scheduled maintenance or occasional rebuilds/refurbs, but automated systems can be counted on to produce given amounts of throughput in given amounts of time, every day. And that means the world to companies that must compete in a world of demanding customers, tight quality standards and JIT inventories.
A trained and motivated worker is a prized asset to any company. But even the best human worker has the occasional bad day, and a bad day can easily translate into massive product recall. Automated systems, properly set up and maintained, will put the right label in the right place on the right box, every single time.
Its expensive. Expansion and success is a two-edged blade. Sure, it means more revenue and, hopefully, profits. But it also means new investments in people, property and equipment. The old manufacturing rule of thumb was that if you increased business 20%, youd need 20% more people to get the job done. Many times, the growing company finds that it simply can no longer fit more people (or equipment) into the same building. Automation can help avoid an expensive call to the real estate agent.
The mentioned demands are complex. Fortunately, there is no shortage of automated packaging tools to meet them. Here are a few that we think add a lot of value and are within the reach of even moderately sized operations.
Automated Case Sealers/Erectors A unit like the Combi Ergopack takes a flat box, forms it, seals the bottom and presents it for loading. This offers three main advantages. First, fewer people are necessary to perform this menial task. Second, it eliminates an ergonomically undesirable process. And third, it presents each box only moments before it is needed, rather than the alternative paying for both a laborer to form a shifts worth of boxes ahead of time and the wasted plant capacity used to store empty boxes.
Automatic Stretch Wrappers The strength of stretch wrap comes not from the volume used but from maximizing material memory by stretching the wrap to within a few foot-pounds of its breaking strength. Stretch wrappers use exactly the amount needed, and they wrap to a standard tension, every time. As a rule, any operation that needs to wrap 15 or more pallets each day can see a cost benefit from implementing an automated stretch wrapping system.
Automatic Strapping/Unitizing Many manufacturing and distribution operations can benefit from automated strapping equipment in their UPS shipping operations. These systems pay for themselves on a simple premise. Its a lot cheaper to ship one 20-pound package than it is to ship four five-pound packages to the same place. These units automatically gather and strap similar packages going to shared destinations.
The decision to automate any process comes down to a combination of quality, safety, ergonomic and cost-benefit analysis. But while automation was once the bastion of only giant corporations, new systems and designs are becoming more and more attractive to even the smallest operations. So check it out your profit margin could depend on it.
Neal Magaziner is executive vice president of Hughes Enterprises, a leading distributor of packaging, labeling, product identification and other automated machinery and related supplies located in Trenton, New Jersey. For additional information, visit www.hughesent.com or call 888-238-0162.