Getting into an effective routine for packaging machine maintenance can make the difference in having a continually profitable business and one that often experiences costly downtime. Here are some things that can help you determine if your current upkeep strategy works well or if there’s room for improvement.

Availability of Technicians When Necessary

The ease or difficulty in getting technicians to attend to packaging machine needs could significantly impact the overall downtime period. The maintenance will go much smoother if the maintenance specialist you hire is familiar with the machine model, its design and how to source replacement parts.

Consider a case where you have several specialized and essential pieces of equipment that need ongoing packaging machine maintenance. However, when you try to schedule it, the appointments almost invariably occur several weeks behind schedule because the external technicians you hire are so frequently booked.

In that instance, it might make good financial and practical sense to hire and train an on-site technician whose sole responsibility is maintaining your machines. That approach requires significant time and money. But you could find it worthwhile because maintenance gets handled so quickly and by people who know your equipment well. Their knowledge could prove invaluable for diagnosing less common abnormalities or finally diagnosing the root causes of recurring issues.

An alternative is to install connected sensors on your packaging machine to show off-site maintenance workers the equipment’s state at any time. Then, those professionals could get information that helps them narrow down the possible problems before arriving at your facility for a physical check. Such details could give them more time to order replacement parts or ensure they bring specific tools when assessing the machine in person.

Difficulty in Sourcing Components

Excelling in packaging machine maintenance can eventually cause an issue where the machine is kept up so well that it nears or passes obsolescence. Then, it can become challenging or impossible to get the components that keep the equipment running smoothly.

Those were the circumstances facing decision makers at Moo Free — a company specializing in chocolates without dairy products. It had ongoing problems with a flow pack wrapper that would soon become obsolete. Those repetitive issues meant staff had to supervise operations continually to reduce downtime. But even when they did, finding replacement parts for the machine was becoming harder. Eventually, the company’s leaders decided it was time to invest in a replacement.

Marcus Woods — the business’s operations manager — explained that the old machine could only wrap 72 bars per minute and the film would often become misaligned, causing packaging errors. Each of those problems contributed to prolonged downtime because they required stopping production. However, the new machine had a thoughtful, updated design that used multiple safeguards to prevent the issue.

Rebuilds as Alternatives to Replacements

Another possibility is to hire a specialty organization to rebuild an aging machine, substantially prolonging its life span. For example, you could decide on a complete or partial mechanical or electrical rebuild. Then, depending on your needs, the enterprise could do everything from installing a new control panel to replacing gears that don’t meet your factory’s tolerances. That’s a practical option when you don’t want to or can’t replace a whole piece of equipment.

Leaders sometimes hesitate to replace or rebuild machinery, especially when the equipment still functions. It may be necessary to reframe the circumstances by encouraging them to think about how it takes longer to complete packaging machine maintenance because of the time it takes to fix errors or source hard-to-find parts.

If you don’t currently have difficulty sourcing parts, start thinking about the future and how to avoid those challenges when they arrive. When the components are relatively low-cost and still plentiful, you may want to stockpile some for later use. It’s also wise to start proactively discussing options with rebuilding specialists, learning more about their capabilities and prices.

Preparedness for Problems

Even if you follow all best practices and manufacturer’s instructions for packaging machine maintenance, issues will eventually occur. One of the best ways to assess the suitability of your current upkeep plan is to gauge how prepared you are for things to go wrong.

It’s also a good idea to improve abnormality monitoring to get better visibility over your most critical equipment. Connected sensors can detect gradual changes in industrial assets, flagging people when something’s wrong. One of the biggest advantages of such connectivity is it can give people more warning so they become aware of problems days or weeks before a machine needs maintenance or repair.

A 2021 survey of consumer packaged goods companies found 38.7% of respondents believed it was moderately or extremely likely for their packaging equipment to experience downtime compared to other types of machinery.

A further data breakdown indicated form, fill and seal machines were the ones those surveyed felt were most likely to fail. Also, general wear and tear was the most common downtime experienced, cited by 26.3% of the participants. That statistic emphasizes why keeping up with packaging machine maintenance could increase overall uptime for essential equipment.

However, getting prepared goes beyond high-tech sensors — some steps you take can be more basic. For example, careful recordkeeping allows you to know when to schedule maintenance appointments and maintain oversight over things such as when to change components based on the total number of operating hours.

Everyone interacting with a specific packaging machine should also receive operating checklists that help them verify everything is running correctly or alert them to problems. Relatedly, they must have a straightforward way of reporting issues to the appropriate parties.

Start Your Packaging Machine Maintenance Assessment Now

The aspects above deserve your attention as you determine whether you have sufficient methods of packaging machine maintenance. Rather than feeling discouraged after identifying shortcomings, commit to making positive, lasting changes that will increase your facility’s production uptime, and enable it to meet customer expectations and needs.

Then, after implementing new equipment or processes, track metrics to understand the full effects of the new operations. It’s not always easy to adjust to working with other machines or changing the workflow. However, when you see good results, staying motivated about getting used to what’s new is more manageable.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.