Setting up an automated production line can bring a range of benefits to your operation, including improved production speeds and more effective control measures, whilst reducing your labour costs and making your environment a safer place for your employees.
The following steps can seem daunting, from planning the workflows to setting new production goals. In this guide, we’ll walk through some initial considerations for setting up an automated packaging line.
And whether you’re moving from a fully manual process or semi-automated process, the principals of tackling this remain true.
Think about your production goals
Defining production goals is essential in setting up an automated packaging line. It is crucial to establish clear objectives, as these can guide the overall design and operation of the production line. Below are some key considerations when you’re thinking about your production goals:
- Production volume: Establish the desired production volume for the automated packaging line. This will help to determine the size and capacity of the equipment required and the number of workers needed to operate the line.
- Speed: Consider the desired speed of the production line. Higher speeds can increase efficiency and productivity but may require more advanced and expensive equipment. The production line can run quicker with built-in redundancies and incur less downtime.
- Package types: Identify the packaging required for the product. This will help in choosing the appropriate packaging equipment and materials.
- Quality: Set quality standards for the packaged product. This includes factors such as product freshness, shelf-life, and safety, depending on the product.
- Flexibility: Consider the possibility of packaging different products in the future. A flexible packaging line that adapts to new products and packaging formats can be a valuable asset.
- Sustainability: set goals for sustainable packaging and consider the environmental impact of the production process.
- Cost: Establish a budget for the automated packaging line and consider the cost of equipment, materials, labour, and maintenance.
- Traceability: set goals for traceability and consider how the packaging line can support the tracking and identification of each package throughout the supply chain. Automatic print-and-apply machines provide automated traceability, which can ensure the smooth running of your production line.
Once the production goals are defined, it’s important to review them regularly to ensure they’re still aligned with the business objectives and to make adjustments if necessary. It’s important to consider that production goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) in order to be effective.
Conduct a facility assessment
Once you’ve defined your production goals, conducting a facility assessment is the next important step for setting up your automated packaging line. It can help to determine the project’s feasibility and identify any potential constraints or challenges.
Here are some key considerations when conducting a facility assessment:
- Space availability: Define the available space for the production line, including the size and layout of the facility, as well as any potential expansion options. The production line layout should be designed to optimise the space and ensure efficient workflow.
- Power and utility requirements: Assess the power and utility requirements of the production line, including electrical power, compressed air, and other services. This will help to establish the cost of installation and operation, as well as any necessary upgrades.
- Workforce: Assess the availability and skill level of the workforce in the area. Determine the number of workers and any training that might be needed to operate the new production line.
- Maintenance and Support: Evaluate the facility’s maintenance and support capabilities. This includes the availability of equipment maintenance personnel and spare parts and the facility’s ability to support the equipment over time.
- IT infrastructure: Review the IT infrastructure of the facility, including the availability of internet and network connectivity. A key consideration may be the security data used on the automated packaging line if an ERP system is used.
- Scalability: Think about your facility’s scalability. Do you have room to expand the production line as the business grows? Will that impact the design and layout of the line?
- Safety and compliance: Review the facility to ensure it meets safety and compliance standards and regulations. This includes evaluating fire protection systems, emergency lighting, and ventilation, among others. It’s also important to consider the regulations of the specific industry and product you’ll be packaging.
- Access and logistics: Analyse the facility’s access and logistics, including the location of loading docks, storage areas, and parking for delivery vehicles. It’s crucial to ensure that the facility can accommodate the movement of raw materials, finished products, and packaging materials.
It’s essential to remember that the facility assessment should be a collaborative process involving input from different departments and stakeholders. It’s also important to be thorough in the evaluation, as it will help to ensure that the automated packaging line is designed, installed, and operated most efficiently and effectively possible.
Implement quality control measures
An automated packaging production line can improve quality control processes considerably over manual methods. It helps to ensure that the packaged products consistently meet the desired standards and maintain the quality of the product. While certain print-and-apply label applicators can perform quality control, some other key considerations are:
- Define quality standards: Clearly define the quality standards for the packaged product, such as product freshness, shelf-life, and safety, depending on the product. For example speed of throughput might affect how long chilled goods are out of refrigeration.
- Inspection: Include inspection steps in the production process to check for any defects or errors in the packaging process. This can be done using machine vision and industrial scanners. Such systems are able to visually inspect a wide range of elements – from product consistency and quality to label contents and legibility.
- Testing: Develop testing protocols to ensure the packaged product meets the desired quality standards. Depending on the product, this can include testing for physical, chemical, and microbiological properties.
- Documentation: An automated system can be set up to ensure documenting and recording the results of the quality control measures is built in to all processes. This can include recording the results of inspections and tests, as well as any corrective actions taken. With automated print-and-apply labelling machines, the appropriate documentation can be added automatically to cases, pallets, and packs.
- Traceability: Implement traceability measures that enable the tracking and identification of each package throughout the supply chain. This will help to identify any issues or problems that may arise and take corrective action.
- Continuous improvement: Continuously evaluate the quality control measures and make improvements as necessary to ensure that the packaged product meets the desired standards.
- Training: Provide training for the workforce on the quality control measures and protocols.
- Auditing: conduct internal or external audits to ensure that quality control measures are effective and followed.
It’s vital to comply with industry standards and regulations, where applicable. Quality control is a wide-ranging and industry-specific field, so it’s critical to keep up to date with the regulations of your specific industry. Ongoing reviews of the quality control processes are vital to ensure compliance with any policies, principles, and guidelines for your particular industry.
We offer print-and-apply labelling machines for automated packaging lines, building quality control and redundancies into production line systems when necessary for fast-moving, high-volume packaging lines.
If you’d like to know more about automated production lines or to find out about our range of print-and-apply labelling machines, get in touch. We’re always more than happy to help.