Regardless of the industry, accuracy, quality assurance and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance when packing consumer products. When handled properly, product is apportioned precisely and packaged correctly, avoiding costly and reputation-damaging errors.
However, a common practice in high-volume manufacturing and packaging operations is to pack by weight. Unfortunately, some companies utilizing this long-embraced technique also may be weighing down their profit margins and brand reputations.
An increasingly popular alternative, precision optical counting, guarantees 100% accuracy — an exacting portion control lending itself to satisfied consumers and an upward trending ROI through vastly decreased product wastage. Let’s explore a trifecta of ways counting makes improving profit margins, point-of-purchase marketing and production operations as easy as one, two, three.
By the Numbers: The Value of an Exact Count
For any business that sells large quantities of product, fast and accurate sorting, quantity apportionment and packing methods are essential for manufacturing efficiency and quality control. From an end-of-line standpoint, one of the most important decisions a company must make is choosing whether to pack a product according to weight or by product count. This critical decision, dependent on which will be most accurate for the specific product at hand, can drastically impact customer satisfaction and bottom-line revenue.
While some production lines utilize weighers to pack pieces by individual weight, there are common problems that can arise using this technique. Most typically, inaccurate quantities can result from product not being exactly the same weight.
For example, take frozen chicken nuggets. With these and similar items (fish sticks, etc.), there are generally small weight variances from piece to piece. Packing according to a total weight with products that have weight variations frequently leads to over or undercounts. While the effect is minimal in small quantities, such individually minor discrepancies become major when multiplied by thousands or even millions.
The resulting sizable miscalculation causes a problematic profitability issue, depending on the nature of the miscount. Undercounting shortchanges the customer and causes customer dissatisfaction, negatively affecting a company’s reputation and decreasing sales by diminishing brand loyalty. More directly, overcounting simply gives product away for nothing. The former impacts sales, the latter sellability, since you can’t sell something you’re handing out as a bonus freebie.
For products with even slightly varying weights, then, packaging apportionment on a per-piece basis is often the most efficient, cost-effective method, as it is simply far more precise than conventional weighing systems in these circumstances. Optical counting — as opposed to weight-centric quality control — guarantees that the net contents in terms of count is 100% accurate for both wholesale and retail packages, preventing product loss and avoiding wastage via over- or under-filling for maximized production efficiency.
Let’s dissect a real-world example from a customer who must remain anonymous. This customer is running powder dishwashing pacs on a pouch filler with an average speed of 1,800 pacs per minute, or 108,000 pacs per hour. That’s 891,000 pacs per 12-hour shift — amounting to 24,948,000 pacs filled per month. That’s a lot of dirty dishes.
Now consider this: Before incorporating a precision optical counting system, that customer had an estimated overfill rate approaching 5%. That means for every 20 it was packaging and selling, it was giving one away. Unless the company was running a perpetual “Buy 20, Get 1 Free” promo, this is a far cry from an acceptable outcome.
The math is both simple and stunning. At an estimated overfill rate of 5%, that equals more than a million (1,247,400, to be exact) overfilled pouches per month. With a cost per pouch of 5¢, product loss comes to an astounding $64,865 per month — and that’s if the manufacturing facility is only running one 12-hour shift. That cost doubles to $129,730 under 24/7 production conditions, which are increasingly common in both food and consumer goods sectors. We’ve all heard of working off a steep tab by washing dishes, but that sort of caked-on deficit won’t come off with mere elbow grease.
Even with a lower overfill rate — say, 3% — losses would be around 750,000 overfilled pouches per month. At the same 5¢ cost per pouch, this totals $38,919 in product loss per month for one 12-hour shift, doubling to $77,837 with two 12-hour shifts.
Now compare that to a counting machine, which is guaranteed to be 100% accurate. Here, calculating monthly product losses becomes much simpler and much, much more acceptable: zero products wasted, zero dollars lost.
So while replacing a traditional weighing system with precision counting equipment might seem like an onerous expense, the numbers don’t lie: The money saved by eliminating product waste results in a quickly recouped infrastructure investment. Simply put, counters pay for themselves quickly, then keep making money for every extra product they don’t give away gratis.
As for undercounts, the advantage counting brings is obvious: no more complaints from customers who purchased a 20-count package with 19 items. Considering each official complaint represents exponentially more disappointed customers — most don’t bother to complain, they simply stop buying the product — the salvaged brand reputation and customer loyalty translates directly to bolstered profitability.
Marketing: An Informed Consumer is a Likelier Customer
Counting products not only contributes to significant ROI by mitigating wasted product (over the stated count/weight) and protecting post-purchase brand reputation (under the stated count/weight), it actually helps customers envision exactly what is in the package before making a purchasing decision. Product counts on packages are a point of purchase selling point that can help move product off the shelves by providing elevated transparency.
With certain products it is much easier for consumers to grasp “how many” instead of “how much.” For example, let’s say someone is planning a party and at the poultry section to pick up everyone’s favorite festive food: chicken wings. They know approximately how many people will attend the shindig and have a fairly good idea how many wings the average guest will eat.
Our party planner gets to the chicken wing freezer and has three brands from which to choose. Two of the bags are labeled, one is “10 lbs” the other “50 pieces.”
Now, unless our party planner knows how much the average chicken wing weighs (it’s 3.5 oz — and yes, I had to look it up), which of these packages gives our planner the best idea of how many wings they’re about to buy? The point is that, for this shopping experience and many others like it, the consumer thought process plays out in numbers — not weight. Here, as elsewhere, insight on the combined weight of the package’s contents is far less useful than knowing exactly how many products are in the package. This is especially relevant when a package is on the larger side — the bigger the package, the more nebulous total weight becomes in terms of communicating exactly how much a consumer is buying.
In addition, listing the count on products gives customers more useful information on how frequently to purchase that product, providing easier-to-track insight as to when they may be “running low” on an item. For instance, it would be much more beneficial to know how many laundry tablets come in a package rather than their total weight. This way, consumers can better calculate the duration it will take to empty the package (based on how much product is used per day or per week) and when they’ll need to repurchase. No one ever says, “I only have three ounces of Tide Pods left.”
Floor Space, Manufacturing Efficiency & Inventory
Beyond cost concerns and marketing advantages, counting systems offer direct benefits for the production facility itself. With more companies that produce bulk goods searching for sophisticated ways to track and trace their products, counting allows for elevated control over inventory and provides ample production data to compare between different stages of the line. For example, a company would be able to ensure the number of pieces filled by the filler matches the number of pallets in the truck. This allows the supply chain process to be as precise as possible at every step — from the point of origin to the warehouse.
Additionally, there are many features counting machines have that make them an attractive option for companies prioritizing efficiency and conserving floor space. These include:
- Smaller footprint for same output: Most counting equipment is more compact than weighing equipment, saving valuable floor space especially for longer production lines. Space is valuable in production facilities, so there’s a constant need to conserve space and a preference for machines to be as compact as possible.
- Reduced system height: Weighers are generally taller and higher than counters, and may be too close to the ceiling. For buildings with a lower ceiling, there is often no space to position a weigher directly over a packing machine. Counting machines are shorter and, therefore, reduce overall system heights.
- Lower drop heights: With counters being more compact and shorter than weighers, this means lower drop heights, which is beneficial for many reasons. The farther up products are dropped, the more room there is for error. Counts can become less accurate, and damage is possible with increased-velocity impact. With packing being the final step of the quality control process, any of these issues would lead straight to the consumer since there are typically no remaining safeguards once items are packed.
- Less mechanics to clean/maintain: Counters are known for having lower maintenance due to fewer parts to clean and maintain. With weighers, products often get stuck in the many nooks and crannies. Counters, by contrast, have clean lanes and product separation, presenting significantly reduced possibilities for product to become wedged or trapped in tight spaces. At best, such product loss is an inconvenience and can lead to unnecessary down time; At worst, especially in pharma and food sectors, hygiene and safety issues come into play that can become onerous, costly and even dangerous.
- Lower noise in operation: Counting machines typically operate at quieter production levels than weighing machines, generally at under 80 dB during production. Due to their higher noise levels, weighers are often installed in a separate room or encapsulated to reduce noise in the production environment.