Packaging downtime is a costly and inconvenient situation no company needs. While there are multiple reasons for experiencing downtime, the majority of circumstances affecting control systems and servo drives can be avoided by keeping your packaging machinery in good condition.

Here are some helpful tips for managing equipment and keeping downtime to a minimum:

Tip 1: Measure and track line efficiencies

Bottlenecks typically occur when one part of your packaging line is unable to manage product throughput as efficiently as other parts. By measuring and tracking the throughput during optimum uptime, you can identify the average performance of your line objectively. This goes a long way towards helping you detect potential problems before they arise, by taking note of any slow spots in the line.

Tip 2: Introduce preventive maintenance

One of the most essential strategies for avoiding packaging downtime is the creation of a preventive maintenance schedule. When you have regular, quality testing and examination taking place, conducted by qualified maintenance technicians according to a predetermined schedule, your chances of identifying issues before they result in downtime increase exponentially. Define the tasks that need to be performed monthly, quarterly or bi-annually, and compile a maintenance schedule that your team follows without exception.

Tip 3: Compile maintenance checklists

One of the primary causes of packaging machinery downtime is a lack of care during operation. Daily or weekly inspections, cleaning and lubrication are as necessary on a packaging line as they are in an assembly plant, and can usually be done by the operators.

Compile a checklist of tasks and frequencies, and build enough time into the operators’ shifts to perform them as required and make note of any anomalies. Ensure the work is inspected and signed off by a supervisor, and keep record of the checks, the operators who performed them and the signatories.

This gives you an audit trail of equipment oversight, and provides your maintenance staff with valuable information that can help determine the cause of any significant downtime.

Tip 4: Keep spare parts available

When wear components and critical parts cause downtime, having spares on hand can save you a huge amount of frustration, waiting time and lost revenue. In the ideal scenario, you should be able to replace every part in your packaging line immediately if it fails, but in reality most companies avoid holding expensive parts inventory.

Get your maintenance staff to identify those items whose failure typically causes complete outage, or those that have long lead times to get replacements. Keep a minimum supply of these on your premises, and make a comprehensive list of parts in stock easily accessible to the maintenance teams.

Tip 5: Budget for upgrades

Don’t wait until your packaging machinery is on its last legs to consider upgrades. Request regular reports from your maintenance team showing the number of times a year each piece of equipment required repair, how long the downtime lasted, and what the cost to company was of the outage.

Be aware of any devices (especially PLCs, motor drives and other electronics) which are considered obsolete or are nearing “end of support” status from their manufacturer. If one of these devices fails and cannot be repaired or replaced, you will be forced to retrofit with a current product. An emergency retrofit is always more costly than a planned retrofit.

Review the production statistics for each machine and evaluate those against the projected lifespan and level of depreciation. Whether you budget for partial upgrades of only the most essential sections or complete replacement of the equipment, it’s better to be prepared and able to make a rapid decision than be stuck operating ineffectively for months at a time. 

Being prepared for the worst case is ideal when you're dealing with mission-critical packaging, because a slow-down can cause challenges throughout your operation.