When the pace of sales overwhelms the pace of production, the immediate response is often to increase packaging line speed, usually by buying the latest machinery. But before investing in high-speed tablet counters, desiccant inserters, cappers and neck banders, consider how a faster machine may affect the other steps in the packaging line. John Deitz, president of packaging machinery manufacturer Deitz Company, offers these tips:

Bottlenecks: It seems sensible to replace the slow machine causing a bottleneck but a new machine that runs much faster than the rest may cause new bottlenecks downstream as other machines cannot keep pace. Then turntables, conveyors and accessories need to be added to manage the differences in speed. Since a packaging line moves only as fast as its slowest element, every machine in the line needs to operate at or above the desired speed. It is vital to consider upgrading the other machines at the same time to achieve the faster rate of production desired.

Buying Too Much Machine: Given the growing economy, it may be tempting to buy machinery capable of handling the rosiest sales projections. But investing in more speed and capacity than is needed not only increases costs today without a corresponding benefit but it also adds the risk that if and when the projected growth is achieved, the machinery may need repair or replacement, or worse, it may be made obsolete by new technology. Consider building an entry level packaging line with automated technology that delivers the required speed now and can also be upgraded to keep pace with growth.

Labor: Automating manual tasks such as inserting a desiccant into a bottle immediately increases production rates and saves on labor. But as the packaging line becomes faster and more automated, it also becomes more complex and downtime more expensive. This may require investing in a full-time line maintenance and operations person who can manage fast changeovers and keep production moving.

To get the most ROI on faster machinery, consider the overall packaging line as a system and add automated machinery incrementally to keep pace with production while minimizing both the risk and the cost.