Effective Integration: The Best Way To Ensure The Fastest And Quickest Production Process
Monday, August 6th, 2018
Speed should not be the only factor in the development of the best snacks packing system, explains Simon Ruffley, Business Manager—Snacks Packaging Systems of Ishida Europe.
In a race the fastest competitor is not necessarily always the winner—just ask the tortoise and the hare. This lesson still has a lot of relevance today in the manufacturing sector, where fierce competition and tight margins lead to continuing pressure to get product out of the door as quickly as possible.
For the snacks industry, the potential for success remains great. According to Mordor Intelligence, the global market for snack food is expected to reach $630 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 5.8 percent on the back of major breakthroughs in terms of new products and innovations, with a particular focus on functional ingredients. We are seeing a rise in healthy snacks; the traditional crisp is constantly being reinvented with new cooking methods and more exotic flavours.
Meanwhile, according to a recent Euromonitor report, Asia Pacific is the world’s second largest savoury snacks market, following North America. The region is seeing increasing sales of savoury snacks, and some of the factors behind this include product variety, a mix of Western and regional snacks, changing consumer lifestyles, and a growth in distribution channels.
Salty snacks are cited as the most popular savoury snacks category in Asia Pacific, the reason primarily being the wide range of types and flavours available. At the same time, rising health consciousness has supported the growth in popularity of nuts, seeds and trail mixes, which are amongst the healthiest snack options.
Another contributing factor to the growth in sales of savoury snacks is the boom in online sales of packaged foods, and increased internet penetration across Asian countries. Online shopping offers convenience, with products from global and local manufacturers readily available, and with easy payment and door step delivery.
With growing populations, the adoption of Western products, and changing consumer lifestyles, savoury snacks are expected to grow in Asia Pacific. A vast range of savoury snacks is available in the region and promotional activities carried out by companies will support the growth of various categories.
However, with this growth comes competition for a share of the market. This means snack manufacturers need to combine continued product development and enhancement with maximising efficiencies and throughput. At the same time, more product lines have led to shorter production runs and more changeovers. Equally true, the implementation of strict retail standards together with high consumer expectations mean that both product and pack need to be of a consistently high quality.
In this scenario, while fast speeds remain essential to a successful snacks operation, they are by no means the only consideration. Producing in excess of 200 bags of extruded snacks per minute is an impressive figure. However, there is a danger that achieving these speeds means weighing accuracy is compromised, which can lead to an excessive amount of product giveaway. Similarly, if the bagmaker or downstream inspection equipment, automatic case loaders and case packers or just human beings, cannot keep up with the speed of the weigher, this can cause pack quality issues such as product in the seal or stops to cope with the accumulated bagged product. Any of these issues will result in the benefits of the fast speeds being quickly negated by wasted product and packaging, and frequent line stoppages.
Another consideration in that attempting to run machines consistently at the very peak of their operating performance leads to high levels of noise and vibration. This causes excessive wear and tear of parts, which will affect the long-term reliability of the equipment.
For example, the correct product flow settings on a multihead weigher are an important part of maximising packing speeds. The dispersion cone and radial feeders on the weigher are governed by amplitude and time. Amplitude refers to the strength of the vibration, and time refers to how long the feeder vibrates.
A common misassumption is that both these need to be set to their maximum. However, in such circumstances, what often happens is that the weigher becomes flooded with product, which then results in over-weights. Instead, the aim should be to run a machine with as low an amplitude as possible in order to ensure it is not put under too much constant strain to help maintain long-term reliable performance.
Efficiency is, therefore, more important than speed. If you drive a high performance car at top speed, you may run out of petrol before you reach your destination, or you may arrive early and sacrificed fuel economy, therefore incurring additional costs only to result in unproductive waiting time.
Naturally, factories have their production targets to meet each day. But these are generally based on yield—the number of non-defective packs in relation to all produced items—so ensuring a line is operating at a speed that delivers the highest number of right-first-time bags has to be the best way to achieve this.
Selecting the right equipment is essential. For the packaging of snack products, a multihead weigher and vertical form fill seal bagmaker have been natural partners for many years. And that close relationship between them begs the question: why not fully integrate them?
Such an approach makes perfect sense. Multihead weighers are renowned for their high speeds and accuracy, but ultimately it is the speed of the slower bagmaker that will govern the overall speed of the line. If the weigher and bagmaker are fully integrated, speeds can be optimised without compromising on weighing accuracy and, perhaps more importantly, on overall line efficiency.
An integrated system also makes the set-up of different product and pack requirements simpler with a variety of automatic adjustment functions, such as the positioning of the printer, former roller adjustment, gas flow management and film roll centring being synchronised with each product recipe setting. This can speed up changeovers, where the calling up of a particular pre-set from the system’s memory will bring all equipment into line with minimum downtime.
The use of gas flow management is essential, not just to provide high quality products but also to ensure consistency in pack thickness, which is vital in order to enable the correct number of packs to be placed into each outer case. This is particularly important as operations become increasingly automated which means fewer opportunities for problems to be picked up by operators or engineers.
As part of this, seal testers are able to monitor the packs for leaks and can also identify any major variations in pack dimensions. This information can then be fed back to the bagmaker in order for adjustments to be made to either the sealing or gas flushing processes.
Equally important is that the integration of the weigher and bagmaker can include other important quality control equipment such as throat metal detectors, pack print verification and product-in-seal detection located in the sealing jaws. This joined-up approach enables the individual pieces of equipment to work at their highest efficiencies. As a result, the overall speed of the line can be maximised.
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