Throughout my career, I have often come across companies who make the mistake of underestimating the importance of the packaging line of their products dei loro prodotti.
The result: Reduced efficiency and the risk that machines may not work at maximum capacity, or worse still, grind to a halt.
These situations happen because someone erroneously thinks that product packaging requires buying the primary and, if necessary, secondary packaging machines and nothing more, failing to take into account the systems necessary to connect them.
There is an image that often comes to mind when I have to tackle this kind of problem: I think of the conveyor belts like the circulatory system that carries blood around the body and allows the different organs to function. Different packaging machines have to be connected to each other by an efficient “circulatory system” that is able to iron out any discrepancies that may exist between them.
Underestimating the importance of this “circulatory system” can result in production problems and delays.
When would we need a storage system?
There are two situations in which storage systems are critical:
- when we need to compensate for operating differences between two machines that are connected in series;
- when we need to regain productivity during micro-stops of downstream machines.
The first condition typically occurs when an intermittent machine is connected to a continuous one; for example, when an upstream machine produces product groups at regular intervals, while the downstream machine requires an ongoing flow of products equidistant from each other.
In the second case, on the other hand, we have start-ups and shut-downs of two machines that are incompatible with each other.
In these cases a buffer is a simple solution that requires a few metres of conveyor belt to regulate the flow and avoid regular stoppages in the production process.
As you can imagine, the efficiency gains are significant.
Which buffer to choose?
The choice of system depends on various considerations (including financial ones) but there are three variables that must be kept in mind:
- the operating method of the storage system;
- the available storage space;
- the recovery capacity.
It is only by carefully considering these factors that we can move to a rapid consideration of the investment in the purchase of a buffer.
How the buffer works
The buffer can either be LIFO(Last In First Out), in which, as the name suggests, the first product to enter the buffer is the last one to leave it, or FIFO (First In First Out), in which the first product into the buffer is the first one out.
Among FIFO systems, there is a choice of:
- machines that are external to the production line;
- machinery that keeps the product within the production line, gradually increasing the available transportation space. In the latter case, the product is fully traceable, and it is considered more of an advanced storage system rather than a buffer.
LIFO buffers are the cheaper and simpler models. They are particularly suited to non-perishable, with long expiry dates, that can wait a long time for final packaging.
FIFO systems, on the other hand, are recommended for fresh products that must pass through the packaging line within a limited time frame in order to retain their freshness. These machines are usually more complex and their price is often not far off that of the packaging machines themselves.
The decision regarding the dimensions of the storage space is linked to the efficiency of the upstream and downstream packaging machines and the time it takes to bring them back online in cases of micro-stops. In cases of a longer stop caused by mechanical failure, it is unlikely that a system within the packaging line will be sufficient to avoid any interruption at all.
In most cases, the storage space can correspond to a production time of 2-5 minutes; obviously there may be situations in which the demand for storage is notably higher and in this case it is worth considering the cost-benefit analysis and the impact that the buffer’s presence might have on the time it takes to bring the packaging line back online.
Often, the long time to recover from a micro-stop is because the operator is unable to focus exclusively on fixing the problem, because the upstream products continue to arrive, with the potential for pressure and chaos along the line.
Real-world conditions have shown that the presence of a buffer can help to contain machine downtimes.
Another example might be whereproducts travel a long distance along the packaging line and the client wants the ability to fully empty them. In this case, the necessary space can rise to 20 minutes or more. Such situations are rare but can happen.
A properly sized packaging line requires a buffer that is able to recover the product during regular production. The downstream machine must also be able to work at a rate greater than its nominal one, usually 10%-20% faster.
The time for emptying the buffer depends on this recovery capacity.
For more information on this subject, I have published a video dedicated to choosing the right storage system.
M.H. is an Italian brand with thirty years of experience with handling movement and logistics within production facilities in every sector of industry. We offer dedicated solutions for LIFO and FIFO storage systems, tailored to the client’s needs.
Our wealth of experience and our innovative and technologically advanced solutions mean that M.H. is also able to support companies in optimizing and streamlining their packaging lines.
For more information about our products and to book a consultation,
Co-Owner M.H. Material Handling S.p.a.