BY: Fabian Manger, Product Manager, Bosch Packaging Technology Bosch Fabian
Globalization and increasing competition often make a market entry more difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). If a product has been developed that has the potential to generate large profits, it must be brought onto the market as quickly as possible. Profitable production is indispensable for the long-term growth of a company and its portfolio. Manufacturers must therefore counterbalance these costs without placing risks on food quality and safety. Overcoming these challenges depends crucially on the question, “Do we want to automate production – yes or no?” Automation means a high degree of standardization, which in turn enables a reliable production with consistently higher quality. Investing in automated processes is future-oriented but procurement costs are initially relatively high. However, synergy effects in production pay off the capital outlay long term. It is crucial here to consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
Good Prospects of Automation for SMEs
In the U.S., SMEs are the backbone of national economic power and those with fewer than 500 employees represent 99% of all companies. The American food market is large, complex and highly competitive. On average, U.S. citizens spend 12.4% of their income on food. In addition, almost 10% of American workers are employed in agriculture and its associated industries, of which 1.82 million are in food, drink and tobacco production. In the sugar and confectionery sector there are an estimated 1,550 companies. In the U.S. chocolate market, another 12.4% of smaller, local companies are active alongside global manufacturers such as Hershey, Mars and Lindt & Sprüngli. More and more of these companies focus their production on chocolate, muesli and granola bars as well as similar products. Manufacturers push for this market for good reason: Bars are on the rise! Because of their handy size, they are the perfect every day snack and perfectly suit the on-the-go lifestyle of younger generations.
Bars and the like do however pose a constant challenge: Customers expect new products at regular intervals, in different sizes and with seasonal variations. Therefore, production and primary packaging processes are almost completely automated. This means that consistent quality can be guaranteed, which in turn has a positive effect on the brand image. Automated secondary packaging equipment works reliably and efficiently. In addition, flexible format change concepts enable manufacturers to react quickly to changing market requirements. Despite growth, many SMEs ask themselves to what extent conversion to automated secondary packaging is cost-effective.
Automation enables flexible reaction to competition, market dynamics and constantly changing requirements. Increasing flexibility also raises the effectiveness of the entire packaging process: this means that the high speeds of primary packaging can be adopted into secondary packaging.
A good example for a successful automation of its secondary packaging is Bridgetown Natural Foods, a rapidly growing U.S. production partner for leading companies. The company is active in the demanding production and packaging market for organic and gluten-free products as well as for natural snacks. Bridgetown Natural Foods is responding to growing production requirements and rising industry standards with a higher degree of automation of its packaging processes.
Ensuring Quality for The Highest Requirements
Adherence to high production standards is not only relevant to the safety of people and products, it also has direct economic implications. Automation can fulfil strict quality requirements and minimize errors. Because in contrast to a person, a machine can perform long-term, monotonous work and simultaneously deliver reliable, consistent quality. Compared to automated processes, operating errors may cause expensive product waste and unplanned downtime or in the worst case costly product recalls, which can damage the image of the manufacturer.
Stricter regulations in the food industry demand a new definition of high standards. There are already various regulations covering hygiene (VDI Guideline 4066) [Association of German Engineers], certifications of hygienic production (EHEDG), the HACCP system and of course ISO certifications. In the case of Bridgetown Natural Foods, adherence to the high standards for the production of organic, gluten-free and kosher foods is vital for production. Hygienic protection can only be guaranteed once the bar is securely flow wrapped. The automation of the subsequent secondary packaging also contributes to optimal compliance with hygiene standards.
Long-Term Cost Savings with Automation
Many SMEs still rely on manual loading, particularly when it comes to secondary packaging. Ever more efficient primary packaging technologies often generate a feedback effect: the secondary packaging cannot handle the production speed of the flow wrapper. In the case of Bridgetown Natural Foods, the company initially optimized the primary packaging equipment and then realized that the secondary packaging was no match for the high output. In order to increase the overall equipment effectiveness, Bridgetown Natural Foods invested in Sigpack TTM topload cartoners from Bosch. Thanks to the higher level of automation the company was able to increase productivity, as fewer planned and unplanned downtimes occurred. Higher output was also made possible thanks to synchronizing first and secondary packaging.
A higher clock rate can now be run with the primary packaging equipment because of the consistent high performance of the Sigpack TTM cartoning machines. As a result, productivity was increased. At Bridgetown Natural Foods, in 24-hour operation, products are packaged safely in up to 90 cartons per minute. Unplanned downtimes are avoided thanks to the careful carton forming process and the 100% carton control.
Automation as The Key to Greater Flexibility
Flexibility is increasingly important for companies of all sizes, enabling them to remain competitive and react to changing requirements on the market. At Bridgetown Natural Foods for example, flexibility was a central requirement for the contract partner because of its broad customer portfolio. The patented format change concept of the Sigpack TTM enables fast, easy and tool-less format changes. A vertical restart happens within a few minutes without requiring extra time for fine adjustments.
A high degree of automation has the advantage of quicker, more flexible batch changes without great initial effort or loss of quality following change overs. The Sigpack TTM meets the needs of just this flexibility, fulfilling the requirements of small and medium-sized operations in the food industry with its various tasks and numerous batch and product changes.
For medium-sized companies and also co-packer operations such as Bridgetown Natural Foods that produce and package for different customers, the Sigpack TTM cartoner is an investment in the future. “We are very satisfied. Thanks to the consistently high performance of the Sigpack TTM, we can significantly increase our overall equipment effectiveness,” says Dan Klock, CEO of Bridgetown Natural Foods.
About Bosch Packaging Technology
With its headquarters in Waiblingen near Stuttgart, Bosch Packaging Technology Business Area is one of the leading providers of process and packaging technology with 6,200 employees. At more than 30 locations in over 15 countries, highly-qualified specialists develop and produce complete solutions for the pharmaceutical, food and confectionary industries. The worldwide service and sales network offers contact partners for customers on location. For more information, go to boschpackaging.com.
 Firoozmand et al. (2015). State of SME Finance in the United States in 2015. Available online: http://www.tradeupfund.com/uploads/2/6/0/4/26048023/state_of_sme_finance_in_the_united_states_2015.pdf
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