Accuracy and Efficiency Where It Counts

Three reasons to consider replacing weighing systems with precision optical counting machines.

By René Stuijt Business Manager, Industrial for Cremer Speciaalmachines B.V

Cremer’s WD Series is designed for precise counting and dispensing of individual food products in a variety of applications where cleanliness is paramount such as poultry, meat, seafood, cheese, confectionary and bread products. Image Courtesy of Cremer

In packing consumer products, accuracy, quality assurance and customer satisfaction are critical. When handled properly, product is apportioned precisely and packaged correctly, avoiding costly and reputation-damaging errors.

However, a prevalent practice in high-volume manufacturing and packaging operations is packing by weight. Unfortunately for companies utilizing this longstanding technique, they may also be weighing down their profit margins and brand reputations.

An increasingly attractive alternative, precision optical counting, guarantees 100 percent accuracy – an exacting portion control that lends itself to satisfied consumers and an upward trending ROI through significantly decreased product wastage. Counting makes improving profit margins, point-of-purchase marketing and variety pack apportionment as easy as one, two, three.

Keeping count means keeping profits

For companies that sell large quantities of product, fast and accurate sorting, quantity apportionment and packing methods are critical for manufacturing efficiency and quality control. From an end-of-line standpoint, one of the top decisions a company must make is choosing whether to pack a product according to weight or by product count. This decision, dependent on which will be most accurate for the product at hand, can dramatically impact customer satisfaction and bottom-line revenue.

While some production lines utilize weighers to pack pieces by individual weight, there are common problems that can arise using this method. Commonly, inaccurate quantities can result from product not being exactly the same weight. Even products with exceedingly minor weight discrepancies can add up to overages, and in turn, unnecessary product waste.

The resulting miscalculation causes a troublesome profitability issue, depending on the nature of the miscount. Undercounting shortchanges the customer leading to dissatisfaction, negatively affecting a company’s reputation and decreasing sales by tarnishing brand loyalty. Over counting gives product away for nothing. The former impacts sales, the latter sell-ability, since you can’t sell what you’re handing out as a freebie.

Cremer’s HQ Series is a line of compact counting and packaging machines designed for unmixed, single type or single flavor products. Image Courtesy of Cremer

For products with even slightly varying weights, then, packaging apportionment on a per-piece basis is often the most efficient, cost-effective method, as it is far more precise than conventional weighing systems in these circumstances. Optical counting – as opposed to weight-centric quality control – guarantees that the net contents in terms of count is 100% accurate for both wholesale and retail packages, preventing product loss and avoiding wastage via over-filling.

Let’s examine a real-world example. An anonymous customer is running powder dishwashing pacs on a pouch filler with an average speed of 1,800 pacs per minute, or 108,000 per hour. That’s 1,296,000 pacs per 12-hour shift – amounting to 25,920,000 per month.

Now consider this: before incorporating a precision optical counting system, that customer had an estimated overfill rate approaching 5%. Meaning for every 20 it was packaging and selling, it was giving one away. Unless the company was running a “Buy 20, Get 1 Free” promo, this is a far from acceptable outcome.

The math is simple – and shocking. At an estimated overfill rate of 5%, that equals more than a million (1,296,000, to be exact) overfilled pouches per month. With a cost per pouch of 5 cents, product loss comes to an astounding $64,800 per month – and that’s if the manufacturing facility is only running one 12-hour shift. That cost doubles to $129,600 under 24/7 production conditions, which are increasingly common in food and consumer goods sectors.

Compare that to a counting machine, which is guaranteed to be 100% accurate. Here, calculating monthly product losses becomes much simpler and much more acceptable: Zero products wasted, zero dollars lost.

As for undercounts, the counting brings a clear advantage: no more complaints from customers who purchased a 20-count package with 19 items. Since each official complaint represents exponentially more disappointed customers, the salvaged brand reputation and customer loyalty translates directly to bolstered profitability.

Counting provides point-of-purchase clarity

Multi-counter machine systems provide hyper-customized and fully integrated configurations, opening the door for a broad variety of product assortments. Image Courtesy of Cremer

Counting products not only contributes to significant ROI by eliminating wasted product and protecting post-purchase brand reputation, it also helps customers envision exactly what the package contains before making a purchasing decision. This information can be a differentiator at the point of purchase.

With certain products it is easier for consumers to grasp “how many” than “how much.” For example, let’s say someone is planning a party, and at the poultry section to pick up a fan-favorite food: chicken wings. They know approximately how many people will attend the event and have a fairly good idea how many wings the average guest will eat. Our party planner sees three brands to choose from. Two of the bags are labeled “10 lbs,” the other “50 pieces.”

Now, unless our party planner knows how much the average chicken wing weighs, which of these packages gives her the best idea of how many wings to buy? The point is that, in this scenario and others like it, the consumer thought process plays out in numbers – not weight. Insight on the combined weight of the package’s contents is much less useful than knowing exactly how many products are in the package. This is especially relevant when a package is on the larger side – the bigger the package, the more ambiguous total weight becomes.

In addition, product counts give customers more useful information on how frequently to purchase that product, providing easier-to-track insight as to when they may be “running low.” For example, it would be more beneficial to know how many laundry tablets come in a package rather than their total weight. This allows consumers to better calculate the duration it will take to empty the package, and when they’ll need to repurchase.

Precision in apportioning variety packs

Counting systems also offer distinct benefits for manufacturers of food product assortments seeking ways to gain increased control over inventory, and ensure precision in their variety packs.

For instance, apportioning and packaging wrapped food assortments like mixed chocolates, candies and coffee pods can be a complex task. However, customizable counting systems can guarantee mix composition in variety packs is 100 percent accurate and consistent for necessary quality control – an assurance simply not made possible by weighers.

For a manufacturer’s mix or variety line, a dedicated counter would be used for each flavor/type. The desired count for each is dispensed into a bucket conveyor under the counter. When the preset quantity of each flavor is reached, the bucket conveyor dispenses the total amount of product into an integrated packaging machine – typically a cartoner and/or bagger. The counter system is fully customizable per assorted product ranges; for example, four flavors would utilize four counters, and likewise for six, eight or more.

Additionally, depending on required line speed, more than one counter can be dedicated per flavor/type. For instance, if a chocolate assortment requires more milk chocolate than other flavors, the system would dedicate two counters to milk chocolate, one for dark chocolate and one for caramel.

About the Author

René Stuijt is Business Manager, Industrial for Cremer Speciaalmachines B.V., a global supplier of counting machines and packaging solutions for the pharmaceutical, food, consumer goods and agricultural industries. Cremer machinery provides premium speed and precision, ensuring companies can count and package their products in a fast and profitable way. Learn more at www.cremer.com

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