Suppliers Assume a Larger Role in Equipment Design and Integration

Project management and systems integration greatly streamlines the planning and design process, execution phase, installation, and start-up curve for packaging lines. Image courtesy of ProMach.

Project Management Adds Value and a Single Point of Contact During Packaging Line Changes

By Naomi Holdvogt, Director of Marketing, Robotics & End of Line at ProMach

The scope of packaging line projects can often change from time to time. That is nothing new. What is noteworthy is the manner of how some of these larger, more comprehensive projects come together with one central point of contact acting as the integrator to oversee the entire venture.

Such was the case with Oklahoma-based Adjuvants Unlimited, a leader in the agrochemical industry for developing and producing advanced tank mix adjuvants and inert ingredient systems for the post-patent pesticide market. The company was looking to simply add a top load case packer to augment efficiencies on a new high performance 1- and 2.5-gallon canister packaging line.

While the initial project started out small, the potential for substantial improvements throughout the entire line was there. To best benefit the customer, the OEM case-packing supplier recommended a partner company to head up the overall system integration to improve product flow throughout the entire end-of-line process.

The result, a turnkey solution that integrated machinery and expertise from several brands, benefited Adjuvants Unlimited in two main areas. First, it received a packaging line with systems that best complement each other to maximize output and achieve its production goals. And second, it transfers project management responsibilities from the company’s plate onto the lead OEM supplier. This shift in how larger projects are approached is something that has been occurring more in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.

The shift toward supplier project management

So, why is this move toward suppliers assuming larger roles in the design and integration processes becoming more commonplace? A couple of reasons – for starters, some companies have seen their engineering staffs slimmed down due to retirements, low interest in manufacturing among young people, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. This has resulted in a deficiency of tribal knowledge and project expertise, and even having the time to invest in overseeing an end-of-line project.

This skills gap issue within manufacturing continues to be a dilemma for all industrial sectors. According to a 2021 study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, more than 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2030. The lack of skilled employees was a concern prior to the pandemic, which has only deepened the issue today. The study revealed that about 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost during the pandemic, and while more than 60% of those jobs have returned, there still are at least half a million positions that remain vacant.

One of the areas affected is project management. Not that long ago many companies had the internal resources to take on the design, engineering, sourcing and implementation of adding a new packaging line. While most major Fortune 500 brands still have those capabilities, this squeeze of capabilities is felt more within medium- to smaller-size companies. This is where external project management from an OEM supplier can be extremely helpful.

Select suppliers are structured to assume project management oversight for engineering and installations of all sizes. As pointed out earlier, the true benefit to the customer is having one point of contact for their project from start to finish. They do not need to waste time and resources calling on multiple vendors. A supplier taking on this level of responsibility frees up customers to concentrate on the work they do best.

With the ongoing labor crunch that is affecting so many industries these days, having robotic reliability on the end- of-line is a valuable asset. Image courtesy of ProMach.

The power of collaboration

The Oklahoma agricultural chemical processor is a great example of this level of supplier-directed project management in action. In this application, the new packaging line brings automation from the starting point of depalletizing empty canisters through pallet building, stretch wrapping and labeling. Quality assurance checkpoints in areas of filling, capping, induction sealing, code and bath printing, case checkweighing and labeling were also a requirement.

Empty canisters are brought to a staging area where they are depalletized and positioned onto a conveyor using robotics. From there, canisters are filled, data is imprinted, and labels are applied. Simultaneously, flat corrugate is formed into cases, which sync up with a top load case packer that loads four canisters for each cycle. Cases are then sealed and then robotically palletized. Finally, chain driven live-roller conveyors move pallets to a stretch wrapper for wrapping and prepared for shipping. Robotics are incorporated throughout the line, allowing the customer to facilitate its end-of-line packaging operations with minimal employees.

This fully functional integrated packaging line, with more than 10 different OEMs, perfectly demonstrates how a single supplier can assume the role of integrator by bringing in multiple product brands to better meet the needs of its customers. This level of project management and systems integration greatly streamlines the planning and design process, execution phase, installation, and start-up curve for packaging lines.

A single supplier can assume the role of integrator by bringing in multiple product brands to better meet the needs of its customers. Image courtesy of ProMach.

End-of-line robotics

Robotics are incorporated throughout the Oklahoma line, allowing it to facilitate its end-of-line packaging operations with minimal employees.

With the ongoing labor crunch that is affecting so many industries these days, having robotic reliability on the end-of-line is a valuable asset to have, and a reason why they are becoming more popular within packaging.

The upside to automation has never been clearer than now. A well-designed system can replace several employees (more depending on the application) who were tasked to manually build, pack and stack cases. For many employees, this type of repetitive, strenuous work is not very motivating, which is why retaining staff can be challenging. Automation reduces staff needed to complete menial taskings, while relocating them to areas where they can be more beneficial to the company.

Safety is another advantage of automation. Repeatedly bending over, lifting and stacking pallets can lead to painful back strain injuries. When that occurs, that employee is now off the job and costing money in lost production, medical bills and workers compensation claims. For employees manually stacking pallets, it is not a question of if they’re going to get injured, it is when.

Until the skills gap is reduced, this trend of diminished staffs is likely here to stay. That’s why suppliers who can add project management bring added value to their customers’ end-of-line operations.

About the Author

Naomi Holdvogt is the Director of Marketing for Robotics & End of Line at ProMach (She can be reached at 320-852-7705; Naomi.Holdvogt@promachbuilt.com.  For more information, visit www.promachbuilt.com.

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