Automation is often used to increase productivity, and it can improve profit margins. Automation doesn’t require ripping everything out and building anew – you can automate on a piecemeal basis where there is the best return on the investment. This is especially true when your operations are not quite suitable for automation. Here are three signs your packaging line needs more automation.
Many businesses continue to rely on human packers because there is too much variety in their product, their packaging and their processes. If your business still has a highly variable product mix, each with its own unique package, it may be cheaper to avoid automation and rely on skilled people. If you have bulky or irregularly shaped items, automation may not be right for you. Small businesses with a low volume, too, won’t see a good ROI on automation. Once you have a steady and standardized product stream, then you can consider automating.
Maybe you’ve slowly improved the production line with automation at various spots. You’ve increased production, and there’s a constant stream of products getting packaged and shipped to the warehouse or the customer. If your staff are struggling to keep up with the production line, then you should start considering packaging automation. When people are barely able to make their targets, quality of work starts to decline, though the cost of mistakes goes up. This is when you need to bring in packaging equipment like a robotic palletizer for instance.
A robotic palletizer can handle dozens of packages per minute. It will work faster than all but your best people, and it won’t make mistakes placing products in the case. Depending on the unit, you could pick one that integrates stretch wrapping equipment so that the entire packing and wrapping process is automated. Now you’ve eliminated what is often the slowest remaining process on the production line.
Automation requires an initial purchase of equipment plus maintenance. If labor costs are low or packaging work is highly variable, you don’t want to buy packaging equipment. It is cheaper to rely on people and bring them in as required. If hourly wages and employer mandated costs like healthcare, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance and other benefits are going up, you need to revisit that cost-benefit analysis. The cost of commonly available packaging automation could replace a full time, well paid employee. And the cost would be recouped in around a year.
Note that there are likely other cost savings when you automate. You’ll probably reduce material waste. Better packaging could reduce the odds of items being damaged in transit that the company has to pay to replace. Packaging automation may allow you to pack things more tightly, reducing how much warehouse space you need to store inventory, which also allows you to deliver your products in fewer truckloads.
While there are times when automation isn’t the answer, it increasingly is worth the cost and effort to make the change. Take all of the factors into account so that you make the right decision for your situation.