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Plan Your Packing, Enhance Your Profits

09 October 201410 min reading
Mark WILD Sales Manager - Fawema GmbH
“By planning your packing you will deliver positive results to your business:  select the required machinery carefully, choose reliable suppliers, make sure that you have additional capacity for the future in the machinery you invest in and work to a layout which is practical and which avoids unnecessary expenditure.”                 Today in the global milling industry, much greater emphasis and importance is placed on packing than has been the case in the past. Why? Because with careful planning, innovative thinking and a certain vision for the future, the potential economical returns to the mill are significant and can positively enhance profits on the end of year balance sheet. The key points to be addressed by any mill when undertaking a packing project (either partial or full turnkey) are: • Selection of Equipment - versatility, flexibility and level of automation • Tonnage capacity • Layout of floor space • Logistics Each one of these 4 points is individually very important but there’s a link between each of them so in order to achieve an efficient packing operation, all the boxes must be ticked at the planning phase. For equipment versatility and flexibility; capital equipment will rank highly on the cost analysis sheet of any project but it’s also the single most important factor in determining whether or not your return on investment will be achieved within the estimated time frame. When selecting the right packing equipment for the job it’s important to select machinery which is versatile and flexible enough to lend itself to handling other packing tasks which might present themselves in the future. Too many mills find themselves with packing machinery that has strict limitations on capacity throughputs, pack-size range, choice of bag closing styles and type of packaging materials which can be utilized. While versatility and flexibility are key, it must be stated however that the production manager should try to strike the right balance between employing a single piece of packing equipment which is adaptable and investing in dedicated machinery for a certain duty when or if the commercial importance or capacity throughputs on a single product line dictate it. Normally, if a packing machine is more versatile in terms of bag size range and offers different bag closures, the down side will be that it offers reduced capacity compared to a dedicated machine which has been designed to do a single task. Of course, the space available for installing equipment and the budget for investment will also be major factors in deciding on which machines to purchase and how many machines. Universally, the 1 kg retail pack of wheat flour is the most commonly produced bag size and depending on geographical location, the flour is either packed in a paper bag or a plastic bag. Generally, the paper bag would be closed in a brick shape and the plastic bag would be closed in a pillow or cushion shape although there is a growing trend towards brick packs in plastic. The decision on how you want to produce (paper or plastic) will normally be driven by the consumer preference in your target market but other factors will also influence the decision: • Capital cost of the packing machine itself • Costs of the packaging material per bag (i.e. the cost of paper v plastic) • Secondary packaging costs (for putting pillow packs into boxes for example) • Estimated additional costs for items such as hot-melt glue, shrink film, sewing yarn, labels, boxes or cartons. For mills that decide to pack flour in paper there are 2 alternatives: machinery that works with ready-made SOS block-bottom paper bags or machinery that works with roll-stock paper. Again there are several pro and con factors to consider with each alternative. Generally roll-stock paper is less expensive than ready-made paper bags but this is offset by the higher capital cost of the packing machinery. Therefore careful calculations based on estimated volumes of produced bags and the projected number of working years must be made in order to discover which option is the most suitable for your enterprise. For mills that decide to pack flour in plastic other considerations will apply: what type of packs to produce ? (pillow bags or brick packs from roll-stock) or a relatively new trend of using ready-made plastic bags. In both cases 2 things must be remembered: Firstly, the shelf life of wheat flour packed in plastic will not have the same length as flour packed in paper and secondly in order to properly settle the flour inside a plastic bag, the length of the settling section on the packing machine will need to be considerably longer than that of a machine working with paper – and therefore the packing machine will be physically bigger and the cost will be greater. On bigger sizes of bags, for example 25 kg, there are a huge number of packing machines on the market from a myriad of suppliers. On the bigger bags, the aesthetical presentation of the finished packs is not as crucial as it is on the smaller retail size packs. The bigger bags are normally destined for sale to bakeries, restaurants, fast-food outlets etc. so consumer appeal and shelf visibility is not an issue. Key elements considered when deciding on a suitable packing machine to handle 25 kg bags are: capacity throughputs, range of sizes possible on a single machine, range of bag closure methods which are available on a single machine and level of automation. Basically, a packing machine will either be semi-automatic or fully-automatic. On a 25 kg flour packing line, a semi-automatic machine would typically have 2 people operating the line: 1 person would have the task of placing empty bags or sacks for filling and 1 other person would have the duty of preparing the bag mouth to be closed (usually by stitching). Fully-automatic machines on the other hand dispense with the need for labor and apply a robotic method of bag placing and a fully-automated system of bag guidance through the bag closing unit. One very innovative machine available on the market today for example is able to pack flour at high speeds (up to 30 bags per minute) and works on a size range from 10 kg to 25 kg. This machine is totally automatic and fills and closes the bag with glue just as you would with a small retail bag i.e. with a brick shape. The advantage with this is that the packs are perfect in shape and extremely easy to palletize either manually or automatically. When deciding on the right piece of equipment for your requirements, the same parameters apply and need to be calculated: cost of the equipment, cost of labour (in the case of semi-automatic machinery), cost of packaging materials and running costs over a set number of years to include for spare and wear & tear parts, projected down times for cleaning and/or maintenance, energy consumption. Once a decision, or at least a shortlist, of selected packing machinery is completed, the next step is to ensure that the correct tonnages can be produced by the machines. When possible, make sure that the machinery has ample extra capacity for future requirements i.e. if your current need is to produce 2 tons per hour of flour in 1 kg bags it does not make sense to invest in a machine which is unable to surpass this capacity. It makes far better economic sense to consider equipment which, while being more expensive, is able to deliver higher tonnages either straight away or with the addition of retro-fit parts. The important point is to determine the best ratio between machine price and the highest tonnage possible on a particular piece of equipment. When making calculations, it should also be remembered that various factors will affect the throughput tonnage of an automatic packing machine – factors such as: time required for cleaning, for maintenance, time needed when changing bag sizes on the packer and when replenishing reels of shrink film. The effective production of a packing machine will never be 100% and the tonnage throughput calculations must reflect this fact. Equipment will also function only when it has product to pack, therefore if your flour feed system is not able to deliver product at the rate at which the packing machine is filling the bags, a suitable solution will need to be found otherwise the machinery will be constantly stopping and starting which will naturally have an adverse effect on production figures. In new mills the question of layout and floor space is more easily addressed than with older existing mills. Normally in the case of older mills, evolution and development has been an on-going necessity as business gradually grows rather than a strategically-planned design. Packing machinery has been purchased when increased business has demanded it and frequently the equipment is positioned in the only free space available which quite often is not the ideal location. As a general rule however, the following plan should be implemented if and where possible: • Position the packing machinery as near as possible to the source of the incoming flour • Ensure that the directional flow of the packed bags is the same for all lines • Avoid long conveyors when and where possible • Avoid bends in conveyors when and where possible • Ensure that adequate free space around each machine is available • Ensure that adequate free passage for fork-lifts is available • Ensure that all finished products have the minimum distance to travel to the warehouse Many mills, instead of trying to fit packing machinery into unsuitable confined spaces within the existing mill building, have decided to erect brand new packaging halls adjacent to the mill. As long as a plot of land on which to erect a new hall is available, this is a very good solution and guarantees a perfect logistical answer to the problem of space. The milled flour can either be stored in flexible silos or transported from the mill if the distance is not too great and then delivered to the various packing machines in a very orderly fashion. Within one unit it’s possible to locate all of the packaging lines, palletizing machines (if automatic palletizing is needed), optional equipment such as check weighing stations and metal detection devices can be integrated into the packing lines and the whole operation can be supervised by a computer to calculate the exact volume of flour packed, number of bags rejected due to incorrect weight, numbers of bags rejected due to metal detection to arrive at a final total of finished bags stored in the warehouse ready for dispatch. By planning your packing you will deliver positive results to your business: select the required machinery carefully, choose reliable suppliers, make sure that you have additional capacity for the future in the machinery you invest in and work to a layout which is practical and which avoids unnecessary expenditure. It’s simple …….. You’ve got it in the bag!
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