Often, taking the time to introduce a fresh set of eyes or an objective perspective, especially around equipment and overall process strategy, can make a huge difference in whether your machine system succeeds or fails.
Case Study: Resistance To High-speed Baggers
One example of existing mindsets limiting the scope of project expansion occurred around 10 years into my career as a production engineer.
I had joined a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturer that had been proposing, for roughly 18 months prior to me joining the company, to get a modest expansion on output capacity on one of their production lines.
This line already had five vertical bagging machines, each capable of packing around 110 bags per minute (bpm). It ran the conventional three-shift operation, five to six days per week, with an impressively high OEE of around 85%.
The original project proposed adding two duplicate 110 bpm bagging machines to give them around a 40% increase in line capacity.
This had been proposed from the head office’s Engineering Department, and I was asked to lead the site project. This involved discussing two- to five-year growth projections with the company’s marketing team as well as other critical departments such as NPD (New Product Development), PD (Packaging Development) and of course Production and Maintenance.
From discussions with the marketing team, it quickly became apparent that implementing a 40% increase would only satisfy the immediate sales losses. The 18-month lag in project implementation had seen sales growth become so constrained that their five-year projection called for doubling line capacity.
One major constraint that prevented adding more than two new bagging machines and their associated packing lines was available floor space in this part of the factory. There simply wasn’t space, or budget, to add four to five additional bagging lines.
During my initial investigation, I had started to collect a broad range of technical proposals, with one emerging as offering the best match to accommodate marketing’s five-year growth projections and, at the same time, fit within the floor space constraints.
One equipment supplier had developed and prototyped a high-speed bagging machine and was currently testing it in production for a US-based food manufacturer. This bagging machine increased bagger capacity from 110 bpm to 200+ bpm and possibly higher, depending on the type of multi-head weigher that was integrated to deliver product to each bagger.
I presented this option to my direct manager, who could see the potential capacity to increase benefits and agreed it was worth further investigation. He was also mindful that solutions proposed by the head office were rarely changed, mostly due to the company’s preference to avoid taking risks on new technology-based solutions.
With the support of my manager, I then presented this option back to the national engineering manager, who wasn’t receptive to the idea and requested that we push ahead with the originally proposed, 2 x 110 bpm technical solution and park all investigations into “risky” unproven technical solutions.
After some backroom lobbying by my manager, I received the news that I would be granted a three-month extension to my project investigations to make a proper evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the two potential bagging solutions.
The project investigation progressed and revealed several more reasons for progressing with the high-speed bagging solution. Line trials were run to further enhance the high-speed solution, as we targeted minimising product fall times and scaling up the multi-head weigher to the fastest and most accurate weighers available at the time.
This was all in an effort to minimise bag-making cycle time and maximise fill weight accuracy.
The two technical solutions were re-presented to both my manager and the national engineering manager from the head office. The latest high-speed solution now answered the majority of concerns previously raised by the national engineering manager, and he agreed for us to proceed with the high-speed bagging solution.
The equipment was purchased, installed and commissioned and, within the first three weeks of production start-up, was achieving 220 bpm from each bagging machine. This resulted in a combined 440 bpm increase in line capacity or a net increase of 80% to the line capacity.
The high-speed bagging solution was the first installed into the Australian marketplace, and the project was later announced as a major success for the company and a demonstration of strong teamwork by all involved.
This experience reinforced for me early in my career the point that not all in-house company representatives necessarily know or investigate the latest available technology and equipment offerings.
Furthermore, in-house decision-making processes can be influenced by safe or low-risk thinking and mindsets, while outside parties don’t have the same attachments to the company and its way of doing things.
Without the open mind and support of my direct manager, this story would have been just another “average” project with a reasonable outcome.
There are real benefits to broadening a project team with open-minded and enthusiastic people who are keen to maximise the opportunities for every project.
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