An organization's committee responsible for selecting filling, palletizing and conveying systems often includes those with varying points of view.
The engineering manager may be interested in integrated functions and making the best use of space available. The operations manager may be focused on efficiency and controls — is the interface user friendly, and is data collection automated? The maintenance manager is usually concerned with durability — is the equipment rugged enough to provide a long life with maximum uptime and low maintenance? And, is the system well supported by replacement parts and factory service?
All those points of view are valid, of course, but the common denominator is that the committee is evaluating capital equipment vital to the efficient packaging of the company's products. To that extent, the selection of packaging systems should be based on system reliability and functionality rather than simply purchase price.
Specific criteria should include:
Ruggedness Pays Off
Ruggedness of construction;
Availability of important options and accessories;
Customization and innovative approach to the application;
Reliability of equipment and vendor.
Not every filling, palletizing or conveying application is “heavy duty.” If an application involves drums, totes or pails being filled and moved at high-volume intervals, it most likely requires rugged, heavy-duty equipment, especially if the equipment is not maintained regularly. Don't underestimate the needs.
“This is a long-term decision, so a lot of consideration must go into the demands of the system,” advises Mark Yeck, operations manager at A&R Transport (Morris, Ill.), a nationwide provider of bulk transportation, warehousing and packaging services for the plastic, chemical, agricultural and food industries.
True Maintenance Costs
“For example, how much weight is going to be packaged, and how much load is going to be crossing the conveyor?” Yeck asks. “We're filling 1,500-pound IBC containers on our packaging line, and up to 2,400 pounds on the drum line. So, we need rugged equipment to consistently handle that weight.”
Sam Ammary, Los Angeles plant project manager for a global producer of gas, chemical and energy products, says it is important for systems that fill and carry totes and drums to be of robust construction to support a firm's continuous operations.
“It's best to design the system according to the requirements of the application, and that would especially apply to heavy duty applications,” Ammary says. “Conveyor rollers and bearings should be heavy gauge. The filler should definitely be of heavy construction, built to withstand repeated tasks required for the application.”
Houston-based Specialty Equipment, a provider of conveyor, liquid filling and palletizing systems, and supplier to both A&R Transport's and Ammary's firm, believes ruggedness is essential to companies that depend on 24/7 operation, especially when high-volume production and low maintenance of filling drums and totes are involved.
“Our equipment is stronger and more rugged, so it can survive long periods of abuse and lack of maintenance,” says Carlton Rickard, a vice president at the company. “We fabricate that way for all applications. It is a huge problem for customers that experience downtime because their equipment can't take the wear and tear. ”
True Maintenance Costs
Although repair costs can be expensive, the true cost in having to service or replace equipment is the lost production.
“The choice to purchase less than heavy-duty equipment is solely to cut up-front costs,” says Ammary. “But, that decision will lead to higher maintenance costs over time. If you need to continuously run equipment, such as a filling system, the downtime that you suffer will have a far higher cost.”
Many companies have a couple of mechanics on site every hour, at a cost of about $300. In reality, it may be $50,000 for every hour of production they lost while fixing the problem. So, the cost of maintenance, in terms of replacement parts and labor, is incidental compared to the lost production.
Most equipment manufacturers and systems integrators offer a range of options and accessories to enhance the functionality of packaging equipment.
In many cases, the most significant accessories or upgrades are critical to production throughput, which has a direct impact on the bottom line.
For example, Specialty Equipment offers a range of products such as low-foam filling machines that can rapidly fill a container with foaming liquids. A “quad head” filler is available to enable sequential filling of four drums. Quick-change fill lances including various materials are also available to ensure product compatibility.
Many systems integrators offer turnkey systems, yet do not design or fabricate the systems they sell. Therefore, it may be important to consider a supplier that can design, engineer, fabricate and deliver filling, palletizing, and conveyor systems.
Specialty Equipment, for example, customizes every system and offers a complete range of services, from analysis through start-up and post-sale support.
“That full range of capabilities is important to us,” says Yeck. “Specialty Equipment actually designed and fabricated the line that we needed. Not only that, the initial assembly was done at their home office in Houston.
“We had a couple of A&R people visit there and they saw the actual equipment operating,“ continues Yeck. “Then, it was dismantled, and they sent a tech rep here and did the installation and spent a couple of days with us making sure that we knew how to operate it and understood everything about it. ”
In the end, reliability pertains not only to durability and dependable performance of the equipment, but the post-sale services and responsiveness of the vendor.
For that reason, having a vendor with turnkey capabilities can be a significant advantage.
“We have used Specialty Equipment filling and conveying systems for more than 15 years and have had great success with them,” explains Ammary. “When spare parts or services are needed, we get very fast response, and that is crucial to uptime.”
“That's another reason we decided on the system,” adds Yeck. “If we need any maintenance service that our people can't handle, which is rare, then we can depend on the vendor for needed support, assuring us of maximum uptime.”
And, uptime translates directly to profits.
Ed Sullivan is a freelance business writer in Hermosa Beach, Calif.