Evaluating Your Packaging Line Layout Options

Flexible or Direct? Part 2 in a 3-Part Series

It’s a big question; one that industry experts in every food segment all over the world struggle to answer. Which palletizing system design is right for the back end of your plant?

This article is part of our ongoing "Flexible or Direct?" series. Articles include:

Making the right decision is crucial. That’s why we’ve developed a series of white papers to help you better understand the options and what to consider in choosing and evaluating a layout design.

We asked Brian Antkowiak, Intralox Layout Development Manager, a few questions about “Part 2: Evaluating Your Packaging Line Layout Options” (see below to download). 

Of the four decision criteria he lays out in the white paper, we focused this discussion on operations. Here are some of Brian’s thoughts on how to achieve operational excellence in your facility.

Making the Right Choice

For a detailed guide to assessing your line layout options, read our report: “Flexible or Direct? Part 2: Evaluating Your Package Handling System Design”

Download White Paper

Looking at it purely through an operational lens, which is the better option in your view: an end-of-line palletizing system, or an integrated palletizing system?

Brian Antkowiak: It’s going to depend on numerous factors related to your plant. How many hours are you running? How many lines do you have? Are machines in close proximity to each other? How frequently do you change over SKUs or input materials? How much planned downtime is there? Are you storing finished product or directly shipping? Sometimes, end of line will be the way to go. In many cases, an integrated system will be better. The purpose of the white paper is to show there are a plethora of items to consider, a variety of distinctive characteristics about your facilities, products, and goals to explore before you can know which is better from an operational standpoint.

What are the short-term and long-term operational considerations to keep in mind when conducting a formal evaluation of proposed layout designs?

Brian Antkowiak: In the short term, you want to make sure your personnel are confident they can operate and maintain the designed system with proper training. They should understand how your equipment is functionally controlled and the SOPs for how to bring it back online in case of failure. Your team should know what to do when a palletizer or piece of equipment goes down. For instance, should they start stacking off? How is that done safely? Is the plan to divert resources, or to scale down production?

The main, long-term thing to consider when evaluating a layout is, what’s in the production forecast? Where is the company going? What type of product formats will you be making in five years as opposed to now? What type of rates are associated with those formats? If you don’t have an idea what those capacity needs will be, then choose a layout design that is easily expandable without causing too much rework or demolition, which bring write-off costs. This is where a flexible system, designed in the proper fashion, can be more cost-effective long-term over a direct or end-of-line system.

What is the #1 thing food processors tend to forget when evaluating the operational considerations of layout designs?

Brian Antkowiak: When we’re working mostly with the layout design and engineering teams, what’s often overlooked is the production planning aspect. What SKUs are going to be run on each line? When are they going to be run? How frequently, and at what volumes? What is that product mix going to look like? This is especially important when you’re thinking of going to an integrated system where you can have all sorts of lines running at the same time, but you don’t necessarily want them to have the capability to run independently. I’ll give an example.

Let’s say you have 25 lines. If you assume you must design for the worst-case scenario—the fastest-moving, highest throughput possible on each line—you could end up with a design that would require 25 high-speed palletizers just from a capacity standpoint. But look at what’s really planned, and how the production schedulers are choosing which products are running on each line. You may find that you only need half of that capacity. If everything were to run independently, according to the production planner’s schedule, you may only end up producing 25 unique SKUs at once less than 1% of the time. If you overdesign for that worst-case scenario, the project could become so expensive it never gets the green light to move forward. Try to get the right people involved in the process so you have the right information to work from when you’re evaluating design options.

For more about Intralox’s automation solutions, visit our Packer to Palletizer page.

Brian Antkowiak

Brian Antkowiak is a Layout Development Manager at Intralox and the author of our “Flexible or Direct?” white paper series. He helps guide our customers in choosing the right line layout designs based on their unique needs and the technologies available through Intralox and the marketplace.

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