A somewhat illogical step had to be taken in order for the consumer goods manufacturer to be able to increase its productivity.
When various decisions are made in desperation and without an intelligent arrangement of lines, they are often reactive actions based on guesswork and wishful thinking, unverifiable results. If we don’t address these situations in time, it can lead to a company-wide tendency to only address issues that have arisen, instead of implementing reliable and repeatable solutions that will have a positive impact. on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and productivity. .
Tight spots on fill lines
The well-known global consumer goods manufacturer operated several filling lines that were underperforming. The pressure on the company continued to grow; upgrades and improvements were necessary to meet key performance indicators (KPIs), mitigate investment risk, and meet growing market demand. According to the plan, the production lines were to operate more efficiently and more profitably. The goal has always been clear – to increase production
The manufacturer decided to make pioneering changes to one line before universally reconfiguring the others. Before Polytron was invited to the project to determine the speed and throughput of the line, the customer decided that one of the machines in the line needed to be replaced, as there was every indication that this machine was the main culprit for the poor performance and of limited capacity. .
The capacity of the new machine was 300 bottles per minute, if the handling of the bottles also improved, but would that be enough to achieve the set target?
However, it was clear that this way of solving the problem was short-sighted, as the customer was only focused on line speed. It was necessary to examine and realize that the problem is much broader and is linked to the whole line.
Polytron was hired as an industry expert who not only knows the business, but also understands beverage filling line operations and is able to demonstrate with strategic certainty how the required business results can be achieved. .
Beginning with a full functional test of the entire line, Polytron engineers observed and evaluated the line while collecting baseline performance data. Next, an accurate 3D simulation model of the production line was created, reflecting the current conditions, including its inefficient operation. This digital twin, which faithfully mirrors the state of the line in real life, made it possible to test almost every scenario imaginable. This was a preliminary visualization of the operating quality of the line if it was optimized in practice.
Not only was it clear what to do, but several surprising and even illogical proposals were offered in the simulation, which made it necessary to plan further steps. Thanks to the 3D model, it was clear that the company had made the right decision, and therefore gained confidence.
Almost contradictory observations and suggestions
PolySim is a 3D animated line simulation created by Polytron (see Figure 1). This visualization predicted that after replacing the main “culprit” with a more capable machine, problems would continue to occur, only elsewhere.
- Each time a machine in a line failed, all the machines upstream stopped almost immediately, causing micro-stops and significant power losses for the entire line.
- Each machine on the line operated as a separate automation island and stopped and started arbitrarily, depending on line failures and back-up modes, which followed operators’ instincts more, with less quality information.
- It became clear that the problem needed to be addressed comprehensively.
The new machine was capable of filling at a rate of 300 bottles per minute and was installed to increase the line’s overall throughput. With other equipment, he was able to overload the filling machine when set at a rate of 250 bottles per minute.
Subsequently, attention turned to the machinery behind the filling equipment. They had to be adjusted to gradually increase the speed of filling bottles with the possibility of modulating the speed according to the number of bottles to come.
Finally, Polytron engineers suggested adding two minutes to accumulate more bottles after filling. This step compensated for occasional fluctuations and kept the filling equipment, which otherwise limited the operation of the line, in optimal operation. Without performing a simulation on the model, it would seem ridiculous and illogical to slow down the line to possibly increase its flow.
When deceleration rhymes with acceleration
By adding two minutes to compensate for line fluctuations, integrating the machine, adding conveyor controls and modulating the machine speed around the target filling speed of 250 bottles per minute, the customer was able to achieve two times more OEE and far superior line performance – more than double what it was able to achieve before. How did it happen? Surprisingly, the line slowed down. The VP of Global Engineering and his team were shocked to realize that the line slowdown contributed to the performance increase.
To everyone’s surprise, the changes to this single line were so effective that one or two other lines that were previously needed to meet market demands could be temporarily retained. Closing these lines reduced operating costs and eliminated or at least deferred the need for over $1 million in capital investment.
Creighton Fearrington, PMP, is a project manager at Polytron Inc. He has 20 years of electrical engineering experience in all stages of production project management and has led teams to innovate and implement solutions in the areas of consumer goods, pulp and paper, beverage bottling and medical equipment. He has been with Polytron for 10 years and holds a BSEE from A&T State University in North Carolina.