One of the most important considerations in selecting automated packaging equipment is the speed of the line. This can seem like a simple specification, but the line speed has a major effect on the size, cost, and configuration of your packaging line. Choosing a target speed that’s too slow or too fast for your needs can waste money and hurt your ability to achieve your production goals.
There are several factors that go into determining the optimum line speed for a given application. This guide reviews these factors to help you build a comprehensive picture of your performance requirements. Each application is different, and there may be factors unique to your product or package, but by considering the items in this guide, we hope to help you arrive at a good starting point. From there, our experts will work with you to provide equipment that fits your specific needs.
Production line speeds can be looked at in two ways: on the basis of available inputs, or on the basis of required outputs. If your products will be transferred continuously from your production to your packaging equipment, your line will need to be able to keep up with the maximum rate at which you can make product, plus a margin to allow for cleaning, changeover, and maintenance. A 20% margin, meaning an assumption that your packaging equipment is in operation 80% of the time, is a common rule of thumb, but if you have a high frequency of changeovers and/or extensive cleaning requirements, be sure to factor those needs into your margin.
Example: A food company is packaging granola into 6oz bags, and the process equipment produces 720lb of granola per hour. Multiplying the hourly rate by 16 to get ounces, and dividing by 6, gives 1920 bag doses per hour. Dividing by 60 for doses per minute, and dividing by 0.8 for a margin, gives a target output speed of 40 bags per minute.
If your product is produced in batches and then transferred to the packaging line, or your production process has the technical ability to operate at speeds much greater than your foreseeable needs, it can make more sense to base your target production rate on the required output. Your company may set their production targets weekly, monthly, or by some other unit of time. It’s also important to consider whether the line will be running only part time, for a full shift, or for multiple shifts per week.
Example: A pharmaceutical company is packaging blister packs into cartons and needs to produce 96,000 cartons per week. They operate two shifts per day, 5 days per week, for a total of 80 production hours per week. Dividing 96,000 by 80 work hours gives a requirement to make 1200 cartons per hour. Dividing by 60 minutes per hour, and then by 0.8 for a margin, gives a required output speed of 25 cartons per minute.
For mature products whose production rate is steady, the required output numbers are usually easy to determine. But for new and/or high growth products, the needed output today may be insufficient in the future. We generally recommend selecting equipment that will accommodate the projected production rate requirement three to five years out. Using a shorter time frame can mean an early need for additional equipment, while a longer time frame may mean carrying a higher cost for underutilized equipment. Predictions aren’t always accurate, but if product growth does greatly outstrip packaging production capacity in the first few years, the extra growth can generally justify the needed investment in additional equipment.
Of course, future growth should be considered from the input side as well. If you’re calculating speeds based on available inputs, and are considering adding production capacity within the next three to five years, it generally makes sense to specify packaging equipment that can keep up with the expected future production capacity.
Handling of the finished packages should also be considered when evaluating the speed of an automated packaging line. If a line is being changed from manual to automated packaging, or from lower speed to higher speed equipment, more labor may be needed to load the finished packages into shipping cases or other secondary packaging. Depending on the increase in speed, it may make sense to add further automation, such as case packing and palletizing equipment, to avoid the increased labor costs.
A final consideration is cost. In general, equipment that operates at higher speeds is more expensive, and every project has a budget. In some cases, a desired production speed just can’t be met with equipment that fits the available budget. Depending on the application, it may make sense to bring in some automation immediately, and add additional equipment later, when more funds are available. In other cases, it may make sense to wait until the budget allows the entire project to be implemented at once. Equipment financing or leasing is also an option to help companies bring in equipment when it’s needed and avoid a large capital outlay.
Example: A coffee company determines they need to package 80 bags of ground coffee per minute, but their capital budget for the year is completely fixed and is only enough to buy a machine that operates at 40 bags per minute. They buy the bagger that operates at 40 per minute and automate half of their packaging, continuing to hand package the other half. Once the company sees the cost savings and quality improvement on the automated line compared to the hand packaging line, they finance a second machine to automate the rest of their packaging, making small monthly payments from their operating budget instead of needing additional capital funds.
We hope this overview has helped you consider some of the major factors that can go into determining a target speed for your line. Each application is different, and we encourage you towith the details of your input, output, budget, and any other special requirements. Our sales engineers will be glad to work with you to specify the right equipment for your needs.