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Driving Packaging-line Productivity

Attendees at this year’s Packaging Automation Forum got the scoop from experts at some of the industry’s best-known consumer products companies.

Packaging Automation Forum event 2010, Chicago, IL.
Packaging Automation Forum event 2010, Chicago, IL.

Once you’ve automated your production and packaging lines, what are the keys to driving productivity and efficiency to get the most out of your automation investment? In many cases, it comes down to providing the right information, motivation and tools to your people.

That was one theme that emerged at the fifth annual Packaging Automation Forum (PAF), sponsored by Packaging World and Automation World on May 4 in Rosemont, Ill., near Chicago. The day-long event, which attracted a capacity audience, featured speakers from a number of major consumer products manufacturers, while also providing plenty of time for networking among packaging industry end-users and suppliers.

One example of how to kick-start productivity came from Scott Schienvar, logistics director for cosmetics maker L’Oreal USA. In a presentation titled, “Drive Line Performance by Turning Data into Useful Information,” Schienvar described an initiative undertaken at the company’s 30-year-old plant in North Little Rock, Ark.

The nearly 1 million square-foot plant is the largest of  four facilities within L’Oreal’s Consumer Products Division and produces multiple product lines, ranging from mascaras and powders, to lipstick, hair coloring and shampoos. But by 2007, Schienvar said, productivity improvements at the plant had reached a multi-year plateau, and the company set out in 2008 to enact a major cultural change and reorganization aimed at improvement.

“We wanted to change the way we worked, by connecting our workforce with the fundamental business principles that drive our business, so that the employees on the floor, those who are closest to the decision-making process, felt as connected and owning of the business as my boss’s boss,” Schienvar explained.  

Be a coach

Among other things, the transformation involved a transition from a traditional management approach employing a plant supervisor for the entire facility into an organization instead based on production cells, or “mini-factories within the factory,” each with their own cell managers. “In forming the cells, we were able to create these core teams that could be focused on driving improvement in their operations,” said Schienvar. “Basically, we moved away from the sheep-herding style of management into a coaching style of management,” he added, with cell managers providing continuous coaching and encouragement to each of their cell team members.

Another key involved the adoption of manufacturing intelligence software, in this case, Informance, from Informance International Inc. (, Northbrook, Ill. The tool enabled operators to become more involved in the collection and analysis of information about line stoppages and other issues, and helped energize the workforce to take a more active role in problem-solving and productivity improvement, Schienvar said.

The changes have produced notable results, according to Schienvar, including a significant improvement in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) at the North Little Rock plant. OEE improved from an average of 49.7 percent plant-wide at the facility in 2008 to nearly 70 percent by October last year, he said.

Across the board

Schienvar’s presentation was one of seven on the PAF program covering various approaches to maximizing the benefits of automation investments. And while the focus was on packaging, many of the tips and insights provided are equally applicable to other kinds of automation environments.

In another presentation, for example, Mike Viland and Steve Bennek, both engineering managers at foods giant General Mills, also covered the benefits of engaging operators and others in the improvement process by providing timely information for decision support.

General Mills collects around 50 million points of data per day across about 40 different plants, said Bennek, who is in the company’s Controls and Information Systems Group. The company has around 200 standardized reports, along with “hundreds” of operator dashboards, though in both cases, the company may be looking to scale that back a bit, Bennek said. Among other things, he warned against overdoing the “eye candy” in the form of reports or dashboards that contain too much detail. “Realistically, most people can only focus on three pieces of information at a time,” Bennek pointed out.

For operator dashboards, Bennek recommended showing operators how they are doing relative to their production targets. “The idea is to make sure that you draw the line that shows where they should be, and whether or not they’re going to hit their goal for the day,” he told the audience. This can help provide motivation for operators to strive to achieve goals, he said, when they know they are very close.

It also helps foster a spirit of competition. “We see a lot of competitiveness going on in operations around record runs,” Bennek noted. “Everybody wants to claim the record run in terms of cases made, which I think is good activity.” When records are achieved, they can be held out among performance goals that others can then strive to achieve.

In addition to the L’Oreal and General Mills presentations, other Packaging Automation Forum speakers hailed from Mars Inc., Pepsico Americas Beverages, Perrigo Co., New Zealand’s Lion Nathan Brewery and consulting firm smg10X. 

Informance International Inc.

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