Coping with the Lean and Mean Squeeze




 When researching this issue’s feature on horizontal form-fill-seal (HFFS) machines for medical device packaging, we found that many now ease changeover. You can switch tooling quickly using easy-to-turn knobs. Some machines can even be adjusted through programming options on the human-machine interface. Such “toolless” changeover saves time and labor.

But quick changeover may be more than just a matter of convenience. It may be necessary for company survival, says Peter Zelnick, CEO of Zed Industries (Vandalia, OH).

He notes the fierce competition in the medical industry and the threat U.S. firms face from overseas manufacturers that can produce products at much lower costs. “If we are going to keep business onshore—the only way we can stay alive in this country—we have to cut overhead,” he says. “To do so, we have to run our packaging lines faster, run more products per shift, and involve fewer operators.”

Zelnick’s concern is echoed by several readers responding to our annual salary survey. “Companies are moving to Singapore and China,” reports one respondent, when asked what trends will affect compensation in the next year. “There’s movement of manufacturing and engineering to China and Europe,” reports another. Other companies are “outsourcing to low-wage markets,” reports a respondent. And still others are worried about outsourcing to India.

Reducing overhead costs to remain competitive doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Streamlining changeover helped Merit Medical Systems. The firm implemented Multivac’s quick-changeover HFFS system and saved time and money and met a 15% increase in product demand, reports Larry Sommer, senior packaging engineer, Merit Medical Systems.

To that end, Zelnick reports that Zed’s blister forming machines offer such quick-change features for varying forming depths and machine indexing. For instance, through on-board programming changes, servomotors can adjust the index, the forming depth, and tool stack-up heights, without manual adjustments.

Pharmaceutical packagers have quick-changeover options, too. Vertical form-fill-seal machines from Rovema (Lawrenceville, GA) feature one-stop fully framed forming sets and recipes stored in the operator interface that require no tools, explains Luis de la Mora, marketing manager.

Changing materials can eat up a lot of time, so expediting material setup is another advantage.  Marty O’Boyle, applications engineer for Körber Medipak NA Inc. (KMNA; Clearwater, FL), reports on blister packaging technology available to allow for expedited material changeover time and reduction of waste. “Traditional, mechanical blister packaging machines require that several manual adjustments be made, after material change, to optimize and stabilize the packaging process. Körber’s new generation of machines, using digital servo technology, eliminates this type of trial and error. This is accomplished by implementing automatic station positioning, blister position feedback, and web compensation loops.”

There may be other factors determining a firm’s shift to overseas outsourcing, so streamlining packaging changeover may not be enough. But our survey respondents describe a “lean and mean squeeze” on their operations, and they say that compensation is “directly affected by [the] ability to provide low-cost, high-quality products to the customer quickly.” Changing over packaging machines quickly to deliver a family of products quickly may be key.

Daphne Allen


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