In this blog series I’m looking at the, often very necessary, issues of product packaging complexity and how these can be addressed via appropriate product portfolio, optimising the packaging facility design and examining key attributes of product packaging. In part one I looked at portfolio complexity and the impact of portfolio on packaging operations. In this my latest post, I address optimisation of the packaging facility, the impact of packaging design and the consequences of mismanaged complexity.
Optimising the Packaging Facility
Often the first issue within the packaging facility can be the packaging equipment itself. Old, unreliable equipment that is slow to change over might just need to be upgraded. However, it may not be the whole line that is the issue. Packing lines consist of numerous components, each doing part of the packaging process. The overall reliability and speed of the line is a function of the reliability and speed of each component. Replacing one part may beneficially impact the overall line performance.
It is also worth considering the line specification versus the product requirements to be packed. We often see complex, high speed, automated and highly integrated packaging machinery being used for low volume short run packaging batches and can also see manual lines being used to pack larger volume SKUs. A more flexible line may be more appropriate.
Facility layout can also impact productivity. Many packaging facilities evolve over time. How is the flow of materials in your facility? Is there unnecessary handling or waiting? Where are there bottlenecks? Where are you wasting time and effort?
Finally, consider the effectiveness of business processes supporting packaging operations. Are processes optimised and efficient? Moreover, are the collective cross-functional processes tuned to work in unison or do dependencies between processes promote delays wasting time and effort?
Is the product packaging designed to meet the meet the needs of the optimised product portfolio and packaging facility?
There are many competing requirements to be considered when designing the product packaging. It must be easy to use, meet regulatory requirements, protect the product and be robust for shipping operations. It also must play its part in ensuring the most appropriate packaging solutions can be used.
Packaging techniques such as late stage customisation and postponement may have specific requirements for structural and artwork design, and these might require different solutions to those typically applied. Packaging engineers and artwork designers need to consider the overall packaging supply system when developing their designs to ensure they are fit for different solutions that may be applicable for different volume profiles.
There are consequences to a company when complexity is not managed appropriately
Packaging complexity creates some consequences for companies and their customers, including:
1) Compliance issues: Correct products and components must be supplied to the correct markets with the latest approved product information. With ever-increasing portfolio complexity, exercising appropriate jurisdiction control over what is supplied and to where, gets more difficult. Many companies have tried to overcome this complexity by supplying smaller markets with standard ‘general export’ type packs, only to find unexpected and uncontrolled local repacking. This practice obviously presents an unacceptable compliance risk if not managed effectively.
2) Lost commercial opportunities and product unavailability: Sometimes the financial trade-off between suppling a unique pack variant to a market versus the cost of supply doesn’t merit selling that product in that location. That may be considered a victory in minimising complexity, but it is a lost commercial opportunity leaving patients in that market unable to benefit from that product being made available to them. It is therefore a hollow victory that could be avoided if the company had more cost-effective capabilities to supply such variants.
3) Packaging inefficiencies: Small volumes mean small pack runs and lots of changeovers. We have seen examples where the packaging line spends more time being changed over than packing product. Complexity can also create needs for specific additional tooling, equipment and hand finishing.
4) Support function inefficiencies: There is a whole ‘hidden factory’ in the support functions supporting the product and component range e.g. additional regulatory staff maintaining licenses and product information or more purchasing activity. This is often invisible and not considered in the cost of supply.
5) Obsolescence: There are two relevant types of obsolescence; packaging components and finished product. Economic order quantities result in purchased volumes of packaging components that have a disproportionate amount of forward cover, causing high amounts of write-off when components change. Similarly, high inventories of low volume finished pack stock, caused by minimum packaging order quantities, risks either product write-off or repacking due to shelf life expiry.
In my next post in this series, we will look at some of my top tips for ensuring your product portfolio is appropriate for your packaging facility.
Should you have any questions about this or any of my other blogs, if you would like to discuss the packaging complexities within your company or would simply like to request a copy of my booklets, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly on my email Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org