Plastic packaging gets a bad rap – and not without some reason, given the debris strewn along the world’s shorelines. But innovations in packaging can have a positive impact, too.
Packaging has a big role to play in curbing food waste, for example, by helping to preserve ingredients, extend food freshness and protect products so that they arrive in the consumer’s kitchen in good condition. Modern packaging can be lighter than its predecessors, meaning less fuel is consumed in transporting products. It can be less bulky, so less material is needed to make it. It can be designed so that constituent parts can be more easily separated for recycling.
But for packaging manufacturers, meeting new sustainability challenges means investing in the best plant-floor machinery – and this equipment doesn’t come cheap. At Ring Container Technologies, an Oakwood, Tennessee company that makes plastic jars, bottles, canisters and other containers for big-name US food companies such as Hormel and Cargill, a new plant-floor machine can cost between $1 million and $5 million.
For that reason, keeping these machines in good repair and getting the most from them over the course of their lifetime is essential, says Brandon Busick, a project manager at the company. But that can be a challenge, he adds, given that they are spread across 17 plants in the UK, Canada and the UK. This is why the company has recently implemented Infor Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), in order to use predictive and preventive technologies to help extend the life of these assets.
Busick explains that the system replaces 18 separate Microsoft Access databases that were previously used to track machine maintenance. That piecemeal approach didn’t give the company the visibility it needed, nor did it provide control over who could order new maintenance parts, or help the company to track inventory, maintenance costs and invoice processing. A new approach to managing the assets, it was decided, could help the whole business run more smoothly, says Busick:
These are very expensive machines - but we also need to consider the costs incurred if a machine goes down. That means production comes to a stop and we can’t fulfil customer requirements. If we’re not making products, we’re not making money, so that’s bad for business. We have contingency plans, of course, to move production to other facilities in an emergency, but it’s a situation we really want to avoid.
The implementation of Infor EAM gives plant managers at Ring Container much better insight into how well they’re staying on top of machine maintenance, he says.
We keep track of big and small assets, so not just machines, but also the gearboxes, motors and extruders fitted to them, which can also be very expensive. We want to know how long one of these assets has been running on a certain machine so that, at the end of the year, we can start making educated decisions about planned maintenance, based on the information gathered in Infor EAM.
But we do more than simple asset management. We can trend repair data so that we can see where we need to be proactive - we can fix the machine before it breaks down, by using data that tells us, ‘This part typically only lasts us X amount of time when used in this way’. Based on that, we can decide to inspect a part ahead of time, to see if it needs repair or replacement.
There’s also been a big knock-on effect for procurement, says Busick. Infor EAM has helped Ring Container create a common parts list, standardize on preferred suppliers and receive volume purchase discounts. The company is also using the system to keep a better handle on inventory and track how much is spent on keeping individual machines in working order:
If a machine goes down and a technician needs a new motor to fix it, they create a work order, take the part out of inventory and that’s all logged in the system. The costs associated with that part roll up into that asset that’s being worked on, so that at the end of the year, we can see all the repair and maintenance costs associated with that machine, as well as the hours that a technician has worked on it. The result is that we can make good decision about whether it would be better, from a cost perspective, to repair a machine or buy a brand new one.
Ring Container expects to reduce overall inventory by 25%, by eliminating duplicate and obsolete parts and by sharing parts between plants.
Given that Ring Container was already an Infor customer, using Infor LN for its enterprise resource planning system, it might seem as if Infor EAM was a shoo-in for asset management - but in fact, a team of ten people from the company assessed three or four other asset management systems, says Busick. But close integration between Infor EAM and LN is now paying dividends, he says, particularly when it comes to handling invoices associated with new parts for machines.
This once involved a lot of scanning and emailing of documents between finance staff at company headquarters and plant managers at individual facilities. It’s now a largely automated process, handled centrally, with finance staff simply matching invoices to purchase orders based on price, supplier and quantity. Infor LN also cuts the check needed to pay the supplier, and that information is also fed into Infor EAM, so if a supplier says they weren’t paid, it’s easy for a plant manager to check in EAM and get the details.
And in terms of visibility, Ring Container now has a good view right across its business, with the ability to compare maintenance costs and tasks across all plants and make decisions that will help increase uptime and productivity in future. In fact, it seems that the company has so far only scratched the surface. Says Busick:
This is a very powerful system that can do a lot of things. There’s a lot of room to grow into this system.