Pod 3 Automation Project
One of the services that CoValence Laboratories provides to our clients is filling of the custom formulations we create into sample, retail or backbar packaging. Currently there are over 10,000 different configurations of components that we fill for our clients. From tubes, bottles, jars, airless containers, containers that require inner labeling – our filling production lines need to be flexible!
In addition to flexibility our filling lines need considerable capacity – even though 300 pieces is our minimum size for a filling order – we have completed runs of 500K and more! When our clients see sales success in their business, we must be prepared to handle the increases in production that accompany it. Since 2015 our average number of pieces we are filling per month has doubled and show no signs of slowing.
How can we continue to improve our output without hiring more staff, increasing shift hours or adding additional shifts or adding more production lines? How can we keep the flexibility we’ve built into our lines while adding capacity? The answer to these questions can be found through automation of our filling, capping and labeling processes.
1st Generation Pods
Flexibility was the focus when we originally designed our Filling pods. The objective was to only “touch a product once” through each applicable process. We needed machines that could handle variation, i.e. the filling machines needed a wide range of viscosity capabilities and the label machines need to handle very small to very large labels of varying materials, etc.
Most automated filling lines are designed to handle a very specific type of container and bulk product, which is why they can automate the processes easily. Our current pods are laid out so that each process occurs one after another – just like a typical automated filling line, except that the equipment used is highly flexible and unfortunately, manually run by employees. The pods require a minimum of 7 people to run and depending on the complexity of the fill, the staff requirement per pod can run upwards of 12 people.
This design delivered significant improvements in our capabilities and increased our initial capacity – however it still relies heavily on humans doing the bulk of the work.
2nd Generation Pod
The most exciting part of our new design is that it reduces the necessary humans needed for a typical run from seven to three! The first improvement to the new pod design was a filling machine we retrofitted with spare parts enabling it to automatically fill components as they passed under the filling nozzle; a human was no longer needed to tell the machine when to fill. We have since created two more versions, each one capable of filling more products and designed so that they are easier to clean and operate. These new filling machines can process up to 48 pieces per minute! On the day that speed was realized on the line, it required four people to handle the manual capping process.
The second piece of equipment added was an automatic capping machine made by Kinex Capping, Inc.1 This machine can process approximately 35 caps per minute. While not as quick as our filler, it only takes one person to run. Slowing the line just a tad to reduce the need of three additional people is a profitable and efficient trade-off. The cap only needs to be placed on the bottle with possibly a slight twist for the capping machine to finish off the process and torque to specification.
An automatic labeler made by Ketan Automatic Equipment, Inc was the third piece of equipment we chose to implement on the line. This labeler can also process around 35 pieces per minute, which works well with the capper. The lot coding and tamper machines are already automated and able to process faster than our slowest machines.
Using a typical product fill to evaluate the efficiencies gained – a standard retail size bottle, cap and label process that is lot coded and tampered:
- 1st Generation Pod produced at approximately 10 pieces per minute (600 pieces per hour) with 7 to 12 people.
- 2nd Generation Pod is designed to average 35 pieces per minute (2100 pieces per hour) with 3 to 4 people.
Our 2nd Generation Pod is expected to run at least 6 times more efficiently than its predecessor! The new design should be fully implemented this summer – we’ll check back at that time and let you know what we have learned and accomplished with actual run data.