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Enabling rapid line changeovers

Using electronic work instructions to improve changeover processes paves the way for manufacturers to recover valuable production time, accelerate margin, and control product quality.

In today's fiercely competitive economy, manufacturers face intense pressures to boost production efficiency and meet increasing consumer demands.

Now more than ever before, consumers expect a constantly changing breadth of diverse, innovative products, and inventory managers everywhere have had to adapt to smaller, more targeted runs to meet demand and minimise excess inventory.

Most plants are running multiple products per line per day, including varieties of the same products as well as entirely different ones.

All these different products being produced on the same line have resulted in many more production line changeovers in the factory compared to even just a few years ago—requiring processes, people and equipment to adapt.

With capitalisation of new equipment out of the question in this current "hold your cash" world, manufacturers need to look at improved changeover procedures.

A critical enabler is speed because the amount of changeovers a plant can perform is limited by the amount of time it spends on each changeover. Most plants today spend a significant amount of time on them between runs—translating into non-production time and higher costs per unit.

Key obstacles include manual processes, which are more time consuming and prone to increased quality risk, and the time required to train operators to constantly perform new changeovers.

This white paper discusses how real companies have successfully enabled rapid changeovers through the use of electronic work instructions, also referred to as electronic standard operating procedures (eSOPs), to effectively guide operators through the process.

Electronic work instructions help manufacturers gain the agility and speed needed to efficiently produce many different products on the same line without changeover delays—enabling the recovery of valuable manufacturing time, consistent product quality, and reduced excess inventory, all of which are critical to a better bottom line.

Changeover costs are seldom measured, but can total as much as tens of thousands of dollars per hour, according to John Henry, President of It is estimated that for a one-hour daily changeover on a fairly significant packaging project with the line running 240 days per year, the annual cost is $1.8 million.

Guiding operators through changeover processes

It is no secret that line changeovers cost money. In the past, most companies built this into the base cost because it was not performed frequently enough to track during their large production runs. But today, manufacturers find this formerly "hidden cost" growing exponentially as the number of changeovers increases and production run lengths are cut to reduce inventories.

In a survey of Food Manufacturing readers, the majority of plants (57 per cent) reported that they run two or three different products per line per day; 30 per cent of respondents reported that line changes involved a change to an entirely different product; and 17 per cent run more than ten packaging changes per day.

Line changeovers equate to non-production time with many labor hours spent cleaning, adjusting, and verifying machine setup.

They also introduce greater risks because issues not addressed properly during changeovers can cause longer startup cycles, more rejected product, and increased machine malfunctions. It stands to reason that the more often changeovers occur, the higher the likelihood of negative effects.

For example, one manufacturer adjusted its production run to half the amount of product, allowing it to change flavors and sizes on the line to gain a more flexible production inventory level. But when it changed from a one line changeover per week to six line changeovers per week, the plant's equipment failure rate doubled, which slowed down production, increased product rejects, and also resulted in extremely high operator overtime.

The company decided to take a step back and examine what happened; at the top of the list were ineffective changeovers. As it moved from one changeover to six changeovers per week, many new operators were brought into the process, but there was a lack of changeover procedures to guide them.

Additionally, the new operators did not have the tribal knowledge or expertise of the original operators, opening the lines to more errors and lost time during line changeovers.

To address this challenge, the manufacturer implemented new electronic work instructions for changeovers to guide each worker through the tasks required to get the line ready for the next product or size change.

These workflows captured the tribal knowledge of the company's most experienced operators to help make every worker "the best worker" and incorporated best practices into the work processes for faster and better production setup.

As a result, the company reduced its line changeover time by 25 per cent and line start issues by 50 per cent for significant time and cost savings.

With the implementation of new electronic work instructions to effectively guide its new operators through changeover processes with increased accuracy and speed, a mid-sized consumer products manufacturer saved 25 per cent of its line changeover time and cut its line start issues by 50 per cent.

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