Breaking bottlenecks

To maintain desired outputs, bakers and snack makers have to navigate some speed bumps.

At Cavanna, Mr. Kehrli said sophisticated infeeds may be available, but there are limiting factors, such as certain film materials.

“You have a hurdle to pass, and there is not much technology to increase the top space,” he said. “We handle that through more automation with additional equipment.”

Thinking ahead also means planning for bottlenecks, Mr. Kehrli added.

“If the oven stops and packaging stops, you have to put all this product somewhere, so it’s very important to provide a solution in that event,” he explained. “The nature of packaging and the inconsistency in product mean that there are going to be such stoppage events, and with high-speed packaging, it’s extremely important to plan for that accumulation.”

Mr. Kehrli said Cavanna’s slug-wrapping line can handle 320 slugs of crackers per minute.

“It’s the world’s fastest slug line, but even then, we have accounted for the time when the equipment may stop,” he said.

Strategic planning is also a priority at Formost Fuji Corp. Dennis Gunnell, vice-president, sales and marketing, involving teams at different points in the process can help anticipate the bottlenecks.

“The biggest challenge is getting all the players at the table at the same time before the project begins,” Mr. Gunnell said. “You need to determine what needs to be done mechanically to integrate this piece of equipment.”

Planning ahead can help find solutions to the inevitable downtime.

“All the calculations and all that homework has to go into the overall line study that says, ‘If our cartoner goes down, we’re going to have a bottleneck when people start manually loading cookies back onto the line,’ ” Mr. Gunnell said. “It’s not like you can just stop the oven to catch up.”

He added that bakers need a place to put that product temporarily, then find a time, maybe another gap in production, when they can manually add that product back for packaging.

“You can run individually wrapped hot dog buns at 300 pieces a minute, but what happens if you have a jam or need to change the film?” Mr. Gunnell said. “You have to divert that product somewhere.”

A backup plan helps break down bottlenecks even before they start. But speed must always be considered when transferring product to another piece of equipment or line.

“When installing your system, always consider the speed of the equipment next on the line,” Mr. Gunnell advised.

As robotics propel speeds, other technologies are also moving things along in the packaging side of the line. BPA has optimized its vision system to its robot communications platform, which leads to quicker and more accurate responses.

“That ensures each product is accounted for and packaged as effectively as possible,” Mr. Wiskochil said. “This is vital to the success of high speed systems.”

In addition, he said, technology improvements in that area also have helped BPA better perform package inspection and reject operations in the fly.

Increasing speed and efficiency on the back-end of a production line can reduce bottlenecks and downtime, ultimately saving bakers time and money. And with today’s technology, seeing really is believing.