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Making Efficiency Automatic

Albion Minerals®
 
CapsCanada

Taking a closer look at a company’s processes—manufacturing and otherwise—can pay dividends across the spectrum.

It’s understood that automating as many processes as possible in manufacturing is a means to an end, which may be reducing costs or increasing capacity. However, simply installing a conveyor belt and the associated machinery is not the be-all and end-all; automatic equipment can create as many potholes as it smoothes over. For that reason, it’s useful to examine on a periodic basis whether these automated processes are functioning optimally, and take corrective steps if necessary.

New Jersey-based Capsugel can claim “a unique perspective on this topic,” said Missy Lowery, the company’s marketing manager for North and South America. “Given the breadth and depth of our customer base, we have ‘manufacturing floor’ experience not only with the widest array of commercial capsule filling equipment, but also with the most extensive range of fill ingredients.” She noted that as most filling room supervisors will attest, “it is very difficult to achieve the highest rated speeds of modern manufacturing equipment with a sticky, sensitive fill material with poor flow properties.” 

Over the past 12 months, Capsugel initiated “a more targeted and sophisticated focus on improving the capsule filling operations of our customers,” said Lowery. “As a general rule, yield improvements have been the holy grail of capsule filling operations, and with good reason: it is the fill that accounts for most of the cost associated with an encapsulated product, not the empty capsule. Consequently, even a small improvement in yield can have a financially significant impact.” 

In a review of more than 30 customer case studies where Capsugel’s technical service engineers were involved with capsule efficiency improvement efforts, the company found that in about 70 percent of cases, “we could positively impact yield rates in the range of an incremental two to four percent.” Among the root causes that were addressed by the engineers’ attention were capsule separation; capsule orientation/rectification; capsule feeding; customizing the customer’s vacuum pump stabilized filling process, thus limiting powder losses; discovering a closing section defect and making proper adjustments; and correcting the problems of lost product due to weight variation and lost dosages.

However, Lowery said, “in our studies, we also uncovered one not-so-obvious conclusion: the total cost impact associated with machine speed increases was higher than that for yield increases. We discovered that there is actually quite a lot of profit that can be gained by improving the speed of filling, not just the yield of the rune.” 

A closer review of the data illustrates the opportunity associated with machine speed increases, “as this accounted for more than 60 percent of total savings,” said Lowery. “At the individual customer level, machine speed increases averaged approximately 14,000 capsules/hour. One potential explanation for these findings is that yield problems are more often brought to management’s attention and addressed, whereas there can be the tendency to more readily accept machine speed compromises.” 

She noted that while Capsugel’s aggregate data also shows substantive savings related to downtime improvement, “the reality behind these numbers is that they were driven by a small number of instances where downtime was reduced by one to two hours (per eight hour shift basis). In these instances, the dramatic improvement in downtime was driven by such things as technical training sessions for new employees.” The finding points to the importance of a multifaceted approach to the question of improving productivity.

Lowery summed up by noting that over the years, Capsugel’s experience related to capsule filling machine productivity was “significantly impacted by the way we have been measuring business impact. Historically, our metrics were based solely on machine-related end-points, such as minutes of downtime or pounds of waste at various parts of the machine. Now, by adjusting these metrics to show the associated real world cost impact, our customers were much better able to justify and obtain the resources and focus necessary to drive changes that improved productivity of their capsule filling operations.”

It Pays to Have a Plan 

Yet optimally functioning automated manufacturing lines aren’t the extent of how greater efficiencies can be built into the entire process. Deacom Inc., based in Pennsylvania, specializes in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for process manufacturing companies across a range of industries that includes pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals as well as paints and coatings. Among the areas DEACOM ERP software covers are accounting, sales, purchasing, formula management, customer relationship management, business intelligence, inventory, production, warehouse management, labor tracking and regulatory/environmental reporting.

“We are going to continue to invest in the development of the system in 2013 and make sure we are offering our customers the best of the best for their needs,” company president Jay Deakins said earlier this year. A Technology Evaluation Center (TEC) product review recently scored DEACOM ERP in the “dominant” zone for process manufacturing and quality management.

In February, Deacom announced it was alpha-testing portions of DEACOM ERP version 15.0, the latest generation of software first introduced in the 1990s.The company said it will be the first version of DEACOM ERP accessible through a web browser. It will offer improvements that include configurable forms, enhanced dashboard and preview functionality, as well as an enhanced report writing tool. As part of the functional, load and security testing process, the CRM portion of the system is currently in use by Deacom’s sales and marketing team.

“Deacom has an extensive quality assurance process on new releases prior to making them available to existing or new customers, but we are right where we want to be from a development perspective and are very excited for the newest version of the software to hit the market,” Deakins said in February. An official targeted release date for DEACOM V. 15 was to be announced at DEACOM CONNECT, the annual user conference, scheduled this year from April 22- 25 in Philadelphia, PA.

As an example of how greater efficiency in automating the manufacturing process can boost a manufacturer’s growth potential, customized supplement maker Captek Softgel this past September announced it had gone to around-the-clock operations. A majority of the California-based company’s employees voted to approve continous manufacturing, and Captek’s production shifts were adjusted accordingly.

“We are pleased with our employees’ decision to join us in these changes that will support additional capacity up to 40 percent and allow Captek to grow our business,” Captek CEO Dave Wood said last September. “I personally appreciate their assistance in making this a reality for our organization, as California Labor Codes require employee approval by election. It was definitely a team effort.” 

The company grew its quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) capacities in accordance with the increased output. QA’s staff was bolstered to facilitate in-process checks and finished product inspections, while the QC side of the equation has been expanded to extended weekday and weekend coverage supporting the manufacturing efforts through separate functional groups; testing support and technical support.

K2VITAL®
 
Albion Minerals®