Improve Manufacturing Flexibility

Introduction

The increasingly complex and challenging nature of the recipes that consumers demand today mean manufacturers need to adapt in order to survive. How can manufacturing methods be improved to satisfy these customer needs whilst also balancing product quality, safety and production costs?
A modern Lean philosophy combined with the right technology can revolutionise profitability and the agility of manufacturing to quickly react to changes in market demands.

In this article, we examine how a production system using Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) can offer total recipe flexibility, reducing lead times and controlling Inventory levels.

So what is your weakest link?

In-line process systems by their design are linear – the raw materials enter the process in the Formulation Area before the final product is delivered out of the far end of the process line. No matter whether it is a 500kg or 10 ton production run, of a particular recipe, the same approach and
the same equipment will have to be used.

The problem here is that the process line will only be as effective as its weakest link. There are typically vast arrays of processes that happen along the way, from dispensary & mixing, to sieving & packing, and in some cases, more complex processes such as granulation and drying are also involved. It is almost impossible to have all these processes completely synchronised, so as a result, there is a lot of waiting time between one process and another. Mixing and Packing stand idle whilst Formulation of the recipe takes place. Then the Mixer remains inactive again whilst Packing is completed. This results in an inadequate OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) rate both for individual equipment as well as the process line as a whole.

With ever increasing consumer demands resulting in recipe proliferation, this means that ever more frequent recipe changes further destroy the effectiveness of this conventional way of processing. So much down-time is spent cleaning between recipe changes, particularly where cross-contamination is a real risk. In an attempt to keep all the processes moving, some companies resort to creating large quantities of WIP/WIQ (work-in- progress/work-in- queue) which is costly to store and runs the risk of going to waste.

Increase Efficiency by 300%

An efficient way to work is to apply a parallel processing approach whereby batches are handled through the ‘process line’ all at the same time. Does this sound alarming from a safety standpoint? It shouldn’t do if the appropriate technology and a well thought out system design is used. Parallel Processing means separating off the process steps (decoupling) so that Formulation, Blending, Packing and Cleaning take place simultaneously. IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Containers) are used to transport materials throughout the production processes, which enables them to operate independently and be continuously fed with product, giving good OEE rates. The IBC itself becomes the blending vessel so there is no product contact with the blender, which means no down-time for cleaning between recipe changes. In fact, IBCs are cleaned off-line so do not disrupt the manufacturing time and process line flow. Some IBC systems have high containment levels as the system remains fully closed at all times so there is no risk of cross-contamination or dust generation, which in combination with the fact that no product comes into contact with the blender, means that several different recipes can be processed at the same time without compromising safety – a key benefit

By adopting the parallel processing concept, rush orders can easily be fitted in to the production schedule, enabling rapid response to customer demands. OEE rates can increase from a very low 15-20% to 75-80%, generating significant additional revenue per annum. The right IBC system offers a Lean solution ensuring ‘right first time’ production, reducing scrap and waste and reducing the cost of the final finished product. With an additional contribution towards Sustainability goals through reducing waste.

A staged approach to process improvements

If you are not in a position to make a full-scale switch to an IBC System in one go, it is certainly possible to take a ‘staged approach’. The modular nature of the design allows for equipment to be added into the system as the need arises. Typical changes made by customers have been to:

 Decouple mixing from packing – this can double the capacity of either or both pieces of equipment in these areas. No longer does packing and blending have to wait for each other to complete their processing, but by decanting the mixed product from the fixed Mixer into an IBC, it means that the Packing lines can be continuously fed with product whilst the new batches are formulated and mixed. This rapid emptying of the Mixer results in reduced turnaround times and increased throughput.

 Decouple raw material batching/dispensing from mixing – decoupling these operations typically increases available process time (and thereby efficiency) by some 50% or more. Formulating recipes into IBCs offline then using these to fill the fixed Mixer speeds up the loading process significantly.

 Replace static mixers for premixing – high volume production lines benefit operationally from pre-mixing the micro and minor ingredients. Static mixers have exceptionally poor OEE in this application, often involving double bag handling for both filling and emptying such mixers. An IBC Blender can be used to create a pre-mix offline. The IBC can then be used to dose directly into the fixed Mixer. A Matcon IBC contains the unique Cone Valve technology which ensures the mix does not become segregated on transfer due to product being discharged with mass flow not funnel flow.

 Replace static Mixers with IBC Blending – By installing an IBC Blending System, all idle time is eliminated. Recipe formulations are prepared offline into IBCs then taken for blending. Because the IBC is the blending vessel there is no need to clean-down between recipes so any recipe can be run
at any point in the production schedule. In fact, multiple recipes can run at the same time without risk of cross-contamination. Packing lines are continuously fed with product, with one IBC Blender able to supply up to 4-5 packing lines, allowing for different packing formats to be accommodated in one batch run.

The market is moving on, are you?

Both large multinational manufacturers and smaller SMEs have embraced IBC system design. A leading spice blends contract manufacturer is now able to hygienically handle their portfolio of over1,000 flavouring mixes and achieve a consistent 3 day ‘make to order’ regime without creating
costly inventory by utilising an IBC system. Bakery manufacturer British Bakels installed an IBC System to produce their high variety, low volume
product lines which sits alongside their fixed mixing system that is producing the high volume, low variety lines. This additional line has cut cleaning time between recipes from 480 to 70 man hours, released £175,000 of cash due to less Inventory, reduced labour costs by25%, cut manufacturing
time in half as mixes with fat are done as ‘single-stage’ mixes and enabled the company to expand their product range to meet changing consumer tastes. Indeed, the IBC system has enabled British Bakels to develop their gluten-free range of bakery products. Simon Dawson, Operations & Engineering Manager said “we can now offer an enhanced product range, better flexibility of pack sizes, along with significantly enhanced quality assurance and customer service.”

Hero, an Infant Nutrition manufacturer now uses IBC Blending to add micro/minor ingredients as a pre-mix. They had been using a horizontal ribbon mixer to blend the pre-mix and whilst the actual blending time was just minutes, the ribbon blender had to be supervised by an operator, took hours to fill and empty and demanded 1-2 hours for a full-clean down. This resulted in the pre-mixing stage being painfully slow and labour intensive with large amounts of down-time between different batch runs. The system limited production capacity and flexibility. The answer was to use IBC Blending for the pre-mix, which removed the need for cleaning the ribbon blender between batches, thereby dramatically increasing capacity and eliminating the bottleneck issue. They were able to double their production capacity, whilst achieving a 30% reduction in stock, save 1000 man hours of cleaning and reduce lead times.

If you have a wide portfolio of recipes or need to produce smaller batch runs, tailor-made to your customer’s needs it might be worth considering what an IBC system could offer you.

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