In many industries, the current broad frame reference seems to deal with an overall view of the supply chain with emphasis on distribution rather than specific areas covering processing, packaged production and related operations. This is especially true in beverage plants where packaged production is the core of the chain.

Because focus appears to be on the distribution phase, the vital nature of packaged production often can be overlooked. The beverage industry supply chain, with variations depending upon products, packaging and distribution channels, is challenged in the production phase (production lines) because there constantly are changing operating situations (market driven) that can require major adjustments.

Significant meaning to this placement should be emphasized. It basically means dealing with planning and scheduling that involves having the right-quality product in the right package at the right place at the right time and at the right price to satisfy the consumer. 

The supply chain has received many interpretations and definitions; however, by placing proper emphasis on the production phase, keeping it simple and using a systemic approach, evaluation and/or analysis can be much easier relative to problem recognition and solution.

From an operations perspective, particularly in beverages, it is important to note, and generally accepted throughout, that there are three definitive supply chain phases: processing (formulation), production (packaging) and distribution (including pre-distribution and some warehousing).

Therefore, the focus here is on the supply chain’s core — production lines — without which there would be no product in packages to sell and distribute. Visits to production facilities usually find a production priority list that deals with following schedules, coping with changeovers, correcting out-of-stocks, assessing inventory levels and maintaining distribution channels, which are all highly dependent upon the plant’s packaged production lines.

Because of its importance, observations, experience and hands-on knowledge have concluded that production line design, installation and operation should have a frequent and systemic evaluation review process. 

The process should be structured so it can eliminate a temporary approach while ensuring  that operating problems can be minimized or even eliminated through proper periodic evaluation. Many plants have evaluation procedures that usually are designed according to a plant’s environment and overall configuration. However, at the risk of categorizing a one-size-fits-all approach in the current hi-tech world, there can be a practical generic outline (PGO) for evaluating production lines related to equipment operation, intended function, degree of flexibility, extent of durability, speed limitations, design capacity and range of capability.  Using this premise, a suggested process can be developed.

The main priority is to make sure a production line can operate 24/7 (minus normal maintenance) and attain maximum designed output. Next, a systemic evaluation process must initially be based on updated specifications for each piece of equipment in the line; otherwise the basis for evaluation will not be valid. Then, available operating records for each machine should be evaluated on a  supplementary basis. If not available, best downtime or maintenance reports should provide significant information on the machine. With these three steps, a realistic evaluation process can follow the PGO.

The following are items to keep in mind when evaluating production lines:

  • Flexibility: Analyze specifications and operating conditions to determine whether machine flexibility has been able to cope with prescribed or unplanned changes. Manual or automatic adjustments have created highly flexible machines and effectiveness of each application should be monitored.

  • Durability: Check material composition, projected hours of operation and maintenance data to ensure equipment has been able to sustain the intended performance. It is not uncommon for machines to break down because hours excess or maintenance lack.

  • Speed limitation: Run time checks on each machine in the line. Compare actual results with initial calculations, determine undesirable variances and define/correct problem areas. Initial overall line speeds require a close interface with all equipment.

  • Capacity and capability: Analyze the SKU manifest to establish the plant’s production capability for manufacturing the established products. Flexibility of all production lines will assist in determining the plant’s capabilities. Line speeds, certified hours of operation, product characteristics and package configuration will help evaluate potential capacity.

Recent discussions have indicated, apart from line efficiency or productivity calculations, a line evaluation process is not always practiced. But, as you can see, it’s important to do so.