Beverage production or packaging lines always have demanded some means of measuring how well they are operating. The ability to determine peak line efficiency is prudent and necessary, quite simply, because of dollar and cents.

Regardless of the size of a beverage plant, every facility represents a capital investment that needs to demonstrate whether a positive or negative return is being obtained. Because money is involved, bottlers have devised and used many methods of measuring return-on-investment (ROI).

But, plant managers first should ask themselves the following questions: What exactly do we mean by efficiency? How should “line efficiency” be calculated? What data is necessary and how should it be calculated? Lastly, what is the correct interpretation of the results?

The link between line efficiency and performance

From an operations perspective, the term “line efficiency” usually is used as a measure of “performance;” however, it is a discreet figure that relates to how well a capital investment is being used. Therefore, line efficiency realistically can be referred to as “line utilization” because the physical investment, once in place, is theoretically available 365 days a year.

Yet, because most production facilities don’t operate 24/7, 365 days a year, this makes the first valid point. Warehouse managers should fully understand their plant’s efficiency/utilization by asking themselves —How much of this beverage facility is being utilized?

From an engineering viewpoint, decisions are made regarding how many packaging lines will be required with specific capacity and capability. This also goes hand in hand with marketing and sales projections to determine what products will be manufactured, the quantity of those products and what geographic areas will be handled/supplied by a producing facility. 

Macro and micro approaches

These viewpoints cover the macro approach to capital investment and are crucial to determining overall plant efficiency or utilization ― what percentage of available time is being scheduled for production and what is the cost of idle or downtime?

Within the “big picture” macro approach, micro consideration also must be given due diligence. For example, when are packaging lines to be scheduled and operating? How many shifts are workers needed to fulfill production? What throughput is needed for each line? The list goes on.

Based on marketing forecasts and sales data, production schedules are generated for each line to reflect required packages and volumes. As such, detailed schedules are planned and generated to determine how much time each line is projected to operate. Daily, weekly and even monthly schedules are made to predict line utilization on a periodic basis.

From a practical operating scenario, beverage packaging lines, though scheduled for hours/shifts, usually don’t operate 100 percent of the time. This is where “downtime” enters the equation and the desire to determine how well each line ran — the line’s efficiency or utilization — becomes a top priority. What is the proper calculation for line efficiency and why is it important to beverage operations?

Downtime part of ROI equation

Any time a packaging line is not operating, it’s downtime. Downtime has many categories, but major mechanical issues tops the list, along with packaging material jams, product malfunction and operator lack of attention. Additionally, some manufacturers are confronted with shutting a line down for lunch or breaks. Regardless of the cause of downtime, the line is idle, which is classified as downtime, or non-productive time. 

For this reason, accurate records of all downtime must be manually recorded, or preferably, inputted into a computer software program or spreadsheet, to provide proper efficiency calculation and meaningful results. Leaving any downtime category out of the equation will not adequately evaluate line efficiency or utilization when compared with the available and/or scheduled time of the investment.

Therefore, line efficiency is a significant part of bottling or canning operations — make sure to document and follow the rules to achieve peak ROI.