7 signs it’s time to automate your packaging line

Danielle Ohl

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It's time to have "the talk."

No no, not that one. We want to talk about your packaging line. You see, there comes a time in every growing company's life when they must make a decision: To automate their packaging process...or just stick with what they've already got.

Chances are, 'what they've already got' is causing some challenges when it comes to production efficiency and ROI. It's not scaling to meet growth and is costing more and more every day. 

Luckily, there are very common signals that indicate when it's time to officially have "the talk" about packaging automation within your company. Here are seven of them...how many do you identify with?

1. You can’t keep up with increases in demand.

This is the top reason why businesses contact us to inquire about packaging equipment. Their concerns often go something like this: 

"Demand is increasing, and my manual packaging process simply cannot keep up. Vendors are getting angry, employees are overworked, consumers are getting impatient, and I risk losing business to competitors who can move faster."

We often tell our clients that a packaging system can only move as fast as its slowest component. In many cases, the slowest component is - you guessed it - the human. Packaging automation drastically reduces human involvement, which speeds up the packaging process. In fact, often a machine can run with a single operator. With high-speed packaging machines that can produce 100+ bags per minute, it would take 6 to 10 (or more) employees to produce the same throughput manually.

Automating your packaging line means you can respond quickly to demand increases, which means your vendors get their products on time, your employees can work smarter, and consumers get what they want when they want it. When that realization hits, often the decision to automate is a no brainer.

2. Growth opportunities scare you because of your current packaging process.

Picture this: You have the opportunity to expand into a different geographic location or market, or even sell your product on a top online retailer's website, but the idea of growth fills you with a sense of dread. You know your current packaging line efficiency is pretty dismal. You cannot imagine how production could successfully handle the strain from growth in demand. Sound familiar? Then you need to look into packaging automation, like yesterday. An inefficient packaging line is no excuse for stagnant growth.

A great example of getting ahead of predicted growth is Death Wish Coffee of New York. After winning a commercial spot during football's biggest game, they knew their manual packing process would not keep up with their expected growth. So they invested in a coffee packaging machine that enabled them to confidently expand their business into new markets.

3. You are spending a ton on manual labor.

There's no way around it: Humans can be expensive to employ. And while we are great at many things, simple, repetitive tasks can be an area in which we don’t particularly excel. We can be slow, we make mistakes, we call in sick, and typically our compensation only increases over time. All of these things add up in dollars. For businesses that want to cut costs but not sacrifice production (or better yet increase it), packaging automation can step in and work wonders.

And we see the elephant in the room: You don’t want automation to eliminate the jobs of good people. But contrary to popular belief this doesn’t have to happen. We've seen many companies that, after reducing the need for human packagers, reallocate those same humans to value-added activities that previously had been neglected.

One awesome example of this is Bean Box, a coffee gift and subscription company in Washington. After investing in a coffee pouch packing machine, they were able to cut their labor costs per package by 90% and then reallocate those resources to areas of the company that produce more value for their customers. Now their workforce is more productive as they focus on things like customer service and technology, which in turn means happier consumers that come back for more.

4. You have recently standardized your products.

We sing the praises of packaging automation on a daily basis, but we also know that it's sometimes not a good fit. One of those times is if a company's products or packages are varied, extremely customized, or ever-changing. Packaging machines work best for companies that have a standard package and product assortment that doesn't vary too much.

That's not to say you can't automate the bagging of differing products, in fact you can, and many of our clients do. This often means purchasing more than one dedicated packaging system or stopping production to change over a single machine to accommodate new bags. Both of these are perfectly normal scenarios in packaging automation, but they can get costly and decrease packaging line efficiency if your products vary too much.

So if you've recently consolidated your product line and standardized your packaging, this is the perfect time to further increase the ROI of these initiatives by improving the efficiency of related packaging processes.

5. You aren't consistently meeting your packaging goals.

Wouldn’t it be great to know your packaging will happen like clockwork day after day no matter what? That’s where automation steps in and kicks some butt.

Quality automated packaging systems just do their job, day in and day out, with minimal maintenance requirements. This is not to say you can completely ignore them. Like a car, they still need tune-ups every once in a while, and parts will wear out that need to be replaced. But overall, as soon as you have the proper parameters set, the machines just keep producing until you tell them to stop.

Meeting (and exceeding) your production goals is consistently achievable when enlisting the help of an automated packaging system. Your boss (and their boss and their boss and their boss) will be singing your praises when they see the production numbers.

6. You are creating a ton of waste.

You’d be surprised how much waste can arise out of a manual packaging process, and how some waste can be 'invisible' until you stop to think about it. Multiplied over many packages and many days, waste adds up. Here are a few examples:

  1. Overfilling bags (too much product giveaway)
  2. Leaky bags resulting from poor package seals
  3. Finished bags that don’t pass QA can often not be reused
  4. Inefficient use of human labor   
  5. Inefficient use of plant floor space

Packaging machines are fine-tuned to produce the same exact bag with the same exact amount of product with perfect seals...every time. Because automation is precise, highly accurate, and repeatable, waste of product and packaging materials can be drastically reduced. And when it comes to addressing wasted space and labor, packaging equipment needs little human intervention and produces more per square foot than a human ever could.

7. You haven't evaluated your current packaging line in many years.

"But," you say, "my current packaging process is working just fine. I produce an adequate amount of product, meet deadlines, and my company is profitable." Sounds great, right? Not so fast.

If it's been quite some time since you have audited your packaging line, it may be beneficial to contact an expert to assess your current process and offer recommendations to improve efficiency. There is a certain amount of 'blindness' that happens when you've done things the exact same way for many years. Often the very people closest to the packaging line are so involved with the 'day to day' that process improvements are not even on their radar.

An expert assessment will often reveal bottlenecks and packaging line inefficiencies that you would have never noticed otherwise. You may be surprised at how much room there is for improvement, even on packaging lines that seem to be working just fine.

Calculate the ROI on a potential packaging machine purchase

Discover hidden inefficiencies, find out how much you really spend on labor, and find out how long it will take for a packaging machine investment to pay for itself with our free ROI calculator:

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