How to Create a Cohesive Production Line Team: The Answer May Be in Your Machine

By Harpak-ULMA
Posted In : Labor

The saying goes, “a clean machine is a happy machine, and a happy machine is one that is operating effectively and efficiently.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to your production line team’s ability to work together cohesively. 

As an OEM, we’ve learned a lot about how these teams work together and how our machines contribute to productivity wins and challenges. We’ll explore why teams have struggled in the past, how OEMs play a role in your team’s success, and what you need to consider when looking for a machine to enable your most cohesive and productive team. 


Why Production Teams Struggle with Cohesion 

Over the years in manufacturing, there have been these “silos” built for job specific tasks in production line teams – production operatethe equipment, sanitation cleans the equipment, maintenance repairs the equipment and engineering designs the equipment.

These distinct roles and skillsets make it hard for teams to work together cohesively. For example, if proper sanitation of a machine requires disassembly that only maintenance personnel can perform, it can lead to major inefficiencies for production personnel if the machine was not cleaned or put back together correctly between maintenance and sanitation shifts. 

Recent process improvement strategies for manufacturers have brought about the concept of a multiskilled workforce, which helps mitigate this cohesion challenge. A production team with more broad training and understanding of different tasks can eliminate inefficiencies caused in the hand off between maintenance and sanitation in the example above. 

A cohesive production line doesn’t depend entirely on process improvements, though. It’s important to understand your OEM’s role in your production line efficiency and what machine design components are going to enable success. 

The OEM’s Role in Your Team’s Success 

Ownership is being put back on OEMs to design machines with these multi-skilled operators in mind as they continue to become more prevalent in manufacturing. In the past, overly complicated machine design contributed to the silo issue in production line teams, making specialization necessary.  

Now, with the right machine design, OEMs can enable multi-skilled workers to be more productive by simplifying tasks on their equipmentA simple 30 second cleaning task shouldn’t require 10 minutes of disassembly from dedicated maintenance personnel. When your machine is designed with your operators in mind, there’s less need for specialization and complex training. 

What to Look for in Your Machine 

There are some key machine design components you should be mindful of to get the best results for your production line. Use this list as a guide when making your next equipment purchase: 

1. How easy is it to perform changeovers and adjustments on the machine? 

This feels like we’re stating the obviousbut easy is a loaded word here. Adjustments after changeovers need to be consistent and repeatable. An operator shouldn’t have to “fine tune” a machine for hours after a changeover to get it working properly. They also shouldn’t have to use complicated and specialized tools to complete the changeover. Ideally, the machine is designed in such a way that operators can trust the machine settings and “set and forget it.” Our Bakery Segment Manager, Josh Becker, points out key examples:  

  • The ability to turn a handwheel to a “set point” instead of having to adjust against a measuring scale on the machine. 
  • Smart gauges with a digital readout that turn green when you have the adjustment correct. 
  • Equipment that can perform adjustments automatically. 
  • The ability to swap out parts for the changeover instead of having to adjust the machine. 
  • Color coded parts to ensure they can’t be put in the machine incorrectly. 

2. What will the operator’s visibility be on the machine? Will tasks be ergonomic? 

It’s important to think about what the operator’s physical experience with the machine will be like. Can a task like replenishing packaging material be done without strain? Can the operator easily see critical parts of the machine during operation to ensure everything is functioning properly and efficiently?  

3. How intuitive is the human machine interface? 

The HMI should display key indicators of machine status and trends so that the operator can make better decisions regarding the next steps for cleaning and maintenance. 

Josh highlighted key metrics like machine diagnostics to alert the operator to potential issues with the machine and OEE. If operators can see productivity dropping in real time, they can investigate issues further and take action to restore OEE to optimal levels.  

4. How is the machine cleaned? 

Your OEM should identify potential cleaning tasks in their design to keep the machine operating at high efficiencyYou’ll want to pay special attention to areas of the machine where material scraps or dust can build up easily.

How easy is it to access these parts for proper cleaning? Think about any parts that would need to be removed for cleaning, a catch tray for example. Can those parts be safely removed while the machine is running to avoid downtime?  

You also need to think about what intervals these tasks need to be performed in. If a machine part requires cleaning every shift, that task should take no longer than a few minutes. Josh warns that a five-minute cleaning task per shift could lead to a 1% OEE loss.    

5. What materials are used in the construction of your machine? 

You should discuss your application and requirements for your machine with your OEM up front. Both parties need to make sure that the machine materials will be suitable for the product or packaging being produced on the machine. You’ll also need to take it a step further and ensure those materials comply with your machine’s cleaning requirements as well.  

This all depends on your product, and whether you’ll need sanitary or washdown design. For example, in sanitary design, a good rule is to use stainless-steel finish and avoid surfaces like enamelware and uncoated aluminum, while washdown design would permit standard finishes. 

Enabling your most productive and cohesive production line team is a joint effort, from your processes, to your training, to your individual team member’s efforts, but it’s not all on you as the manufacturer. OEMs can be a valued partner in creating that efficiency for your team.  

If you’d like insights on packaging machine design specific to your own product and production line team, we’re happy to be a resource. Contact us below to get in touch with a packaging expert. 

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