Q. We are a small candy manufacturer and recently purchased our first high-speed machine that combines depositing, wrapping and cartoning. It is PLC controlled and is capable of electronic package changeovers. What types of processes should I put in place to make sure we are successful?
A. First of all, congratulations on the jump into high speed automation.
You will need to execute the typical steps that go along with any new piece of equipment, including carrying out a FAT (factory acceptance test), setting up preventative maintenance routines, establishing spare-parts inventories, developing cleaning instructions and training the staff. In addition, there are some additional areas of focus for a machine with a programmable logic controller or PC controls, particularly with new-to-the-company equipment.
There are a few things you can do to save yourself some headaches when dealing with a machine capable of automated changeovers. If the equipment is custom made, make sure you have the drawings and operating manual before you install the machine. It is not uncommon for an original equipment manufacturer to provide manuals after the install. This is not acceptable. During the installation, make sure you have the machine set up for each of the changeovers you will make. After the machine is running acceptably, make sure that each adjustment location is clearly marked. It is also a good idea to shoot a brief video of the changeover procedures for training purposes with operators and mechanics.
Once you have acceptably run all the different package configurations at production speeds, make a copy of the computer program and store it in a safe, secure place. As people become more versed in writing code and programming, there is a possibility someone will make a change without realizing the effect on other functions. Retaining a “hot spare” program may help you avoid the 3 a.m. phone call that becomes a nightmare because the machine is not running correctly.
One practice that merits mentioning is making sure you have weekly meetings with operators, mechanics and electricians to share any concerns they may have. Don't fall into the trap of letting the on-site service representative take care of all the problems without your involvement. Otherwise, you may find yourself calling him or her back again a few days after the rep has gone.