Bottling Line Case Study

A study of bottling lines using simulation software


Canning and bottling lines are complex processes. If a line is set up properly by using correct accumulation profiles and machine speeds, then all downtimes should be solely attributable to breakdowns, changeovers and labor issues. Conversely, if the line design is such that minor stoppages impact line performance, then overall efficiency of the facility will be degraded. The difficulty in ensuring the line is designed to maximize production and efficiency is amplified when there are different packaging formats with frequent changeovers. With packaging lines costing millions of dollars, and an increasingly competitive packaging market, there is a need to maximize return by ensuring equipment is being fully utilized to maximize return.

SKU Complexity

Today’s food and beverage companies use many different product families (i.e., SKU), each having a set of specific processes. SKUs are defined by a combinations of products (varieties/flavors or qualities), primary packaging formats, and secondary packaging formats. In primary packaging, cans and bottles can be different sizes and shapes and may require widget insertion and bottles may require caps or crowns. Additionally, new glass lines and returnable glass lines frequently merge so common equipment can be shared. Secondary packaging may involve hi-cones, shrink-wrapping, a wrap-around format, or others. Frequently, products flow out of multiple primary packaging modules into several secondary packaging modules.

Even within a single packaging module, products may undergo different operations (e.g., a subset of the SKUs may be shrink-wrapped). Moreover, each operation may be performed in a variety of ways, such as hi-cones may be placed around the top or center of cans. At each stage in the packaging process, any change in the SKU could instigate a setup time. As packaging combinations and SKUs are added, optimizing a packaging facility becomes increasingly difficult. Market trends, such as variety packs, further compound the problem. As a result, many organizations are exploring computer simulation modeling to seek clarity, improve their understanding of complex systems, and improve performance. Even if downstream were to go down and product accumulated immediately after the filler, the

Line Design

A bottling package line’s design usually revolves around the V-curve or V-Profile principle (also called the Bow-Tie principle). A V-curve ensures that the bottleneck asset, typically the filler, is neither starved nor blocked due to issues up or downstream. The filler is fed at a higher rate than it can accept, thus product is accumulated and the filler will never be starved even if upstream goes down. Similarly, downstream runs at a greater rate than the filler, hence cans or bottles are pulled away faster than they are processed to prevent blockage.

The V-curve methodology requires answers to many questions. For example, how fast should each machine in the line run and how much accumulation should occur between machines to ensure that minor stoppages do not interfere with the system as a whole? If an upstream machine stops, there should be sufficient parts accumulated on the incoming conveyor to continue production until the upstream stoppage is rectified. Similarly, if a machine downstream stops there should be sufficient space on the out-feed conveyor to carry on production and avoid a blockage. The goal is to design the line to maximize the usage of critical equipment and the absorption of minor stops.

Other Important Factors

The performance of a packaging facility is also heavily related to the performance of the line preparing the product to be packaged. For example, an upstream issue may delay the supply of the materials to be packaged. Likewise, an issue with the packaging lines may cause the upstream production facility to block or even result in waste. This gives rise to the need to validate the design of facilities to ensure that they will perform in accordance with expectations and any unforeseen issues are fully addressed prior to sanctioning capital investment.

How Simulation Can Help

The use of simulation modeling is ideally suited to designing new packaging lines and determining the potential for performance improvement in existing facilities. Simulation modeling has been successfully used to validate capital investments (so that performance goals are realized at the minimum cost) and investigate how to optimize the use of existing assets (i.e. make changes to increase efficiency and throughput).

Simulation modeling involves creating a computer model to mimic a real production or logistics process. Simulation’s unique time based approach in conjunction with the ability to incorporate variable factors, enable simulation models to accurately reflect the complexities of a real life packaging system. Each breakdown, minor stop, and changeover is accurately represented using statistical distributions to simulate the variations that would naturally occur. Building a simulation of a packaging process provides an invaluable insight into where inefficiencies and the true bottlenecks lie. Simulation quantifies the performance of a packaging process in advance of implementation and allows alternate “what-if” scenarios to be evaluated. This enables proposals to be fine-tuned to exploit opportunities and allows the interested parties to arrive at a consensus reinforced through a proven methodology. The uncertainty and risk associated with major business decisions involving complex processes is mitigated.

Simulation models encompass a dynamic animation reflecting the status of all aspects of the model. For example, cans or bottles can be seen flowing along the conveyors and through the various packaging processes. In the latest simulation software, leading edge graphical technology is used to provide accurate 3D animations which are immediately recognizable as scaled accurate models of real facilities. A superb communication medium is available for all members of staff involved in designing and working in the facility.

Benefits Achieved

Example benefits as a result of using simulation on canning and bottling lines are:

  • Major Capital Avoidance (i.e. dismissal of business cases that would not have provided the required return on investment)
  • Increased Throughput and Efficiency (by understanding where the opportunities for optimizing machine speeds and the use of accumulation exist)
  • Better Targeted Continuous Improvement Activities (rather than targeting the machine with the worst performance’ the bottleneck machine can be targeted; just because a machine is not performing well in isolation, does not mean that is detrimentally impacting the holistic performance of the line)

In many cases such projects help deliver huge savings, improve efficiency and dramatically increase confidence in the outcome of the project. Simulation modeling technology has been adopted both as a continuous improvement tool used by the organizations themselves as well as by the engineering companies who provide specialist design and build services. Companies using simulation software or services include: Guinness, Scottish Courage Brewing, Krones and Pepsi Cola.

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