A key trend in the growth in supermarket private label products has been how their positioning has altered – from ‘value’ to more premium items that compete head-on with the leading brands. In addition, for many manufacturers, the increase in private label work has resulted in shorter runs of different products.
With so many products now bearing a retailer’s own name, it is inevitable that quality becomes an even more critical consideration. After all, if there are any problems, it is the retailer’s reputation that takes the hit. And in today’s social media-obsessed world, it is all to easy for consumers to share their complaint with a wide audience. For this reason, although quality standards in the UK are already incredibly high – with accreditations such as BRC and FSA – individual retailers are also introducing their own standards to which every supplier has to adhere to win and maintain their business. For companies, this can involve another layer of quality requirements at a time when production throughput and efficiencies are a main priority, particularly in an environment of frequent product changeovers.
INSPECT A GADGET
Since inspection equipment is an important area of quality control, suppliers of these machines can play a key role in ensuring that companies are ‘audit ready’ by being able to demonstrate at any time they are satisfying these requirements. This necessitates the equipment supplier becoming familiar with each individual code of practice and any changes or updates. The supplier can then ensure that every machine is properly calibrated and has the required level of sensitivity, that the correct validation procedures are in place and carried out as required; that relevant checks are implemented after service or repairs; and that all the required paperwork is kept up-to-date.
The continual efficient and accurate operation of inspection machines is equally critical to meeting these standards. As part of this, remote monitoring software is available to enable the equipment supplier to assess the running of the machines at any time and quickly identify any areas that need attention or improvement.
This gives manufacturers the ability to map their entire production process digitally and analyse it in real time – ideally using a cloud-based system – making it possible to access the information remotely from any location, sometimes using mobile devices, and take the necessary action immediately. Equally important, the availability of the information enables processes to be continually optimised and quality standards raised while also allowing predictive maintenance for all connected equipment.
Similarly, advanced checkweigher software is able to analyse every pack that passes over the checkweigher in order to continually monitor line performance and identify opportunities to enhance efficiencies.
One area where this is particularly useful is the ability to spot unplanned downtime and be able to react to this as quickly as possible, especially where lines are fully automated which means there are fewer opportunities for human intervention. Many of today’s checkweigher models have the software capability to deliver a huge amount of valuable information that enables companies to take instant action to improve the performance or efficiency of their lines, so much so that payback on this investment can be extremely fast.
Again, because this data is instantly available and accessible remotely, information can quickly be compiled and compared between different lines, even at different locations. In this way, the software plays a valuable role in assessing a line’s Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) by constantly monitoring it in terms of availability (how much of the available time is the production line actually running?), performance (is the line producing the expected number of packs?) and quality (how many of the packs produced fall within the required quality parameters?).
The combination of these three elements provides an OEE percentage that uniquely identifies how efficient a production line is running, and can show this value for a factory, a production line, or a particular product at any time frame, in order to identify potential areas of improvement.
Maintaining quality standards is vital to success but increasingly challenging in a fast-paced production environment with frequent changeovers. A knowledgeable equipment supplier can support a ‘right-first-time’ approach that delivers the speed and efficiencies necessary for success in retail markets while ensuring that businesses are always audit-ready.