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Operational Costs in Pet Food Packaging

Co-Packing Roundtable: Part 2

  • pet food co-packers

Packaging formats. Utility usage. Changeover efficiency. Labor requirements. For years, co-packers have considered these factors carefully to minimize their downtime and maximize their return on investment. As we discussed in our planning and capital cost factors post, addressing these factors up front can help co-packers manage their costs more efficiently, not just during project planning, but throughout the life of the equipment.

While some of these factors were already discussed in part one of this series, today, we’ll be sharing tips on how to manage operational cost factors including line flexibility, changeover efficiency, raw material movement, and balancing staff and automation requirements. Today’s roundtable includes:

  • William Graf, Managing Partner for Design Group
  • Jan-Pieter Grootendorst, Sales & Marketing Expert for BW Flexible Systems
  • Daniel LoRusso, Director of System Sales in North America for BW Integrated Systems
  • Robert Redman, Managing Partner of Food and Beverage for Design Group
  • Todd Sandell, Sales Executive for BW Flexible Systems
  • Steve Shellenbaum, Product Manager for BW Flexible Systems

Additional credentials for each of these experts are provided at the end of this post.

What are the primary operational cost factors co-packers should be aware of when purchasing new equipment?

LoRusso: When BW Integrated Systems designs a packaging line for a customer, we take into specific consideration raw material movement, the customer’s staffing and automation requirements, and their requirements for line flexibility.

How can co-packers plan for optimal line flexibility during the sales processes?

LoRusso: Maximizing the number of SKUs they can run is the most important thing. One of the ways we help co-packers do this is by selecting machine-specific options that create quick and effective changeovers that are repeatable every single time. It’s also critical to think of changeover as part of the conveyance design. Quick, accurate, and repeatable changeover of the conveyance system can ensure an efficient start-up of the next SKU – this is what drives successful co-packing.

Sandell: Often, the process for selecting the right options happens very early on as we begin looking at the family of products the customer wants to run. What are the different sizes of bags they want to run? What are the operational factors that would slow down changeovers? We try to identify those factors in our applications and sales process to ensure that these issues are mitigated early on.

Grootendorst:  Ensuring that your equipment is capable of quick changeovers is key. Every packaging equipment manufacturer says they have quick changeovers, but we can safely say that our changeovers are quick because they are all recipe-based and there’s little-to-no mechanical changeovers.

Shellenbaum: This is true. Our machines changeover brilliantly. They’re automated and don’t require a maintenance guy to come in and adjust anything. Once you program in the recipe, there isn’t much more to the changeover besides selecting the right recipe – the automated system does the rest of the changeover for you.

What do co-packers need to consider when automating their operations?

Redman: Obviously, automation drives out some labor costs, but it also changes the type of skillset you need in your facility to regularly maintain and troubleshoot your equipment. As we consider the environment that we’re in today with COVID-19, fewer operators are working shoulder-to-shoulder to case pack or to palletize or to do other manual operations. That’s better in the long view, but there are costs associated with implementing that automation.

Graf: For example, if we’re working with a co-packer that has been around a while and we install a new machine that has the latest and greatest software, there may be a software cost and an integration cost that the plant will need to pay to upgrade the rest of their plant in order for the machine to talk to it.

Grootendorst: At BW Flexible Systems, we have a tool we use to calculate return on investment and payback time for customers who are upgrading from a manual operation to an automated operation. It’s just one of the ways we aim to help our customers find the right balance between staffing and automation requirements.

What role does raw packaging material play in driving operational costs?

LoRusso: With raw material movement, your goal should be to lower operational costs by mitigating complex distribution from the warehouse to point of use on the line. For example, one of our favorite strategies for aiding in operational efficiency is to centralize raw material supply locations. This helps optimize fork and hand truck movement and minimize empty trips – that is to say trips where the fork truck has nothing on it. We also utilize visual, audible, and other cues to suggest when a machine center may be running low on a necessary material. The combination of these efforts creates an efficient supply of materials to keep the line running.

Sandell: I think one thing that you’ll notice throughout this process is that there is a lot of overlap between each of these factors. Upstream and downstream machinery affect your operational packaging costs as do the bags, packaging materials (for FFS machines), product flow and availability of products.

LoRusso: That’s a great point. For example, if you are switching to a more recyclable material to appeal to today’s sustainability initiatives, you’ll want to make sure that your packaging equipment is capable of running that new material without issue. At BW Packaging Systems, one of the things we really pride ourselves on is our ability to work cohesively and collaboratively with suppliers of all packaging materials – whether it’s cans, labels, cases, films, or another material.

Did you find this content useful? Check out the second post in this series, which covers planning and capital cost factors.

About the Experts

The BW Packaging Systems Pet Food Blog is built upon cooperation and sharing of information between experts across the pet food industry including equipment manufacturers, packaging line integrators, engineering consultants, private label brands, co-packers and more. This post includes insights from:

Design Group

Design Group is a premier system integrator for a wide range of filling and packaging line solutions with extensive experience in material handling, printing, labeling, inspection systems, secondary packaging requirements and management information systems. They provide complete production systems, line upgrades and experienced professionals ready to complement their client’s project team. In this post, you heard from:

Robert Redman
Robert Redman is the Managing Partner of Food and Beverage for Barry-Wehmiller Design Group.  He brings 28 years of food and beverage experience to his company and its clients and is well-versed in packaging, process, controls and facility integration projects. Rob has provided oversight of multiple projects in the pet food industry including wet pet food, dry pet food, and treats production.

William Graf
William Graf is a Managing Partner for the Northeast Region at Barry-Wehmiller Design Group. He brings 20+ years of relevant experience and has in several capacities including project manager, engineering manager, director, partner and managing partner.

BW Flexible Systems

BW Flexible Systems is a leading producer of weighing and bag filling systems,  SYMACH palletizers, conveying systems and wrapping machines for pet food  and animal feed. They also have a wide range of vertical baggers and horizontal flow wrappers to package treats, bones and other pet accessories, customized to meet each customer’s production, package style and economic requirements. In this post, you heard from:

Stephen Shellenbaum
Stephen Shellenbaum is a Product Manager at BW Flexible Systems. His keen knowledge of the pet food industry comes from decades of experience and dozens of relationships with pet food industry professionals.  

Jan-Pieter Grootendorst, M.Sc.
Jan-Pieter Grootendorst is the Global Strategic Marketing and Innovation Leader of Bag Filling and Palletizing at BW Flexible Systems. Since 2018, he has been the EMEA APAC sales leader for BW Flexible Systems, SYMACH bag filling and palletizing. He brings multiple years of pet food packaging and palletizing experience to the global team.

Todd Sandell
Todd Sandell is a Sales Executive at BW Flexible Systems. He has nearly 40 years of experience in the petfood industry and packaging/palletizing systems through product development, product management, marketing, applications,  business unit management and consultative sales.

BW Integrated Systems

BW Integrated Systems is an industry leader in the design and manufacture of end-of-line packaging equipment and robotic automation solutions, as well as the execution of integrated packaging systems. They provide several solutions to the pet food industry including material handling and palletizing, depalletizing, bliss and tray forming/erecting, cartoning and case packing, and systems integration services. In this post, you heard from:

Daniel LoRusso
Daniel LoRusso is the Director of System Sales, North America at BW Integrated Systems. He has over 15 years of industry experience and has led project management in both the US and EMEA. Previously, he was Director of Operations for our Loveland CO manufacturing facility for 7 years. His Primary role is to bring cohesion to commercial teams, alignment between sales executive, and aids in the collection and understanding of client’s needs.