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Keeping up with seasonal demand

13 May 2017

Jana Meier discusses the role played by checkweighing in helping to balance throughput and weighing accuracy to keep up with seasonal changes in demand. 

Seasonal changes in consumer demand is an issue faced by many food manufacturers. Most production line activity will peak at certain times of the year. To further add to the challenge, many supermarkets are using advanced weather forecasting to anticipate peaks in consumer demand for particular foods and seasonal items. For example, consumers are more likely to purchase barbecue food, such as hamburger patties, during heatwaves, while they are more likely to buy comfort foods, like hot desserts, in cold snaps. Such pre-planning is putting increasing pressure on manufacturers to ensure they are able to supply retailers with sufficient quantities at very short notice. 

Tackling obstacles
With these challenges in mind, manufacturers need to ensure that their production line technologies are capable of operating at a range of throughput rates and can change at a moment’s notice, without sacrificing performance in terms of product quality. This is particularly the case for manufacturers’ checkweighing systems, which must operate at high throughput rates, while ensuring optimum weighing precision to minimise the risk of under- or overweight products and comply with metrology regulations. 

Checkweighing systems can play a key role in helping ensure production lines are able to react quickly and efficiently to peaks and troughs in seasonal consumer demand. However, to maintain optimum performance and maximum productivity, there are a number factors that need to be taken into account.

To achieve the required line flexibility to deal with seasonal peaks, it is crucial that the checkweighing system, like other technologies, offers the right support – at the right time. For example, it is essential that they facilitate easy and straightforward product line set-up for operatives, to minimise changeover downtimes. 

A number of checkweighers available today offer solutions to support line flexibility. Features, such as pre-set product menus can allow machine operatives, to quickly adjust the checkweighing settings by selecting the stored weighing parameters for a particular product from a list. This then eliminates the need to calibrate the machine manually every time there is a product changeover. In addition, checkweighers can be connected to a central computer network to allow for the storage of an even larger number of settings, allowing the system to weigh a much wider range of products.  

At the same time as facilitating product changeovers, checkweighers must be capable of offering precision weighing sensitivity, regardless of throughput speeds to ensure compliance with metrology legislation and to minimise product giveaway even at peak times of productivity. 

Optimising productivity
In addition to selecting the correct checkweighing solution to support line flexibility, manufacturers should also consider what additional features are available to further optimise the productivity of production lines during times of peak demand.  Some checkweighers can offer innovative feedback control functions, which allow the technology to be connected to filling systems further upstream and use real-time data about product over- or underfill to automatically adjust portion sizes on the line without stopping production. This prevents future instances of product giveaway, not only reducing product waste, but also minimising downtime to rectify any issues with the filling systems and rework non-conforming products, therefore helping to maximise productivity. 

Hinderances
Maintenance and repair can hinder productivity, especially at times of peak demand, when manufacturers have to ensure maximum production uptime. With this in mind, it is crucial that the selected checkweigher is robust and durable to minimise maintenance requirements. As such, it is important to consider what ingress protection (IP) rating is needed for the checkweigher. An IP rating signifies how protective the checkweighers’ stainless steel casing is against different types of solid objects and liquids, and at what level of water pressure used for cleaning. The enclosure of the checkweigher acts to prevent substances, such as water and dust particles, reaching the mechanisms inside the system therefore minimising any potential damage of the internal components, further extending the lifetime of the system. 
Checkweighers are available which feature components, such as conveyors, that can be quickly removed or replaced without the need for specialist tools, reducing the time needed to repair the production line and maximising uptime. 

These additional features can help minimise production downtime to ensure that lines are as productive as possible to meet the highest peaks in customer demand.

A rapid response
Wherever they are in the world, all manufacturers have to deal with seasonal changes in consumer demands. However, as the food industry globalises further in the next few years, manufacturers will find they are under more pressure to respond as quickly as possible to meet retailers’ needs. By selecting the right checkweighing technology, it is possible to ensure that a production line is flexible enough to adapt effectively to peaks and troughs in consumer demand. 

Jana Meier is marketing team leader Product Inspection & head of marketing Checkweighing at Mettler-Toledo.


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