When it comes to the purchase of goods or services, the compromise is usually seen as cost-driven. Most of us would choose to buy the top-of-the-range model – a car, a washing machine or a hotel room – but financial considerations or constraints usually govern our final selection.
Nevertheless, we are all still seeking the best possible value and performance for our money. For this reason, there is a great deal of skill required in the development of any ‘medium range’ model. A top of the range version can literally contain all the ‘bells and whistles’; when creating something a bit lower down the scale, the challenge is to decide which features to retain in order to deliver the right levels of performance, value - and ultimately customer satisfaction.
In the selection of packaging equipment, businesses operating in highly competitive markets need machines that can balance the initial investment with a fast payback through the improvements they can deliver in terms of increased production efficiencies and throughput. In the food sector, the continuing strong growth in private-label products mean many companies are now operating shorter production runs of many different products. In these circumstances, while fast speeds are still a requirement, so too will be a high degree of flexibility, both in terms of quick changeovers and the ability for machines to handle a variety of products.
The fastest speeds may therefore not always be the overriding requirement, particularly if these high speeds are being achieved at the expense of accuracy and efficiency. In the development of our own mid-range RVE multihead weighers, for example, one of the key features we retained from our top-of-the-range RV series was its 5-stage digital filtering, which cuts stable time weights to a minimum. This allows more weight combinations to be determined for each cycle, leading to high accuracy, efficiency and productivity levels.
As well as delivering the highest speeds, top-of-the-range weigher models are also often focused on more challenging products, for example gentle slope specifications for fragile or coated biscuits and wafers, or models to handle low target weights such as luxury biscuits.
Biscuits can pose a problem for automated weighing due to their fragile nature, which can lead to excessive breakages. This can be countered by the use of gentle slopes and reduced angles throughout the weigher to ease the passage of the products. Curved pool hoppers and weigh hoppers create controlled deceleration by allowing the biscuits to roll and settle gradually.
Another challenge for manufacturers can be lack of available factory space. A high head – 16 or 20 - machine is able to weigh two products simultaneously and therefore carry out the role of two weighers in a single footprint, as well as having the potential to weigh mixed products.
Such a capability also offers the potential of future-proofing – as does the availability of additional remote monitoring and reporting software in line with the growing focus on Industry 4.0 and the development of the ‘smart’ fully-automated factory. This enables companies to monitor performance, identify common or recurring faults and in this way make ongoing enhancements throughout the line to further improve efficiencies.
Automation throughout the factory also inevitably leads to fewer personnel on the factory floor. The option of a webcam for the top of the weigher allows the infeed of the weigher to be more easily checked and monitored. The speed and accuracy of the weigher will be maximised if product is evenly and consistently distributed and dispersed.
While many companies require a mid-range weigher with some degree of flexibility, there will also be those for whom consistent performance for a single product type may be the major requirement. For these applications, fixed specification models tailored to different product types – for example, dry, heavy or bulky - offer the ideal solution.
Creating a medium-range model may involve compromise – but as the best negotiators can testify, the skill is knowing the areas in which to compromise in order to achieve the desired result. For multihead weighers, there should be no compromise on key drivers such as accuracy and efficiency, or on ensuring that each model can be optimised for the key product characteristics of individual applications.