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Increasing Uptime – OEM OPERATOR TRAINING: The forgotten key to optimizing machine performance

A lot of thought, effort, and money is invested in making the machines at a corrugated facility run properly. Everything from repairs to routine maintenance and upgrades and innovations in equipment can do wonders for maximizing profit and minimizing downtime. There is, however, an often overlooked factor that has a detrimental impact on output efficiency, and it may be hiding in plain sight: the operators themselves.

A Common Problem

Most people in manufacturing, and corrugated specifically, are aware of some of the challenges facing their industry, based on employment trends: “the silver tsunami,” high turnover rate, and difficulty finding interested candidates. As baby boomers – who still make up a disproportionately high percentage of the workforce in corrugated – retire in greater numbers and at a faster rate, a wealth of institutional knowledge is leaving the manufacturing floor along with them. This trend has been even further exacerbated by the fallout surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hastened retirement of employees of ages deemed to be higher risk by the CDC. This recent trend has expanded beyond boomers – there is a markedly higher turnover rate across generations over the past year plus, as people have begun to rethink their employment needs and goals. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing operations were having a more difficult time enticing millennial and Gen-Z workers into roles at plants, on account of the hours, the heat and the dirtiness of the facilities, and other differing generational sensibilities regarding employment. The trickle-down effect of these employment trends to the operator training is that there is often a higher turnover rate of machine operators. Many companies may consider it to be more expensive and more time consuming to properly train operators, especially if they do not have confidence that they’ll stay in the job for very long. So instead, they have previous or outgoing operators train their replacements. Unfortunately, this turns machine operation protocol into a proverbial game of “telephone,” where each trainee is receiving less and less information straight from the source. Operators may be fully capable of explaining and passing on the day to day operation techniques, but in many cases, they have little or even no experience dealing with certain types of issues that arise less frequently, many of which require specialized knowledge to rectify. Worst of all, the trainees are generally new to this type of role, so they often don’t know what they don’t know. This makes it difficult for them to ask the right questions or know how to address what problems may arise after their trainer is long gone, when they are on their own.

Most people in manufacturing, and corrugated specifically, are aware of some of the challenges facing their industry, based on employment trends.

The Operator Holds The Power

There are a lot of nuances and intricacies to corrugated operations that make them run properly. But a major problem comes from machine operators not being properly trained by OEMs. This problem often flies under the radar because it is possible to operate machines on a basic or even intermediate level without a full training from an OEM. This may lull both the operator and the owners and managers of the facility into a false sense of security because daily operations will not likely suffer to the naked eye. However, without proper training, in many cases, while operators learn how to do the basics, they are not experienced in fine-tuning the process, which is essential to unlocking maximum efficiency. This can lead to problems as natural wear and tear occurs on parts, as these novice operators do not know how to fine-tune machines or how to interpret the underlying causes of issues like jams-ups, compromised speed, or sub-standard end products. These operators also often do not know the value of certain parts or components either, so it is not uncommon to see substandard practices, such as operators throwing print plates on the floor, not realizing that they are damaging equipment that costs thousands of dollars to repair. Worst of all, the lack of high-level operational knowledge means that output speed may not be maximized, or production quality may be sub-optimal. This means that operators are actually unwittingly costing the business money by compromising margins, and although this may be imperceptible to the untrained eye, it has the potential to leave thousands or even millions of dollars on the table annually. The telltale sign of untrained operators reveals itself when OEMs are on sight for repairs. Oftentimes, these OEMs will ask the machine operators questions about why a particular component is on so tightly, or why certain things are set up the way that they are, and the untrained operators simply do not know the answer. They commonly reply, “It’s always been this way” or “It seemed to be running just fine, so I didn’t want to mess with it.” The reality is that these operators are treading water in the deep end of the pool without ever having learned how to swim properly.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing operations were having a difficult time enticing millennial and Gen-Z workers into roles at plants.

The Benefits of OEM Training 

At SUN, our technicians get fewer calls for OEM operator training than nearly any of our other services. Without understanding the benefits of the training or the risks and costs stemming from improper training, operations see the training as an unnecessary expense, and believe that they can save money by not paying for a full training. However, a full OEM training pays for itself because it empowers operators to make the machines run more efficiently and read and address the warning signs of underlying issues before they become major breakdowns or catastrophic failures – a double-edged sword that both costs money to fix and loses out on money while machines are down for repairs. These trainings go beyond simply turning a machine on and off, as they focus on teaching trainers the “why” behind certain more esoteric adjustments and more subtle warning signs of a machine that is under undue stress or performing at a substandard level. It is never too late for OEM training, even if a machine operator has been on the job for months or even years, because there is always room to learn more about these elaborate, powerful and highly customizable, and adaptable machines. To learn more about OEM training and how it can improve your operations, contact a SUN service representative. 

It is never too late for OEM training, even if a machine operator has been on the job for months or even years, because there is always room to learn more about these elaborate, powerful and highly customizable and adaptable machines.


Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, September/October 2021 Issue

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Increasing Uptime – Data Science – the way of the future

The maintenance of corrugated machinery involves a lot of nuance – hundreds of thousands of moving parts, each working in tandem and each with its own set of responsibilities and maintenance needs. As parts undergo natural wear and tear from use, they must be carefully monitored to prevent costly downtime caused by failure or related breakdowns. Sometimes, as parts begin to wear out, there are telltale signs, such as decreased output speed, more frequent jams, sounds, and smells, but not all components create such obvious, detectable signs that maintenance is needed. Even with careful adherence to a PM schedule, and even with the most experienced, seasoned operators on the lookout for anomalies, there can still be catastrophic failures or unforeseen malfunctions that take machines offline. As technology advances, there are new ways to leverage early signs of potential issues to detect, and more importantly, predict problems before they happen. That technology has a name: Data Science and it is the key to increasing uptime and profitability of corrugated box plants around the world.

What Is Data Science?

At its most basic level, data science is the intersection of expertise in a specific field, and the gathering, storing, and application of data produced within that field to uncover useful insights that otherwise elude detection or easy perception. Data science is used around the world, spanning every discipline, from detecting and preventing diseases to optimizing baseball rosters; from stopping tax fraud to finding a romantic connection, and everything in between. The field of data science requires a combination of sophisticated data collection and specialized knowledge in the area or field in which the data is to be applied. Depending on the age of the equipment in the facility, corrugated equipment may already be generating and storing volumes of data. However, in most cases, this data is either only looked at retrospectively, or it is not being analyzed at all. Much of this information can be applied insightfully by data scientists to optimize maintenance intervals and equipment performance. But the truly robust ability to predict failures before they begin all comes from another more specialized process called anomaly detection.

What Is Anomaly Detection?

Anomaly detection is a concept used for mining data from machines and other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices. And while this sounds complicated, at its essence, is the ability to look for any type of activity that breaks with the norm. In corrugated, an anomaly could amount to a strange noise, a jam or lag somewhere on the line, a shudder or vibration that is unexpected, or any number of other occurrences that is unusual.

Even with careful adherence to a PM schedule and the most experienced, seasoned operators, there can still be catastrophic failures or unforeseen malfunctions that take machines offline.

The real utility in applying data science to corrugated lies in predictive maintenance and optimization of maintenance schedules.

While on the surface, each anomaly may be minor if not completely meaningless, detecting and cataloging these anomalies is incredibly insightful to a data scientist, because the anomalies can then be mapped to other problems or breakdowns. When coupled with other operating data and retrospective labeling by machine operators about which anomalies ultimately lead to what specific problems, data scientists and machine learning algorithms can learn to read patterns in machine activity, and they can ultimately be used to alert operators to impending problems while there is still time to fix them.

Increased Profit, Productivity 

The real utility in applying data science to corrugated lies in predictive maintenance and optimization of maintenance schedules. With insight that can detect issues before they start, a proactive approach can be taken to maintenance. Rather than having a machine unpredictably break down during a big project or during peak hours, data science can instead alert the operators and facility managers to a need for maintenance while there is still time to schedule it during non-peak hours. This type of changeover can also happen as routine parts replacement rather than a major repair, which ultimately means lower cost. Think of it as a low engine oil indicator light clicking on in a car, as opposed to a bone-dry engine seizing up and failing completely – the cost savings on the labor alone is enormous, and it is a matter of a quick trip to an auto parts store for an oil top-off, instead of sending the car back to the dealer or even the factory for repair. Another crucial benefit is more accurate maintenance intervals potentially extending the lifespan of parts. Without the use of data science, it is up to a maintenance manual to provide what is essentially an estimate of when a replacement should happen. For another automotive example, this equates to changing a timing belt – there is a recommended mileage interval for changing a timing belt, but nobody really knows when a timing belt is failing until it actually fails. So while changing it out at 100,000 miles preempts major maintenance, you may be spending a day or two without your car and paying for a new timing belt while your existing timing belt is still good for another 30,000 miles. Likewise, data science applied to anomaly detection can lead to a true assessment of when failures are imminent, so costs on suggested maintenance can be deferred until maintenance is actually required.

How To Get Started

Data science as applied through machine learning is not new to the world of manufacturing, but it has just recently begun bursting onto the scene in corrugated. Our manufacturer agnostic machine learning platform for corrugated, Helios, has begun rolling out its anomaly detection machine learning dashboard as of Spring 2021. It is important to note that this does not simply replace the need for maintenance personnel, but rather, requires their buy-in and expertise to help the algorithm become “smarter.” When equipping the Helios platform, operators catalog anomalies over a series of weeks and months. Over time, this allows the algorithm’s machine learning to take place, which can lead to predictive maintenance reminders and other insight and analysis for optimizing maintenance intervals and maximizing uptime. Ultimately, Helios serves as a tool that expands and sharpens the insight of the existing maintenance operators, who are now able to couple their own experience with new unprecedented levels of detail detected by the Helios algorithm, increasing uptime and maximizing the profitability of the facility as a whole.


Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, July/August 2021 Issue

 

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Increasing Uptime – Retrofits and Rebuilds: lower cost fixes to big ticket problems

One of the most common financial challenges that box plants face is the cost of new equipment. Even after an unprecedented period of demand around shipping and packaging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial uncertainty is still looming and that can make investing in new equipment an unwelcome expense. However, the other side of the coin is the ongoing expenses associated with aging machinery. To avoid new capital equipment spending, many corrugated facilities are using machines that are decades old. As parts wear out and technologies, controls, electrical, and mechanical components become obsolete, the risk of continuing to rely on aging equipment poses a different threat: catastrophic failure that can suddenly and unexpectedly halt production and destroy margins. But there is a middle option that splits the difference: rebuilds and retrofits. Rather than scrapping the existing machine and buying a new one for millions of dollars, or wishing for decades-old equipment to hold out beyond its expiration, swapping out the parts that are damaged and deteriorating with normal use can be done so at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Rebuilding and retrofitting equipment is akin to replacing old wiring or copper pipes in your home instead of tearing the whole house down and rebuilding it. Similarly, upgrading parts and components can extend the life of your machines and even improve your output and margins. Best of all, when done correctly, this can inspire confidence in the quality of your production and the reliability of the existing equipment for years to come. When looking to optimize your equipment for greater productivity and efficiency, there are several common opportunities whereby retrofits and rebuilds can make a big impact:

Controls

While all of the mechanical equipment may be in good working order, there is nothing that becomes obsolete more quickly than a computer control system. Even a machine that is only 10 years old may have some serious challenges with the age and usability of its controls. One upgrade option is SUN’s SunSet controls which offer a touch screen interface for quick and easy machine setup. Plus, crucially, it stores all of the old information from the previous controls, meaning it can seamlessly continue to run repeat jobs. With the simplicity of the new controls, more orders can be processed per shift, reducing setup time and waste while maximizing margins. Best of all, no custom hardware is required.

Lead Edge Feeders

A reliable feeder is a key factor in accuracy and registration, particularly at high speeds. Aging machines often have more frequent jams and need increasing amounts of oversight to keep them running smoothly. It is easy to assume that frequent jams mean that a machine is on its last legs, but a new feeder can retrofit to the existing machine and change the output game instantly. Improving precision and feed accuracy, offering optimal control and a simple user interface, this is a simple and cost-effective solution to keep older machines running smoothly.

Anvil Trimmers

Anvil trimmers are a crucial component of successful machines. Equipment that still uses older anvil trimmers often lack the necessary precision and consistency of modern trimmers. That’s why SUN engineered its Microgrind Die Cut Accuracy System. Anvil trimmers are often available to retrofit on most global manufacturer models, and SUN’s particular system uses a tungsten carbide grinding roll to grind the anvil flat and true, allowing the surface to be treated in micro-amounts automatically with grinding precision every 10,000 impressions without the need for operator intervention. Overall, there are a number of ways to enhance the life of existing equipment. In addition to the abovementioned, users can also add a more efficient and modern vacuum transfer system, upgrade register devices and increase print quality with dwell units.

Machine Rebuilds

In some instances though, corrugated plants may wish to completely rebuild their favorite workhorse machines to get them back to OEM specifications. Whether the rebuild is in-field or in-house, a tune-up or a full-scale rebuild, programs are available that fit various budgets and converting needs. Our customers have seen significant returns on the reNEW® of Langston®, Saturn, United, Ward, Koppers, Staley and Titan machinery among others. Rebuilds and retrofits will not replace the need of ever buying a new machine again but it’s certainly a good place to start. Before investing countless hours and money, speak to your vendors and have your current equipment evaluated. Sometimes the swap of a control system or simple tune-up can make all the difference.


Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, May/June 2021 Issue

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Increasing Uptime – Don’t wait for a breakdown

We’ve all experienced the effects of equipment failure, breakdowns, or major malfunctions, downtime, which can lead to delays in order fulfillment and worst of all major expenses. With the fear of major malfunctions in mind, the upkeep of the machines, particularly older machines, often ends up taking the form of compromising output speed and volume, and simply dreading the day when the machine breaks down without warning and throws the whole facility into a state of chaos. And by the time a technician has to be called to the facility, it’s safe to assume that margins are already being compromised. What you may not realize is that there is an alternative to this cycle. Long before breakdowns and emergency calls to techs, there are simple routine checks and changes that can be made to stop problems before they start. Here are some tips and advice beyond the routine, planned maintenance that can make a difference in your bottom line, and in the overall health and longevity of your machines.

Little ‘Annoyances’ Cost Big

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a mantra that has long been the motto of corrugated plant managers. Although this may sound like it’s aimed at saving money on repairs and upgrades that are not yet an immediate need, it really may be a short-sighted approach that saves money in the short term, but ends up costing more in the long run. Just because machines are still running does not mean that they’re running efficiently. Chances are that some of your machines may be a little finicky, or maybe they are still functioning, but not at maximum capacity. While this may seem minor, it may be the harbinger of bigger, and preventable problems to come.

What To Look For

Here are some common indicators of seemingly innocuous problems that could be an indication that minor service is needed:

  • Voids are showing up in the print. Easy Fix? check the doctor blade. A new blade is cheap, and easy to install, whereas the 200+ boards lost from ink splatter, plus downtime for the repair could cost much more.
  • Jams are occurring but the plant isn’t receiving notifications of the jam. Easy Fix? It is likely an issue with a sensor.
  • Boards aren’t being pulled down the way they should be, or the water gauge is reading low on the blower. Easy Fix? There may be an issue with the doors inside the vacuum transfer not setting up correctly, which hurts the speed and efficiency of production.
  • Feed is experiencing skewing issues. Easy Fix? There may be an issue with the feed gates, parallelism of feed roll nip, or issues with the feed table itself.

Just because machines are still running does not mean that they’re running efficiently.

While the above examples are common problems, the approach in many plants is to find workarounds. But as we say time and time again, small, persistent problems can cost big in the long run.

Read the Manual

The challenging part about routine maintenance is that the naked eye, even of an experienced operator, is not always enough to know when some component is nearing the end of its life span. A machine could seem to be running smoothly one day and then break the next day. But in this instance, there is a very simple yet often overlooked solution to stop these catastrophic failures before they start: the manual. The manual is more than just instructions for operation and troubleshooting when something goes wrong – it also provides recommendations of when to replace components before they wear out or break from the natural wear and tear of daily use. The best analogy for this is to liken your machine to your car. Everyone who owns a car knows about the recommended maintenance intervals in the owner’s manual. There are routine maintenance recommendations every 30,000 miles for consumables like rubber hoses, wiper blades, and tires that wear out at regular intervals. And then there are other known maintenance intervals, like oil changes every 5000 miles, brakes and battery every 50,000 miles, and a new timing belt every 75,000 miles. No responsible vehicle owner simply drives their car until it breaks down, and they’re willing to pay the moderate but ultimately tolerable fees here and there to protect themselves from having to buy a new engine after a catastrophic failure. And as a car gets older, it becomes even more critical to stay on top of routine maintenance. But just like in a motor vehicle, the key to these maintenance schedules can be found in the owner’s manual, and it becomes even more important to stay up to date as the machine ages. And while skipping some of these component replacements may seem like an easy way to save a few thousand dollars, just like in a motor vehicle, failing to pay attention to them can ultimately cost exponentially more when something major fails.


Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, March/April 2021 Issue

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Increasing Uptime – It’s the little things

A corrugated facility is like a fine watch, featuring hundreds if not thousands of nuanced mechanisms and tasks taking place synchronously. When things are running smoothly, it is truly a sight to behold. Processes and tasks happen at just the right time so as to maximize output and minimize wasted effort or downtime, and every mechanical mechanism is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

But, when just one small part of the mechanism is slightly off, it can cause a dramatic ripple effect that throws the whole box making facility out of balance, resulting in extra expenses on repairs, lost money during downtime, stressed-out employees working long shifts to try to correct the issues and frustrated customers who are not receiving their orders on time.

Machines Need Attention And Care

This might sound obvious, but it’s worth stating as often as possible: Keeping all of these operations running smoothly is not a matter of luck or coincidence – it’s a matter of careful and routine maintenance. Like an annual wellness visit at the doctor’s office, or your regularly scheduled maintenance for your car, this routine maintenance is very easy to perform, but also even easier to skip or overlook. While skipping one checkup or even a few checkups may not hurt immediately, it is an unnecessary gamble, as preventive maintenance is always easier, less urgent, and less expensive than reactive maintenance following a major issue.

What might not be as obvious is how a few extra (often overlooked) steps in your routine maintenance can make a huge difference in how your machines run…and the quality of their output.

Three Simple Tips

Keep your machines and your facility clean
Corrugated manufacturing produces a lot of dust and debris. People who spend a lot of time in these facilities quickly become accustomed to dust and buildup around the facility, but it is important to consider how it can affect equipment. A buildup of dust from the cutting process, for instance, can become caked onto fans, ducts, and other components. This issue is exacerbated by humidity in the facility, either caused by the climate of the facility’s location or humidity inside the plant caused by different types of equipment – namely resulting from the steam from the corrugator.

Modern machines require a lot more nuance and attention than simply walking around the plant floor with a 5-pound mallet. Keeping all operations running smoothly requires careful and
routine maintenance.

It is important to regularly clean the debris off of this equipment, particularly fans. It is also crucial to remember that buildups of dust and other debris can happen in parts of the equipment that are not easily visible to employees, so there must be a directed effort to regularly check for and remove such buildup inside of the machines and in hard to reach spots. It is also important to actually collect the dust when cleaning, as opposed to just blowing the machines down, as blowing the dust simply moves it to another location within the facility. Because most machines are using vacuum transfer, the blown away dust will end up getting drawn back to the machines, making the effort spent cleaning it up a wasted effort.

Lubrication
The origin of the expression “It works like a well-oiled machine” is easy to pinpoint. Proper lubrication is what prevents mechanical  components from grinding against each other and breaking or damaging motors, gears, or other delicate and highly important
parts of the machinery. Most plants pay careful attention to lubrication of new machines, but it is easy to forget that older seemingly indestructible machines need to be lubricated on a regular basis as well in order to keep them at their best.

When in doubt, read the manual
Modern machines require a lot more nuanced and attention than simply walking around the plant floor with a 5-pound mallet. With the increased and diversified capabilities of modern machines, along with new components necessary for some of the automation taking place, maintenance teams and facilities managers may be unaware of some of the components and upkeep schedules. It is a great practice to use the OEM manuals to develop a checklist and schedule for keeping things in proper working order.

Uptime is the core focus of machine maintenance. Although equipment does periodically break down without warning, in most cases, issues can be anticipated and prevented with regular maintenance and diligent upkeep.

Over the course of the next five issues, we will highlight a number of different specific ways to keep your equipment in good working order, and ultimately preserve uptime and maximize revenue.


Mark Peyton is the Director of Aftermarket at  SUN Automation Group. He brings decades of industry experience and expertise to SUN where he has held many customer-focused positions. Prior to his 20-year career with SUN, he worked from Langston and United. He can be reached at mpeyton@sunautomation.com or 410-472-2900

Originally published in Corrugated Today, January/February 2021 Issue