InfinityQS and the Packaging Industry: #7 Folder-Gluers – Where We Can Help

Douglas C. Fair
By Douglas C. Fair | February 11, 2020
Chief Operating Officer

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

Welcome to the seventh, and final, entry in a blog series created just for the packaging industry. We InfinityQS quality experts have spent the last few weeks writing about total quality in your manufacturing space, about solutions to your problems, about the unique challenges you face in mastering your particular quality issues…and how we (and InfinityQS quality management software products) are here to help.
For this blog, I’ll be discussing folder-gluer machines, their importance to the packaging industry, their complexity, and how we can help packaging manufacturers get the most from this pervasive, versatile, vital machine.


We all know what a complex piece of machinery the average folder-gluer is. (If you don’t know, here’s a glimpse. Just watch the first 30 seconds or so to get the idea.) Generally speaking, the more complex a thing is, the greater the chance of issues. Think about your car. Boy, it was easy to tune up, change the oil, etc. back in the day. Not so easy now. They’ve jammed so much technology and machinery under the hood that I won’t touch it (raise your hand if you agree). I typically rely on mechanics, the dealership, and others to fiddle with that complex piece of machinery.  
But with complexity comes a greater chance of a problem. This filter, that filter, this relay, that switch…there always seems to be one little thing after another that needs attention. And don’t get in there and start taking things apart! That’s a can of worms you don’t want opened.
The same is true with complex machinery like the folder-gluer, with this bonus: if you’re not paying strict attention to the output of that machine, you can waste a lot of material and hurt your manufacturing company financially. Better to stay on top of things. That’s where we come in.
Folder-Gluer Operators 

SPC and InfinityQS

And this brings me to statistical process control (SPC)…and InfinityQS. Using SPC, you can track defects, uncover previously hidden issues, and keep your folder-gluer operating like the well-oiled machine it should be.
Using statistical methods, you have a real chance to add science to what I think is an art form: operating heavy machinery in a manufacturing environment. I’ve written about this before (have a peek at this blog for more), and it’s worth repeating some of the more salient points.
The art of manufacturing is best understood by operators who have had extensive amounts of time operating a production line. Over time, operators get to know the unique sounds and vibrations—even smells—of the machines they operate. Based upon these inputs, operators understand how each affects the products they are making.”
I go on in that blog to say, “Imagine what would happen if these experienced operators could combine real-time data and metrics with their knowledge of machine personality.”
Collecting and analyzing data makes all the difference. It can help you find the issues that plague you, or even the ones you can’t yet see. Or, better yet, help you “cut ‘em off at the pass”—find things before they even become issues. So, the best way to discuss SPC and what it can do for you, and how InfinityQS quality manufacturing software can play an important part in maintaining profitability from your folder-gluers, is with examples. Let’s discuss…

The Unknown Vendor

Packaging Facility“The Unknown Vendor” is an article I wrote for Quality Digest. In it, I discuss in detail a folding-carton manufacturing plant I worked with that had endured crippling manufacturing quality problems. InfinityQS and SPC came to the rescue: in just six months (!) we helped the plant improve quality levels from “worst to first” across all plants in their organization, raising the quality of their output to unprecedented levels.

What’s in a Name

The unknown vendor shipped folding cartons to industry giants. We called them the unknown vendor because, let’s face it, in the folding carton business, the end-customer only knows who you are if they are receiving bad cartons. They quickly learn who you are if things are not right. We helped them achieve their goal of becoming an anonymous, “unknown vendor.”
“Customer complaint data were readily available and instructive but did little to focus process improvement efforts.” They fully realized they had problems, but never really had the “internal visibility” to catch or predict them…until the customer started barking.
Primary processes like sheeting, printing, cutting, and finishing were obvious targets. But, instead, the plant focused its efforts on achieving two important goals simultaneously: 1) Prevent defective cartons from being shipped to customers; and 2) Gather data that would fuel product quality improvement. The idea behind picking these efforts was to “drive improvement activities.” They wanted to change the culture, steer it in a direction where improvement was paramount for the plant.

Beginning at the End

They started with what I called “back-door data collection.” They began by collecting visual and functional defects data on final, finished cartons—at the end of the manufacturing process. Before placing the finished products on pallets, samples were inspected for defects. If defects were found, they were entered into InfinityQS real-time SPC software using bar-code scanning technologies. If certain statistical defect levels were reached, the entire pallet was placed on hold and the shipment stopped. Makes sense, right?
The first results were great: this “back-door data collection effectively ended the flow of defective cartons.” Goal number one achieved. And this information, in turn, led to “process and product quality improvement, which allowed the plant to achieve its second goal.”

Overall Reduction in Functional Defects

The data collection mentioned above enabled management to view the frequency, location, and totality of defects on a single chart. The Pareto chart they reviewed indicated that the most common defects were “folded, bent, or damaged carton flaps.”
Functional defects have the potential to jam carton-filling equipment downstream, in the customers’ plants, and can cause expensive downtime. It’s no wonder their customers were unhappy. Expensive machinery can be damaged by functional defects and jammed machinery means expensive, time-consuming, and irritating shutdowns.
Pareto Chart
The chart above is a multi-level Pareto, displaying identical defects, but sorted by production line on which they originated. Each line's total defects are summarized and displayed with a yellow bar, while the blue bars illustrate frequency and type of defects for each production line. The overall result is a Pareto chart within a Pareto chart; a handy way of communicating lots of actionable information.
Each line’s specific defect codes helped management allocate improvement resources and identify unique changes to each line that would reduce the plant’s overall functional defects. SPC was truly working right before our eyes.

Complaints Reduced

Once we got to the point where the changes were successful in reducing the primary flap-based defects on each line, management chose to evaluate the next largest defect: cartons that wouldn't open. Cartons that don’t open cause big problems downstream—on the customer’s filling line. Downtime, setups, and setting changes all translate to time and expenditures—expenses all companies wish to minimize. After fixing the bent and folded flap issues, the teams focused on understanding “opening force” issues and how to prevent the creation of cartons that refused to open at client sites.
Carton opening force is a critical parameter that must be controlled. It’s the “amount of pounds per square inch (PSI) required for opening a flat container so that it can be filled with beverage cans.” Pretty specific, right?
Opening force can only be checked after a carton has been completely manufactured—that is, has completed all the stages of the folding-gluing process. So, the plant began sampling opening force data on all finished cartons at each folder-gluer.

The Data that Counts

In order to understand exactly how their folder-gluers were performing, the plant began using a "deviation from target” control chart. This specific type of control chart enabled operators to visualize opening force across different products with different target opening force requirements.
Control Chart 
They found that opening force “varied dramatically over time, from one job to the next and from shift to shift.” Uh oh. This gave rise to statistical alarms, of course, on both the X-bar and range charts.
After working with both engineers and operators, the plant did what it had to do—instituted changes to reduce the average opening force. This meant “procedures to minimize differences between shifts, jobs, and other process variables.” The result was astounding—significantly less opening-force variation and average values much closer to customer targets.
Very quickly, customer complaints about opening force were practically eliminated. AND customers were able to use “a single, simplified setup of filling machines, reducing complexity and setup time.” It doesn’t get much better than that. To sum it up, the plant’s quality assurance coordinator had this to say: “If we send them a more reliable product that runs well for them, then it not only costs them less money, but it costs us less as well because we don't have to go on-site to fix the problems."

Communication Improved

In addition to using its SPC software for the data collection and analysis described above, the plant also used it to log customer feedback information into the system. For instance, when a carton die is run again, historical defects and customer comments from the previous run can be viewed by the operator and compared to the newest job. Past and current results can be compared with each other in real time.
Assignable causes and corrective actions are also logged into the system to further enhance operator knowledge and communicate to others how best to run containers to minimize defects and ensure carton consistency.
"Because of the information logged into the software, we don't need to call our customers to understand what happened the last time we ran the job," noted Bob, the plant's quality coordinator. “Operators are instantly aware of any problems that occurred in the previous run. This benefits our customers as well as our own upstream processes. The finishing operators can view defects downstream of their process and vice versa, resulting in far better communications within the plant."

End Results

Much coordinated hard work and effort was applied to systematize SPC and make measurable and continuous improvement a part of the plant’s Six Sigma efforts. Defect rates, customer complaints, and internal costs have all been dramatically reduced.
Make SPC and InfinityQS a part of your operations, particularly your folder-gluer, and who knows? Maybe you could tell a success story like this one. We help make the complex (like folder-gluers) simpler with InfinityQS quality management software.
Read the other blogs in this series:  
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.

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