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3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Maximize Your Co-Pack Line Efficiency

When you walk into your production facility… do you feel balanced?

No, not mentally (because I hope the answer to that is, yes). I mean, are your production lines balanced?

In our previous “Muda & The 7 Deadly Wastes of Co-Pack” post, we discussed a framework borrowed from lean manufacturing to uncover the areas in your contract packaging facility that are producing waste (ergo, inefficiencies). That waste can come in the form of excess transportation, waiting, over production, and so on—all of which are eroding your business’s operational efficiency, and therefore competitiveness.

Understanding a framework for identifying types of waste is a good start, but it’s definitely not the whole picture. To really minimize the inefficiencies that exist in your facility, leverage these concepts to identify where waste may lie in every step of fulfilling an order.

How do you do that?

Well, I’ll start by saying that waste/inefficiency can spread throughout your entire operation, but the area that creates the most opportunity is likely to be the one that houses the most people: the production line.  

The 3 Most Common Gaps that Cause an Imbalanced Line

The root causes of imbalanced lines primarily come from three areas:

  • You’re missing a playbook. Think, Coach K’s clipboard, or Walter Zenga’s corner kick schema. Your playbook contains the visual reference guide used to illustrate layout and positioning of the production team to fulfill the order.

  • You have a sub-optimal line execution. Despite how good your playbook is, even the best laid plans could fail if the team doesn’t follow instructions, resulting in an inefficient line setup and execution.

  • You’re missing a feedback loop. How did it go? Your playbook shouldn’t be a static piece – it should continue to be updated and improved via a feedback loop between Production team and Estimators.

With this breakdown, can you identify where your gaps are? Is it the playbook, the line set-up, the feedback loop, or all of the above? Regardless of where your biggest gap(s) may be, we’ve got you covered with a step-by-step guide on how to maximize your line efficiency.

3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Maximize Your Line Efficiency

#1: Develop a Killer Production Line Playbook

A production line comes together with many moving pieces happening all at once. The purpose of the playbook is to provide a visual guide on how your team can execute according to standard efficiency and minimize all forms of waste. The “play” is built upon the assembly steps involved, as these determine the overall balance of people and production rates that your line is expected to perform.

An example of a list of assembly steps could be found below:

Group Assembly Steps Repetitions Time
1 Obtain pallet with manual pallet jack from staging 1/100 0:56
1 Supply production line with units 25/100 4:31
2 Label units 1 5:40
3 Insert units into finished display 1 2:16

Once you’ve determined all the assembly steps involved in a job, a diagram can be made for your playbook to set up your line accordingly:


The actual playbook will be the collection of “plays” via diagrams like the one above, made for a single job.

#2: Build Your Production Lines According to the Playbook

This step leads us to the second gap that we commonly see contributing to an imbalanced line:  the gap between how the play is called and how the team executes the play.

Your playbook is only useful if it gets referenced during production but instead, we often see this:


What is the impact of the improper execution? In this specific example, the operation was practically leaving money on the table (via labor costs) due to improper setup!

This can occur because of a communication gap between the Estimators and Production Team. Often, production lines just end up getting built the same way they’ve always been built, which is usually reliant on the Production Team’s tribal knowledge of how they did it previously.

A good way to get both parties playing on the same field is to involve both in creating the playbook itself, although the most effective way of bridging the gap may depend on your company culture and practices.

#3: Close the Feedback Loop with Your Estimator

So you’ve gotten this far, which means you have a playbook and you’re running your production lines accordingly. What’s the next step?

In order for you to truly move toward eliminating waste, the key is having a consistent feedback loop. This is of vital importance if you’re starting a project for the first time, or notice inconsistencies in performance. If either of those is the case, then in all likelihood, you haven’t nailed it yet.

In order to continuously improve on your ability to flush out waste, you need to close the loop, which means that your Production Team needs to communicate with your Estimators about where the bottlenecks are.

Some common discoveries from closing the feedback loop include the following:

  • Unbalanced staffing on your lines. You over or underestimated the number of people staffed on the line, or they were not stationed at the right places to minimize the amount of waste incurred.

  • Quality issues causing downtime. Poor quality control and the number of rejects are causing you to pause production in order for you to make adjustments. You are not accommodating for the correct amount of downtime because you are not anticipating the appropriate amount of rejects from your shrink tunnel or check weight scale.

  • The learning curve is steep. Most of your jobs are unique and you often employ new, temp labor, meaning that the learning curve is steep. The adjustment period was not factored into efficiency levels appropriately.

  • Misfit of skills & competencies. Your team members’ core competencies do not match the tasks they’re assigned to. You do not have the right individuals lifting cartons and doing precise labelling.

  • Impractical assembly steps. Your playbook is nothing but a castle made of sand because the assembly steps that you based it on were unrealistic. The building blocks for the estimate didn’t make sense in the first place, and it really wasn’t possible to fold the gift box in 4.8 seconds

Each of the three components of this process is necessary if you want to establish a culture of continuous improvement when it comes to waste. You need to start with a good plan (vis a vis the playbook), then execute accordingly, and finally close the feedback loop in order to do even better for the next run.

Plan, execute, and feedback. It’s that simple. And it’s the repetition of these three steps that results in improved efficiency, reduced costs, and increased competitiveness.