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4 Smart Manufacturing Shifts – Modifying Production Lines for Different Products During COVID-19 and Beyond

The production line in a plant

This is installment #1 in Spiroflow’s 4-part blog series: “Making Manufacturing Shifts: Adapting During COVID-19 and Beyond.” In this blog, we will provide an overview of COVID-related impacts on industrial manufacturing and address the first shift and the issue of modifying production lines for a different product.

The overall impact of the coronavirus outbreak on global industrial manufacturing has been a reduction in demand and a resulting decline in production output. But, select industries – food and beverage, snack foods, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals – are now faced with the opposite problem. It’s finding a way to increase production and packaging capacity – all while keeping workers safe and adhering to regulations and restrictions around conveyor belt solutions.

Operational Challenges and Changes for Manufacturers Amidst Quarantine Purchasing Trends

Cleaning supplies, toilet paper, dry goods, frozen foods, and snack foods – these are just a few examples of products that have been in high demand as a result of quarantine purchasing behaviors. And as a result of sudden demand not planned for, manufacturers are struggling to keep pace. Adding to the 24/7 challenge are staffing concerns and compliance with social distancing and stay-at-home orders. In talking with Spiroflow customers, we have identified 4 common challenges that require operational changes on the site floor.

ShiftOperational Adaptation
1 – Stay-at-home economy/changes in product demand1 – Modify the production line to process a different product (for example, distilleries now producing hand sanitizer)
2 – 24/7 increased production2 – Increase the capacity of the existing production line via equipment upgrades (eg. upgrade conveyor for higher throughput)
3 – Adherence to social distancing protocols3 – Remote site management via equipment monitoring software and IIoT technology
4 – Commercial to household product demand4 – Modification of packaging lines for small packaging capabilities

Shift #1 – Modifying Production Lines for a Different Product

Through our series, we will examine each shift in terms of industry examples, benefits, expectations for the time needed to make the modification, safety, and compliance. Today, we will take a closer look at shift #1 – modifying existing production lines in order to process a different product.

Why Would I Modify My Production Line During COVID?

If COVID regulations and conditions mean that product orders have dried up, your business may want to evaluate cost-effective modifications that can be made to your existing production line and begin manufacturing an in-demand product.

For example, Spiroflow has worked with a number of distilleries that have modified their production line to produce hand sanitizer. In Japan, Sharp Electronics has started making surgical masks at production facilities previously used to manufacture LCD display panels. Clothing manufacturers are shifting from normal clothing items to producing hospital gowns. There are many other modifications being made on global production lines to adapt to changing demand.

Keep in mind that some modifications may mean sourcing new materials or ingredients, which may prove challenging and require guidance on testing. Please contact Spiroflow to discuss modification options.

Bulk bag filler auto height adjustment

How Much Downtime Can I Expect While Equipment Modifications Are Made?

If you need to keep your operation running 24/7, you shouldn’t worry. Our team is dedicated to getting permanent installations up and running as quickly as possible, but our flexible, mobile conveying systems allow us to modify the production line even faster. While installation times vary by operation, a simple modification, such as an upgrade of conveyor technologies or the addition of a bulk bag filler, will most likely take place in under a day, in some cases in as little as a couple of hours. 

When it comes to conveyor belt systems, Spiroflow manufactures nine sizes of flexible screw conveyor model to easily fit the existing process. This means less downtime when you most need your operation to continue without interruption.

Will I Need to Update My Control Systems With Modification?

Quite possibly. It is something you should evaluate as part of the modification. The control systems might merely require a small tweak or no changes at all for an equipment-only upgrade. Options for mobile equipment can include integral control panels so that they can truly be unpacked for fast, “plug and play” capability. For more complex modifications, control systems modifications may be necessary. Call the conveyor systems manufacturers at Spiroflow to talk to a control systems engineer to assess the specific requirements.

Group of people testing the machine

How Can I Ensure That My Operational Changes Meet New Worker, Product Safety, and Compliance Standards?

Some production line modifications may be able to be made without the need for an on-site vendor visit. In this case, conveyor belts are ordered and shipped to your location, after which your crew assembles the project package.

In the event that installation, installation inspection, or layout assistance is needed on-site, make sure to send your equipment vendor the COVID-19-specific safety protocols, restrictions, requirements, or procedures before they arrive.

Spiroflow team makes early contact to learn about the site’s unique safety requirements. We follow your guidelines strictly once we arrive on-site. Prior to the site visit, vendors must communicate safety procedures in order to ensure worker safety when new equipment is being installed and commissioned on-site.

Rear of Unloader for Flexible Screw Conveyor Feeding Aero Mechanical Conveyor

How Do I Create the Most Value From Equipment Purchased for Production Modification After COVID Events?

Ensuring that you purchase flexible, mobile industrial conveyor systems can mean getting the most out of your investment. When making belt conveyor system equipment purchases for COVID-related modifications, look for conveyor solutions that can be reused to improve your existing operations when things return to normal. Don’t forget that any changes to products can be assessed in our test labs at our production facilities to get your conveyor belt system modification right the first time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our Making Manufacturing Shifts Series, Increase the capacity of your existing production line via equipment upgrades, coming soon!