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How to identify hidden waste on a packaging line

Two of the most common reasons for waste on the packaging line are underfilled pallets and fear of operator error (and subsequently rechecking their work). Without standard work in place to address these scenarios before they happen, waste is usually masked by compensating behaviors. In this article we discuss compensating behaviors and how to alleviate them.

For starters, to identify these compensating behaviors, three questions should be asked:

How does that step generate value?
How does that step generate value for the customer?
How do you implement countermeasures to the root cause?

Before we address these in more detail, let’s first understand two common reasons for waste on the packaging line. Underfilled partial pallets and fear of operator error are the two common types of waste. Many factories push partial pallets off to the side of the line instead of sending them to the rest of the warehouse which is wasted space and materials. Line managers often review everything a line operator does in fear that an operator might have made a mistake. Creating Standard Work for operators to follow would create more consistency and less room for error. These waste generators are often covered up by a compensating behavior.

What is compensating behavior and how do you identify one?

A compensating behavior is something that you do to make up for and prolong finding a solution for a much larger problem.

However, your product inspection system is a compensating behavior for the things on your line that might be causing you to have the bad codes in the first place. In this case, you’re treating the symptom but not the root cause of why they are there.

Three questions to ask that help identify compensating behaviors are:

How does that step generate value?

Let’s say that you’re a large global beverage company. The value you are delivering is in full, sealed, labeled bottles of soda. But how do you generate that value? In the factory, it may be at the filling machine where the beverage goes into the bottle.

How does that step generate value for the customer?

Once you understand how a step in your process generates value, you need to better understand whether that same step also generates value for your customer. Asking “why” questions helps start digging deeper into the issues to pin-point the true cause of the problem.

Often, once you start digging into each “why,” you’ll realize that there are certain actions or processes on the line that have continued to simply mask bigger problems. While the masking works, it also wastes time in the overall process, preventing you from hitting the day’s production targets. Go to the root cause and fix problems that shouldn’t occur in the first place.

How do you implement countermeasures to the root cause?

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can also begin to identify countermeasures that you can implement immediately to fix the problem, effective countermeasures should eliminate the root cause of the problem and provide long-term solutions.

Though perplexing at first, after you start asking key questions about common problems on your packaging line and pulling on the thread of compensating behaviors, you can inevitably find the root cause of your packaging line challenges. And once you start correctly identifying waste on your packaging line, you be able to implement process improvements and countermeasures that can enable your packaging line to succeed.

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