Let's get in touch.
Norbert Kytka, Headquarters PlattlingContact
Plastic sheet production
Manufacturers of plastic sheeting produce material for a wide range of products. Consider, for example, packaging for food and drink, for non-food products and technology, packaging for pharmaceutical products or transport wrapping. The market for tubular film, pallet covers, pipes or pipe-seam bags is fast moving and requires production of lots of variants to meet rapidly changing customer expectations. Procedures for transforming the plastic and plastic granulate into the final plastic sheeting are accordingly equally diverse. Materials are often refined or coated.
Batch sizes are becoming smaller. Meanwhile, product safety requirements are only increasing – along with rising costs and ever more fierce competition. Sustainability is another factor that is rising more and more to the fore in customer decisions – particularly since political guidelines are spotlighting these issues, for example with new requirements for using higher proportions of recyclates in place of raw materials.
Processes characterized by discontinuities – that is, paper documents, Excel solutions and other non-integrated systems – create obstacles not only to efficiency and cost optimization, but also to the enterprise’s ability to adapt quickly to changes. By seamlessly digitalizing processes throughout the production and planning value chain, plastic sheet production enterprises can benefit from shorter throughput times, reduced personnel costs, lower reject rates, and better delivery reliability. T.CON’s solutions help these companies to guarantee that they can keep producing reliably at high quality, even when manufacturing parameters are changing very rapidly.
We have the right solution for every plastic sheet producer, whatever their vertical range. For example, we support companies who produce PET film for other manufacturers and need to maintain stable production parameters. With our help, their products are manufactured reliably, rapidly and with consistent quality, and delivered on time – and the enterprise is more efficient at every step. Plastic sheet producers whose primary business is refining purchased raw materials also make use of our services, relying on our system-side support to help them produce a wide range of variants. Our solutions ensure that shop floor teams can set up machines quickly or easily switch between products and batches.
One approach which offers a variety of starting points for enterprises building resilience is the development of fully integrated IT systems, which can be used to digitalize and optimize all processes along the value chain. The key to achieving this is measuring suitable key performance indicators (KPIs) and using continuous improvement processes (CIPs) to steadily evolve along with current trends.
Successful plastic sheet producers use seamlessly integrated digital processes to record business and production data. We’re not just talking about the production processes – from recipe to machine data, from extruder and calender to ready-for-delivery product – the digital model can also integrate planning processes, using T.CON’s SAP solutions and add-ons. For example, we offer solutions for corporate development, long-term planning, sales, production networks, sequential planning and shipping schedules and financial planning and profitability analyses for plastic sheet producers. The system also records data from hazardous substances management and risk management, maintenance, etc., supplemented by information from core company functions such as finance, controlling and HR.
Our solutions help the enterprise to draw up cost estimates, plan production schedules for the plastic sheeting, and match workers to machines. Although minor reconfiguration can often be done without interrupting production, major changes typically entail downtime. Switching materials or rinsing an extruder, for example, might take several hours. Efficient production planning also takes into account factors such as pre-heating tools, or which technicians are available when. The overall result is that manufacturers get maximum utilization from their machines, while taking into account maintenance intervals and any necessary cleaning processes associated with product changes. We also use innovative techniques such as machine learning for better production optimization, based on the idea of the “golden batch”.
This holistic approach to digitalization establishes a basis for managing the production department profitably – but it doesn’t end there: the company’s complete process landscape is reflected in the digital model. So, for example, operations management doesn't just have access to data from the production process itself. The system also takes into account many other areas, such as liquidity planning, investment planning, maintenance schedules, procurement or shipping logistics. This means that the enterprise can react quickly to issues such as critically low stocks, frequent downtimes or quality issues. And while it might take years to implement the necessary process improvements in an analog system, manufacturers who have embraced fully digital processes can adapt and exploit new opportunities almost immediately.
A manufacturer facing a shortage of plastic granulate or plastics such as LDPE, HDPE, PVC and polyamide following a force majeure event at a supplier may struggle to meet their own delivery commitments. Important customers may lose trust and turn elsewhere. And when production starts up again, the enterprise needs to compensate for the lost productivity: employees end up working overtime, costs go up, and quality goes down.
Digital value chain processes enable plastic sheet producers to create a cushion for incidents such as lost deliveries due to force majeure. Maintaining digital inventories can help the enterprise assess the consequences of a force majeure event. The inventories provide ways to qualitatively analyze orders, stocks and the customer base, thus enabling the company to replan effectively and find the most efficient sequence for fulfilling customer orders.
Digital procurement processes and purchasing solutions can help plastic sheet producers in the search for new procurement sources, through the continuous evaluation process and management of the suppliers themselves, and with monitoring orders.
Contemporary solutions for digitalization in production are closely interlinked with the business processes and warehouse management systems. They allow workers to see the current material situation so that they can determine whether or not maintenance orders can be initiated. Based on the available inventory, they can then decide perhaps to postpone an order, for example if there would be a risk of interruption due to lack of material. That way, the enterprise avoids downtime even when there are supply chain interruptions and upstream products have not been delivered.
When a plastic sheet manufacturer’s production processes are mapped in digital systems, these systems can also record data from maintenance work. Linking postings logged from maintenance tasks into the inventory management system for replacement parts creates leverage for saving money.
The interlinked systems offer more leverage than the immediate financial savings, though: the enterprise can also quantify and evaluate the risk that production will be halted due to a lack of basic wear parts. The enterprise can then counter the risk by proactively purchasing additional stocks of important parts to keep on hand as a safeguard against changing circumstances in which rapid delivery cannot be guaranteed.
Planning solutions such as SAP Advanced Planning and Optimization (APO) or SAP Production Planning & Detailed Scheduling (PP/DS) can be combined with specialized optimization tools to reduce waste and optimize order fulfillment. Our solutions offer rapid, system-supported tools for drawing up cutting plans.
These tools ensure that waste is kept to a minimum and production efficiency to a maximum. Plus, the people doing the scheduling have much less work to do. All in all, the manufacturer minimizes trim and production waste – and that yields vast cost savings.
Manufacturers also benefit from optimized set-up times using set-up matrices, improved set-up sequences and optimized cleaning cycles. Planning is always based on finding the optimum: production from light to dark, from wide to narrow, or from thick to thin. This keeps set-up times down and production flow is maintained when machines are set up for new production processes. The plastic sheet producers benefit from massive financial savings and stable production.
Source: Industrieverband Papier- und Folienverpackung (IPV)
Source: Aberdeen Research
Daily business in the plastic sheet production industry is responding to a growing demand for diverse variants and a focus on sustainable raw materials. Turning out new products and variants without allowing profit margins to fall off means keeping a sharp eye throughout every stage of the value chain. Perhaps a new product requires new geometry, a new raw material, or a variant is to be produced with a new color. When changing the product or material, manufacturers of plastic sheeting have to reconfigure technical components such as the jets, tools, cooling line, haul-off, winder or guide rollers. There are also process parameters such as temperatures or speeds that have to be adjusted by the machine technician. Our solutions help plastic sheet producers to maintain an overview of all these factors during production planning, from the initial product development process right through to production implementation.
These enterprises can also keep track of production costs. Important switches are integrated from the very first planning and production integration stages: What are the effects on production costs of new sizes, thickness bulks or coatings? How will the use of alternative raw materials affect strength or modify the production process?
Our tools can offer more than just a digital foundation for production steps: we can help right from the beginning of the production process. Using intelligent tools to record master data enables the enterprise to design and plan products digitally before developing anything physical. This greatly speeds up the process of creating new variants and at the same time lowers economic risks. In parallel, SAP-integrated cost estimation tools can be used when calculating quotes, helping to guarantee profit margins stay on target even for the most complex of new products.
Fluctuations in extruder temperature or pressure, issues such as die drool, roughness, fluttering plastic film or profile curvature can have huge effects on the end product – and consequently on customer satisfaction.
Quality is one of the most vital parameters in plastic sheet production. However, in an industry characterized by a wide range of production variants, frequent product changes and machine conversions, diverse recipes, etc., successfully ensuring quality can be a real challenge. The solution: integrated process digitalization. Seamlessly digital systems offer numerous ways to help maintain high quality at all times.
Materials are mixed according to recipes, extruded and then added to the calender. Since this is sheet production, web errors will typically be identified during production by means of a visual quality check, thickness bulk measurements, the mass-per-area, opacity, or color coordinate. Individual positions are recorded in the system, so that they can be found again in the subsequent processing steps and any problems can be eliminated.
After these steps, the individual rolls of plastic sheeting are loaded with the relevant batch data and posted to the system. The plastic sheet producer may refine the plastic sheeting with additional coatings before cutting it into individual items for packing. The reel history can be viewed at any time by the production department to read back which master reels the customer’s delivery originated from (this is known as “product genealogy”). This system makes it possible to analyze the production process and also supports product traceability.
All the relevant process data is taken directly from sensors on the machines and linked to the production order online. The producer can see the status of the products at any time, based on configured quality tolerances. The warehouse software displays exactly how many reels are in stock, along with their widths, sheeting lengths, quality and weight with or without splices.
Our integrated solutions help plastic sheet producers to implement their continuous quality control systems, and (thanks to integration in production processes) can also be used for event-based quality checks and to link production data with quality data. This means that quality issues can be analyzed and associated with changes to production parameters. The enterprise can analyze the production process for a product all along the logistics chain, and determine when any production step was carried out, the workstation where it was carried out, and the materials involved. This means that production batches can be traced in detail at all times.
Instructions and accompanying documents are digitally created for each operation, and electronically approved by a team member if necessary.
Any enterprise that manufactures a lot of new products or product variants will often have to redistribute skilled technicians among the machines – and the reallocation needs to happen quickly. Linking production data to HR data is a way to help production managers, shift leaders and planners optimize how they allocate their skilled workforce. This is more important than ever at present, with high levels of sick leave, staff shortages due to quarantine periods, and new multi-shift models designed for additional health and safety all adding to the challenges of allocating workers on the shop floor. Production managers can use digital HR planning tools to record absences and match machines to qualified personnel. These digital tools are fast, efficient and much more reliable than a cobbled-together Excel sheet or a WhatsApp group.
Specialists are hard to find and not every member of a team can be a specialist in every aspect of producing plastic sheeting – and since every production plant has its own particular quirks, work on the shop floor often relies on knowledge accumulated through experience. However, this is a resource that can sometimes be tricky to access. For example, suppose a technician working on the early shift sees pressure fluctuations on an extruder and, drawing on their well of experience, succeeds in eliminating the problem. At shift handover time, they don’t remember to mention the fluctuations – after all, the problem is now dealt with. In fact, though, it recurs during a later shift – but as the technicians in this shift are not familiar with this issue, they lose valuable time and quality issues arise. We have a solution: a digital shift log can help to record this kind of unstructured knowledge (collected through experience) and generate keywords so that the resulting knowledge base can be made searchable. Solutions of this kind are particularly important in light of the fact that the average age of the technicians is rising – that is to say, many of the most experienced plastic technicians and other skilled workers will be retiring before long.