Using Guided Format Change to Improve Changeover and Productivity

Long before Covid, we were seeing an increase in the number of packaging SKUs. In 2019, Packaging Digest reported an estimated 42% increase in SKUs in the food and beverage industry.

Since Covid, there has been a further explosion of new packaging sizes, especially in the food and beverage marketplace. Food manufacturers have gotten very creative. Instead of raising prices due to the higher costs of goods, for example, they can reduce the size of product packages while keeping the consumer prices the same.

Many of today’s production machines are not equipped to changeover as quickly and as accurately to meet the demand of the marketplace. Manufacturers now face the challenge of “semi-automating” their existing machines, as opposed to procuring new machines or adding expensive motors to existing machines. One solution is to digitalize change points on existing machines.

Companies are looking to reduce the amount of time and the mistakes that occur when doing product changeovers. Allowing for operator guidance and position measurement can reduce your time and enhance your accuracy of those changeover events. Measurements are then tied to the recipe and the operator becomes the prime mover.

Guided Format Change

There are lots of technologies out there for helping with guided format change, such as automated position measurement, machine position, distance measurement, linear measurement, and digitalized rotary encoders.


As you are likely quite aware, there are often scales, marks, etc., written onto machines that don’t provide the greatest degree of accuracy. Introducing digitalized position and distance sensing can help you reduce time and limit errors during changeovers.

Change Part Identification

The other side of changeover is change part identification. Quite often during this process parts on the machine must be exchanged. Using the wrong change part can result in mistakes, waste, and delays, and can even damage existing machines.

Technologies, such as RFID, can help ensure the correct change part is chosen and added to the machine. During a recipe change, the operator can then validate that all the correct parts are installed before the startup of the next product run.

Guided format change is a cost-effective way to reduce changeover time and increase productivity either by retrofitting your existing machines or even new machines.

The Benefits of Guided Changeover in Packaging

Today’s consumer packaged goods (CPG) market is driving the need for greater agility and flexibility in packaging machinery.  Shorter, more customized runs create more frequent machine changeover.  Consequently, reducing planned and unplanned downtime at changeover is one of the key challenges CPG companies are working to improve.

Many packaging machine builders are now providing fully automated changeover, where motors move pieces into the correct position upon recipe change.  This has proven to be a winning solution, however, not every application can accommodate motors, especially those on older machines.

Guided changeover represents an opportunity to modify or retrofit existing equipment to improve agility and flexibility on older machines that are not yet ready to be replaced.

An affordable intermediate step between fully manual and fully automated changeover: 

A measurement sensor can be added to provide position feedback on parts that require repositioning for changeover.  By using indicator lights, counters or displays at the point of use, the operator is provided with visual guidance to reposition the moving part.  Only once all parts are in the correct position can the machine start up and run.

By utilizing this concept, CPG companies can realize several key benefits:

  • Reduced planned downtime: Adding guidance reduces the amount of time it takes to move parts into the correct position.
  • Reduced unplanned downtime: Providing operator guidance minimizes mistakes, avoiding jams and other problems caused by misalignment.
  • Reduced waste: Operators can “dial in” moving parts quickly and precisely.  This allows the machine to be fully operational sooner, minimizing runoff and scrap.
  • Improved operator training: Providing operator guidance helps CPG companies deal with inevitable workforce attrition.  New operators can be quickly trained on changeover procedures.

Selecting the correct sensor

A variety of sensor technologies can be used to create guide changeover; it’s really a matter of fit, form and function.  Common technologies used in changeover position applications include linear positioning transducers  and encoders.  Other devices like inductive and photoelectric distance sensors can be used with some creativity to solve challenging applications.

Available mounting space and environmental conditions should be taken into consideration when selecting the correct device.  Sensors with enhanced IP ratings are available for harsh environmental conditions and washdown.

Analog devices are commonly used to retrofit machines with older PLCs, while IO-Link can be used in place of analog for a fully digital solution, enabling bi-directional communication between the sensor and controller for condition monitoring, automatic device replacement and parameter changes.