Lean Manufacturing Principles Applied to a Packaging Line

Lucie Koloušková Aimtec
11. 7. 2018 | 5 minutes reading

Not many companies in our country have withstood its fundamental societal changes over the last 100 years without major fluctuations. The Swedish company SKF is one of the exceptions. It set up a business branch, and later a manufacturing branch, here just after World War I, and it’s still successfully making history today. Its plant in Chodov, near Karlovy Vary, is the largest plant for the production of lubrication systems in Europe. But as history changes, factories and their processes and systems must change too. Digital Factory means fine-tuning for not just production processes, but also those that come before or after it, such as packaging.

When SKF was analysing its bottlenecks, they found that the packaging line was among them. They sought a way to eliminate errors and increase line throughput, but meanwhile, they didn’t want to add other software alongside their SAP ERP. We thus offered to create an andon in line with Toyota Production System (TPS) principles to support lean manufacturing customised for the needs of SKF. The visualisation of indicators helps to eliminate downtimes, notifies of the current state of packaging progress and provides source materials for correcting data. 

A Signal for Better Optimisation

“Andon” is Japanese for “signal” and, and it serves differently in different types of production. But in all of them, it provides workers, supervisors and management with visual notification of each error or non-standard situation. For SKF, we chose an andon that visualises processes on the packaging line. The workers can see directly during their shift how they are doing relative to the plan, and then they can respond to the current situation. The indicators are based on data that is imported from SAP, and they are shown on the line in real time (they are updated once every five minutes). On the screen above the line, employees can monitor five main indicators that offer them quick and simple information. And because Czechs are a competitive lot, the visualisation also provides them with further motivation – thanks to the transparent plan, they can compare their shift with their colleagues’.

Andon of packaging line - SKF
Andon of packaging line - SKF

The daily plan

The simple visualisation offers a display of the number of items that should be packaged and those that have already been packaged. If the workers determine that they’ve only met 30% of the plan halfway through the shift, they know that they should talk over the situation with their superiors. Naturally a much happier situation arrives when they’re ahead of expectations. The screen shows two linked shifts; optionally they can transition to three-shift or one-shift operation. 

The work feeder

How can staff get information on how many units are still waiting to be packaged, and how can they compare it with current capacities? That’s what the Work Feeder is for. It shows whether the current work queue is manageable with the current number of workers on the shift. If the hand is in the green part, that’s ideal; if it’s in the orange part, that means a delay in shipment packaging, but still an acceptable time. Red, meanwhile, indicates a major delay. 

Delayed orders

We don’t live in an ideal world, and orders are sometimes delayed at the warehouse before packaging. Thanks to the Delayed Orders screen, packagers, assembly foremen and production directors have a way to see how long which order has been waiting for packaging. There are delays that are acceptable and that thus remain within the yellow-orange field. But then there are red orders, which have been waiting for packaging and dispatching for a long time and thus need to be handled preferentially – or the data needs to be verified to preclude the possibility that the shipment has been packaged, but a data-entry error has occurred. The context here is that SKF’s quality department was sometimes taking an order from production off to be checked without registering this action in the system. This produced an artificial delay on the packaging line, where the order was not physically present. Another important case was the situation where the label was not scanned when a shipment was packaged, and thus the system still registered it as unpackaged. 

Monthly delay

The monthly delay visualises information on the average time between the production of an order and its packaging. This motivates workers towards better order processing, but it also can serve as an indicator for the plant directors regarding capacities. By implementing the andon, SKF has reduced this delay by an average of 2–3 hours. 


KaBiNeT is a special indicator summarizing all the items above, which expresses in one number the degree of success at combining quality, safety, costs and order time at a given packaging line. 


SKF CZ is originally a Swedish company, but already in 1919 they had a business branch in Czechoslovakia. Their extremely high-quality metal ball bearings gained popularity quickly and made their way into all areas of machine engineering, thus demanding the opening up of manufacturing centres here as well. After the war, SKF was covering an unbelievable 95% of rolling-element-bearing consumption in Czechoslovakia. Today, SKF offers its customers bearings of all kinds in a number of variants for a variety of application types, as well as sealing, lubrication, tools and other products and services. In 2010 SKF enriched its manufacturing portfolio by acquiring Lincoln, a renowned manufacturer of central lubrication systems, and in 2013 it laid the cornerstone of the largest lubrication-system manufacturing plant in Europe – Lubricon.

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