In the Converting Industry, an Audit Can Be a Good Thing

In the US one word almost certainly will bring feelings of apprehension and fear to everyone. That word is audit. Mention of the word causes visions of a dreaded communication or visit from the Internal Revenue Service with questions regarding taxes. However, for everyone involved in the converting industry, audit should be a friendly term.

Converters should want to initiate an audit on all aspects of their operation. Only by careful audit can those in our industry control waste with a goal toward eliminating — or at least — reducing it. Asking the right questions about the way an organization conducts operations often can reveal worthwhile insights that can lead to bottom-line savings.

The best audit is one in which a converting operation tabulates every item that comes into the plant. This includes, but does not merely cover, all utilities, all raw materials, and personnel. The reason to include everything is that all these items cost money. Converters pay for films, foil, inks, coatings, adhesives, water, gas, electricity, etc.

Obviously, they also pay wages to people who operate the plant. These include equipment operators, janitorial help, clerical personnel, laboratory technicians, etc.

Determining the amount of incoming items usually is the easiest step in an audit. One simply needs to examine the invoices to find the amounts of materials entering the plant.

Learning the amount of material that exits is somewhat more difficult. Plants often do not track actual amounts of waste, but they do keep very close tabs on the finished goods they make. Subtracting the amount of manufactured product from the amount of entering raw material should equal the waste. The key to the success of any such audit is elimination or minimization of the waste. The following two examples illustrate how this can be done.

A converter makes a lamination of polyester/aluminum foil/PE. He knows the weight of the rolls of foil that arrive in the plant. He also knows the number of square feet of laminate he makes containing the foil. By measuring the amount of foil in a given area of laminate, he can calculate the weight of foil. Over a period, he can determine how many rolls of aluminum foil go into the manufacture of finished product.

In one case, such an audit indicated a loss of almost 5% of the aluminum foil. Some careful detective work soon revealed the cause. Poor care in storing and transporting rolls of foil (using a forklift) in the plant was causing severe damage to outer wraps of the foil. In some cases, the damage required the machine operator to remove a considerable number of inches of diameter before he could mount a satisfactory roll on the laminator.

Another converter who was making a lamination used a two-component adhesive that began to cure immediately upon mixing. After mixing, it has a very definite time after which it is unsuitable for use. The converter very carefully had calculated exactly how large a batch of adhesive to mix, considering the line speed of the equipment, so he did not need to discard any mixed adhesives during the day. Unfortunately, the mixing room always used a standard-sized batch even at the end of the day. This caused waste when the line ceased operation.

So, the next time you hear the word “audit,” don't think IRS, money shelled out, and striped uniforms. Think lower waste, higher efficiency, and a healthier bottom line.


David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at dbentley@unm.edu.



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