One of the primary goals of manufacturing quality professionals is to eliminate errors on the shop floor, and production is particularly vulnerable to errors during changeover—those times when you’re transitioning a line from one state to another: from idle to running, from running one product to another, from running one type of product to another, and so on.

Changeovers can be tricky…and when they don’t go right, they can cost your company a lot, whether you’re making packaging or perfume, electronics or elevator doors. Let’s take a look at the issue of managing changeovers from the perspective of an industry that’s conceptually familiar to a lot of us: food and beverage manufacturing.

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Push All Your Chips into the Middle of the Table

Imagine you’re a potato chip maker and you’re changing over your production line from regular potato chips to a sour-cream-and-onion version. Maybe you’re changing the oil that you’re using. Or maybe you’re going from potato chips to corn chips. Or—and here’s the kicker—you’re going from something that has an allergen in it to something that doesn't (or vice versa).

Controlling this type of changeover is really important for food manufacturers because that's where they can get into trouble by introducing cross-contamination of allergens. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 4% of Americans suffer from allergies to foods such as nuts, eggs, or shellfish. And Baking Business says the top reason for food manufacturing recalls is putting the wrong product in a package or mislabeling a package.

The question for people on the manufacturing line is this: To what level do you need to prepare your line for this change?

There are Times When You Just Don’t Need to Sweat It

So, in the example that I started with, let's just say you’re making sea salt potato chips in giant party-sized bags. For the upcoming run, you need to put them in family-sized bags. The only real changeover need is to swap out the roll of packaging—and ask yourself: “Did I check the setting on my filler to move from 16 ounces of chips to 12 ounces?”

No sweat. Everything else in the process is the same. You’re using the same potatoes. Frying them the same way. Putting the same seasoning on. From a changeover perspective, that is a pretty minimal impact.

…And Times When You Do

Contrast that with the following: You’re making trail mix with peanuts, pretzels, raisins, little chocolate pieces, and so on. You need to switch production to make a peanut-free version—and be able to put “Peanut-Free” on the label.

To do that, you need a few additions to your changeover checklist:

  • Make sure you have the right package set up and ready to go.
  • Be very careful that there is not a single peanut on the production line.
  • Scrub and sterilize the line to make sure there is no peanut dust, oil, or residue; anything to do with those peanuts needs to be taken care of.
  • All of the other things that are needed for any run: safety guards in place, correct recipe loaded, maintenance tools cleared off the line, first product checks and adjustments, and so on.

As any manufacturer will realize, there’s a lot more to this list than what’s here—and numerous steps for every item in the list. A detailed checklist is the only way to manage such a changeover.

However, a paper checklist is not adequate. Quality Intelligence software to the rescue!

Checklist Heaven

So, what’s so great about a software-based checklist? In our experience, everything.

First, it’s important for me to say that I am astounded at how many food and beverage manufacturers keep their checklists on paper. They’re easy to create and flexible to use—but a bear to store, retrieve, and analyze. And even more important, they are easy to “pencil whip”—that is, users can easily check off items or approve whole sections of a process without actually knowing that the item is taken care of. And data on paper can easily be transposed or misread or illegible (or lost). That’s a recipe (pun intended) for disaster.

Furthermore, food and beverage manufacturers typically use statistical process control (SPC) to help with quality assurance and look for process improvements. They’re already doing multiple checks—sanitation, Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP), metal detection, and more—and various forms of data collection with an SPC tool of some sort. Why would you not do everything—including integrating your myriad changeover checklists—in one tool?

Our Take on Checklists

Clean this, fix that, change this, change that, turn this knob, flip that switch, and then clean this also. Changeover checklists can be endless, and you can see why it’s easy to forget a step.

With software, the benefits go way beyond just creating and storing the checklist. For example, InfinityQS software solutions integrate checklists into processes so that you can make sure operators are performing the correct checks at the correct times. When you set up a system that understands your expectations of what should be done (and when), then you can focus on dealing with the exceptions.

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The visibility is the biggest payback for using a quality intelligence solution for your checklists: you know checks are being done because you get notified when they aren’t; you can look at all of your results from a centralized system; and you can pull recorded checks up as needed for reviews or audits.

The whole point of checklists is to ensure safety, sanitation, and compliance as you make the best product possible. So why leave those critical elements at risk for human error?

At InfinityQS, we build our quality intelligence solutions to take the guesswork out of checklists.

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Our software can help your operators ensure that everything is done before the switch is flipped to turn the trail mix with peanuts line into a trail mix with no peanuts line.


Regardless of your industry, checklists are only part of the bigger picture of quality and efficiency you’re striving to achieve. Visit the InfinityQS website to learn more about how to take the guesswork out of quality control.