We are asked this question often, “should we buy our own tube filling & sealing machine or outsource our tube filling needs?”
Before answering this question, lets first lay some groundwork. Why listen to anything we have to say? Good question, here is the simple answer, you don’t have to. After 15+ years focused 100% in the tube filling industry maybe we don’t know what we’re talking about, you can be the judge of that. If nothing else maybe this article will just provide you with some entertainment.
Moving on, if you are the company owner, president, CFO, production manager, etc. you probably want to see a detailed analysis report to answer this question, after all, there are a myriad of variables to consider. It surely is not a simple yes/no answer, right? Well, maybe. Sure, we could write a novel on all the things to consider, show you fancy spreadsheets, calculations, machine specs, features, options, etc. In fact, we started doing just that and after 5 pages in realized, this is information overload! Most readers would probably tune out after the first chapter. So instead how about we get right to the point with some straight talk answers (something desperately needed in this industry full of slick speaking salespeople).
The 25k tube per week rule
If you need to fill & seal under 25,000 tubes per week, buy a table-top tube filling/sealing setup and do it yourself.
More than 25,000 tubes per week (repeatedly), then pick an option: buy a fully automatic tube filler or outsource the work.
A quick note, these answers are based on producing top-notch professional quality tube seals worthy of high-end retail display.
If going the machinery route that means buying a well-built European-made machine with local support and parts availability (in our opinion the Europeans make the best tube filling and sealing machinery in the world).
If going the outsource filling route that means using a reputable contract packaging (or toll filling company) with clean filling facilities and extensive quality control procedures in place.
The saying “you get what you pay for” cannot be repeated enough in this industry.
Okay, moving along, let’s explore in more detail:
Under 25,000 tubes per week:
Buy a table-top tube filling & sealing setup and do it yourself. The recent generation of these machines now uses the same professional-level hot-air sealing technology as found in the much larger (and much more expensive) fully automatic machines. This means you get the same tube seal quality as the big brands, on your schedule, with no MOQ requirements (minimum order quantity). These table-top machines are small, portable, use standard wall outlet electric and are simple to use. They do not require highly trained mechanics; operators are able to set up and change over these machines in a matter of minutes. These machines are ideal for small run sizes of many different SKUs – a trend that keeps growing year after year, SKU proliferation!
Just be careful which brand/model you buy as there is a large discrepancy in build quality and reliability for this segment of tube sealer machines. Most machines are using older technology - thermal impulse, hot-jaw or ultrasonic sealing methods, each of which has serious shortcomings that will hinder production use. Sure, many machines in this category may get you by for simple lab use, however, try using them in production, those machines usually fail miserably. Hot-air sealing technology is what you want, that's what all the big players use, it enables true production level output and quality. Furthermore, production packaging requires a rugged built, reliable machine which can operate continuously day after day filling and sealing tubes. After many years’ experience using a variety of these machines, we can confidently say the Neweco line of equipment is hands down the best built, most reliable, production worthy machinery in this segment. See here: www.TubeSealingMachine.com
Yes, we sell these machines, so you may be thinking we are biased, and drumroll…. you are correct! After using these Neweco tube sealers for a long enough time our experience has created our bias (note, we originally bought a Neweco sealer for our own use, not to resell. Others saw the machine in action and began asking us to sell them, so we began distributing this line of tube sealers). These machines will give you a consistent, repeatable quality output of 10 – 15 tubes per minute day after day (depending on the speed of your operator). The machines are workhorses producing beautiful seals on all shapes, sizes and tube materials. Various models are available for working with plastic & laminate tubes, or aluminum tubes, you can find a quick reference table here:
Some customers have replaced their large automated machines with multiple Neweco tube sealers, as it gives them redundancy & flexibility to handle high SKU, low volume jobs with short lead-times, you know, that JIT (just-in-time) manufacturing we all love so much (sarcasm noted here). Most importantly, their operators can set up and run the machines thus reducing their labor costs. (i.e. no highly trained mechanics needed).
Let’s take a quick look at some production numbers, math time! We will assume a $15 per hour operator rate (side note: skilled tube filler mechanics which are needed on large automated equipment could easily be double this-if you can even find them).
Figure (2) operators working a table-top tube filling & sealing production job at a conservative running speed of 10 tubes per minute.
A typical (8) hour work shift with (1) hour of setup/cleanup and break, leaving (7) hours of production fill time.
Results: 4,200 tubes per 8-hour shift.
Labor cost = $240 per day (2 operators at $15 per hour each). $0.057 per tube in labor.
Do that five days in a row and you have 21,000 tubes. Not bad!
Over 25,000 tubes per week:
► Option #1 – buy a fully automatic tube filling machine.
Get your checkbook out! These machines are not cheap. They require auxiliary equipment like water chillers, large air compressors, 3-phase electric, and climate controlled facilities. Most importantly, you need highly skilled mechanics to set the machines up and keep them running properly. If you don't have good mechanics then forget it, the machine will be down in production more than running. Also, keep in mind the costs of tooling for these machines to run different tube sizes gets expensive. It could easily be $5,000+ for a single set of tooling (some machines are $10k - $20k for a single set of tooling), yikes!Right about now you are probably asking yourself, "TWP sells tube filling equipment, why are they raising all these red flags on automatic machines, isn't this article hurting their sales?" Maybe, maybe not, however, our business has steadily grown over the years by being honest, providing top notch customer service and making sure the customer receives the proper answer to their needs (no matter if that means we lose a sale). Don’t believe us? Well here are our recommendations in various speed categories (notice we do not recommend only a single brand, try finding that level of honesty from any other company in this industry, we ask our customers to evaluate all options before buying a machine).
25 to 40 tubes per minute – Neweco machinery (based in Poland), dollar for dollar these are the best-built machines in this category, the price-to-value ratio is incredible. Top notch build quality, reliability and after-sale support. Quick changeover and affordable tooling keep running costs low.
60 - 80 tubes per minute – Kalix machinery (based in France), or Axomatic equipment (based in Italy), both pricey but they make good machines. Local support may be difficult to find, and tooling can get costly.
80+ tubes per minute – Norden machinery (based in Sweden), or IWK (based in Germany), very expensive but if you truly need this speed on a steady ongoing basis then we don't feel bad for you, surely you can afford it! Changeovers can be a lengthy process and tooling gets very expensive. If you need to run millions of the same tube, then these machines are well suited to handle the challenge.
► Option #2 – outsource your tube filling needs to a reputable company.
This often is really the best answer. Most brands do not have adequate facility requirements or properly trained mechanics to handle a large tube filling machine. We can appreciate the desire to control your own production schedule instead of relying on a contract filler’s line availability. Just keep this in mind, if you don’t have good mechanics and/or local support the tube filler machine will control your schedule, not the other way around (i.e. your machine will probably be down more than running production). We can't stress the point enough, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, this is by far the most important thing to consider. Automated tube filling equipment is complex, many moving parts that must be synchronized, thermodynamics to deal with, every new tube is trial and error to find the correct process parameters. There are no shortcuts to experience, unfortunately, highly skilled tube filler mechanics are far and few between (and they don't come cheap). We are happy to help you source a good contract filler, or better yet take no chances and get it done right the first time – www.TubeFillSeal.com
So, there you have it, we hope this helps, thanks for reading!