You have probably come across the phrase ‘catch weight’ in boxing or UFC sports circles and maybe didn’t give it much thought.
I also didn’t give it much thought until the day I decided to do some in-depth research on the causes of production losses in a coffee factory I worked for.
We were packing instant coffee in small sachets of 0.01 lb. (5grams) using a dispensing machine known as a continuous cup filler or FFS machine.
The machine had small cups designed to automatically form, fill, and seal (FFS) the approximate product weight into the sachets.
Since the cups dispensing the product were not accurately calibrated, I later on found out that we were over-packing every single sachet by approximately 0.0022lb (1 gram).
If you do the math, you will understand how significant this supposedly insignificant loss will affect your bottom line.
In my case, we had packed about 200,000 sachets. With every sachet losing 0.0022lb (1 gram), it meant we had lost almost 440lbs (200kgs).
In essence, 40,000 sachets worth of coffee was lost because of weight inaccuracies.
This number is even more alarming if you put it in monetary terms.
This loss was actually captured by an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP system) that we used to run our operations.
The deviation was quickly rectified by implementing several measures such as calibrating the cups and checking the weights at specified intervals.
I will give details on these measures and other catch weight management measures later on here.
The experience was an eye-opener and it led me into this deep rabbit hole on production weight losses in manufacturing.
Catch Weight Definition
As you ponder on those numbers, we need to first understand what we are talking about here.
The term ‘catch weight’ was adopted in the food industry from the boxing and UFC fraternity to mean the approximate unit weight acceptable, especially where there are variations in the actual weight of individual products.
In boxing and UFC, the athletes are required to have their weights taken just before a match so that no one would have an unfair advantage over another due to weight differences.
The same concept applies to product weights in manufacturing.
Most products that are defined by catch weights are usually produced and packaged to be sold in one unit of measure such as sachets, cases, or cartons.
Their pricing is however done in accordance to the specified weight of the products on the packages.
Catch weight items will thus be priced based on the actual weight of the product delivered to the client and not the weight at production level.
Specifying the catch weight can help consumers, especially online shoppers to know exactly how much they are spending on the actual product.
This may sound a little confusing but I will try and explain why these weight variations are common in the food industry and how they can be managed so that both the manufacturer and the customer are happy.
Why Product Weights Vary in Production
As much as companies try to automate operations to minimize losses, it is almost impossible to achieve 100% production efficiency and deliver all the product to the customer with zero variations.
Companies that have achieved world class manufacturing levels can boast of high levels of efficiency (mostly 85%), but not 100% efficiency.
The world has humans and machines, and all of them have not figured out how to completely avoid errors and run seamless operations.
This is why product weights will vary at some point in the production chain. The variations will be caused by several factors such as:
1. Mechanical failure
One of the reasons for product weight variations is what I mentioned above. Machine calibration.
This usually happens when a new machine is brought in and the weight parameters are not set properly.
A dispensing machine may also miss some cycles due to various technical hitches and dispense less product than required.
If the machine’s weight counter is not ‘intelligent’ enough or the operator is not keen, this omission may go unnoticed, resulting in weight variations.
2. Human Error
Not all products are weighed automatically in the production floor as in the case of coffee described earlier.
In food manufacturing companies, there are numerous products that need human intervention in weighing.
These errors may come from accidental omissions or inefficiencies due to several factors such as levels of training, carelessness, or even intentional sabotage.
3. Nature of Product or Ingredients
I will also refer to coffee here because I have first-hand experience.
Some products such as coffee lose moisture in processing due to the high temperatures they are subjected in.
Green coffee will lose about 16% of its original weight after roasting. More weight will be lost due to grinding and degassing processes that happen afterwards.
The weight loss can go on even after packaging the ground coffee. These losses may be minimal but they still count.
Products that undergo processes such as blanching or retorting also register significant weight loss after processing
4. Environmental Factors
Some food products such as cheese, vegetables, and grains also lose weight due to moisture losses while being stored in warehouses or supermarket shelves.
Frozen products from a cold room or reefer container may reach their destination with varied weights due to water lost in thawing because of being subjected to different environmental conditions in transit.
Implications of Catch Weight Losses in Food Manufacturing
If you are in the food industry, you know how product weight issues can strain your relationship with regulators and customers.
No one wants their company to look like petty thieves who are after a few grams of a client’s product.
That is why it is important to always declare the correct weight to the customer and set your price as per the actual weight declared.
Failure to do this will result in losing customer’s trust which will eventually hurt your sales.
Other than customer’s trust, industry regulators will catch up with you and you may end up paying huge fines or having your licenses suspended.
On the other hand, weight losses resulting from exceeding the declared weights will eat into the company profit margins.
If your company is not running a charity program, I am sure they would want to maximize their profits but not without integrity.
You do not want to undercharge product because of weight losses that are inevitable.
To bridge the gap between integrity and profits, an effective catch weight management system could be the solution.
Here are 5 Tips for Managing Catch Weight in Manufacturing
- Calibrate Machines
In many countries, calibration of weighing instruments is usually a strict requirement by regulators.
The Unites States federal government, for instance, has clear laws governing weights and measures done by the bureau of standards.
These laws ensure uniformity in measuring instruments and protect consumers from unscrupulous business entities.
- Use an ERP System
Whether small or big, it is important for a food manufacturing firm to have a good ERP system that is tailor made to their operational needs.
An ERP system is a software that integrates all operations in an organization and streamline flow of information from all departments.
With the current proliferation of technology in all industries, it is easy to find an affordable ERP system for almost any operation.
Using an ERP can help the company to identify variables such as weight variances at an early stage for corrective measures to be taken.
With an ERP, it is easy to set and track the catch weight of each item produced and give the right pricing when generating the client’s invoice.
The system can be incorporated in electronic scales and machines in production for even better results.
- Use Weighmetric Filling Machines
When buying packaging machines, it is important to first consider how the machine will handle weight-related operations.
If the machine doesn’t come with a reliable inbuilt weighing scale, check if you can get the weighing component separately.
Make sure you test its precision severally to be sure of its service.
- In-line Weight Confirmation
As stated earlier, product weight issues can be caused by human error.
Before you set the catch weight, be sure that you have well trained workers who can effectively handle machines or weigh products accurately.
To ensure consistency, an independent person, preferably from the quality control department should be checking the weights at specified intervals.
The weight should also be checked while in the storage facility to determine the final pricing of the item as it leaves the production premises to the client.
- Proper Package Labelling
Proper labelling of packaging material will reduce consumer misconceptions where there is doubt about a product’s weight and pricing.
It is important to always use the catch weight at the point of sale (POS).
This can be done using an instant barcode generator for similar products with varying weights.
The catch weight system can print the actual weight that was billed and also show the client the initial weight of the product after processing.
Having these information of the labels shows transparency which is good in maintaining strong customer trust.
If you don’t have an automated catch weight system, do not worry. You can always do the weighing manually and indicate on the label that it is an approximate weight.