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Engineering student reduces ‘waste’ for manufacturer

Colgate Palmolive has identified an opportunity to reduce the material wastage on one of their production lines at Labrador.

The key objective of the company’s current CEED project is to reduce the ‘overfill’ wastage on their 7.5kg and 9kg bulk laundry powder line to below 1%.  Matthew Dobbin, final year Mechanical Engineering student at UQ is in the process of tackling this challenging manufacturing problem for the company as his final year thesis topic.

To achieve the company’s objective, over the next few months Matthew will conduct a root cause analysis, as well as design, fabricate and install his recommended design.

Colgate Palmolive.Matthew Dobbin during his project in 2011 
 Pictured is Matthew Dobbin (CEED student), next to the bulk production
 line at Colgate Palmolive's Labrador site. Matt is investigating the
 root cause of an overfill (wastage) issue on the line.

Since commencing mid-January, Matthew has already researched some prior work and literature which is helping him to identify the components that may be contributing to the line’s ‘overfill’ problem.  The bulk production line comprises a number of components and machines, a conveyor system, filling station, weighing mechanism and other machinery which controls the packaging of the product into boxes/buckets. 

The various components are controlled and co-ordinated by a PLC (programmable logic controller). 

To determine the root cause, Matthew is using a number of methods.  These include interviews with experts on the equipment and powder, and machine operators on the bulk production line.  Matthew is also gathering and analysing operational data and reports from the last twelve months (eg. flow characteristics of the powder, production data and PLC logic).  Matthew hopes to eliminate some possible causes during the data analysis phase.  The final method Matthew will use is to observe the line in operation.

Matthew recently commented on his progress so far, “I presented to the management team my root cause analysis findings as well as how much the overfill problem is costing the company. I am currently conducting a cost analysis on several different design scenarios. During my time here, I’ve learnt there is much more to a project than just the detailed design”.

Next, Matthew will submit his recommended design for approval by the management team.  Once approved, Matthew will work with the company’s workshop and staff to fabricate his design, so it is ready for installation and testing by mid-May.

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