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In the Buff with Don Steeber

by Donna Wolfe | Nov 06, 2015

Dorian (Don) Steeber is one of the world’s leading experts on buffering and accumulation.  Affectionately known as the “Father of Modern Accumulation”, Don’s designs have helped thousands of packaging lines reach maximum efficiency.  Don_SteeberDon holds nearly 30 patents, the majority of which pertain to accumulation systems.   Today, Don is the Director of Development for buffering solutions at BW Container Systems, and his latest development, the AdaptA, is his most exciting yet.   With installations on 3 continents and in some of the world’s largest food, personal care, wineries and distillery companies, the AdaptA has proven that horizontal, floor-level buffering and accumulation systems are the right choice for packaging lines today. 

“In the Buff” is  an opportunity for Don to ’get real’ and talk candidly about a subject on which he is recognized as a Global thought leader…..buffering and accumulation.  Don’t worry, he does it with his shirt on.

 Q. Don, some consider you the creator of modern day buffering and accumulation, what drove you to develop these solutions?

Back in the 1980’s I was vice president of operations of one of largest co-packers in the United States.  While there, I recognized a need for mechanized accumulation systems because (at that time) it was being done by human beings, hand stacking, that sort of thing.  I found that I had – my very, very, most important and best people doing a menial task and while they were doing that, they were not doing their important task, quality checks and running their machines.  My drive for inventing accumulation and inventing my first accumulation system was actually not around efficiencies or anything of that nature. 

Q.  But today, efficiency seems to be the main driver for investing in buffering and accumulation.  Do you agree with that?

My experience has been that people buy accumulation systems for lots of reasons.  There are some people that don’t buy accumulation systems for lots of reasons too.  I think a lot of those reasons are wrong, but they’re welcome to their opinion.  People buy accumulation systems too – and most often, they want to improve their efficiency, to get more output out of their factory.  A properly installed and operated accumulator can help facilitate efficiency improvement.  Some people in a plant, efficiency is not even on their mind, but quality is.  If you’ve got a product that doesn’t like to be compressed, doesn’t like to sit on a conveyor while it’s moving and get wear on the bottom.

You can put in an accumulation system and depressurize the whole line.  Suddenly, you’re making a better product just because of the accumulator.  I contend that putting an accumulation system of some form and fashion in between operational centers is better than joining those centers with traditional conveyor because when you put in traditional conveyor, you create challenges.   “Okay, I’ve got to put in a little extra because I need a little room.  Now I’ve got to control all of that.  Oh well, I’ve got to add line lubrication with all of that.”  Suddenly, you’re solving problems that you’ve created yourself. 

You can also put an accumulation system in and not only can you bring machine centers closer together, which can affect your staffing levels and all sorts of things, but you bring these machines closer together and you can break what, in my opinion, is one of the most costly things in factories today and that’s the harmonics that go on between machine centers.  Machines that, they just can’t get in synchronization.

Q.  I know you have developed several types of buffering systems, talk about the thought process that led you to develop a flat system after having developed several vertical systems? 

My first accumulator was a vertical one, and then I developed a spiral accumulator, which has had a good run in the market with several thousand installations. But about 5 years ago, I began to recognize that the market was moving beyond the capability of those machines.  It stands to reason that you can only run a product around a curve and uphill so fast, and beyond that, the laws of physics say you can’t do it anymore.  The advent of unstable, tapered and odd shaped bottles has only made conveying and accumulating vertically more difficult.   The drive to build a flat system with all of the benefits of the spiral system and few of the challenges was really driven by what I heard from customers in the market.

Q. Vertical, spiral systems have had a good run, what are some of the challenges that manufacturers have had to live with prior to the release of the horizontal AdaptA system?

I have always enjoyed meeting customers, because for many years, I was one.  In recent years, I began to hear feedback on spiral machines that, “We don’t like the idea of our people climbing up in the machine,” and, as a person who has actually taken a tumble inside of one of those, I can attest to that.  I still have the scars to prove it.  People were saying, “I really don’t like the idea if I have a jam at the top of the machine that I end up with potentially hundreds of my product on the floor,” at which point, they have to be discarded.  Okay, flat machine.  One of the goals was to, if something happens, keep the containers on the machine, and not let them fall on the floor.  They’re unharmed and the floor is clear of glass or product.  So, I set out to solve the issue of high capacity accumulation in a flat format, which would be safer to operate and to maintain,  would reduce product damage and loss, and which could be accomplished with a less expensive, more standard chain.  Those were sort of the driving factors behind it.  Then I took it as a challenge too because I knew there had been flat buffering systems, but nobody had solved the puzzle…nobody had cracked the mystery of how do you do it and keep it pressure-less.  With AdaptA, we have.

Q. You’ve always been known for your candor.   So, now that we’ve seen you “in the buff” so to speak, what is one thing that you would like people to take away from this interview.

The World is Flat. (He smiles) 

With improved efficiency as its goal, BW Container Systems’ AdaptA multi-lane (ML) system provides pressure-less buffering and FIFO accumulation for both round and non-round containers.  It’s floor level design ensures ease of maintenance and less product breakage than traditional buffering systems. It’s pressure-less product flow allows the conveyance and accumulation of the most difficult to handle containers.

BW Container Systems’ AdaptA mini-buffer (MB) is designed to provide optimal line control and product flow from machine to machine.  Pressure-less conveyance, the elimination of micro-stops and the run out of critical machines such as shrink sleeve steam tunnels are all applications that allow the AdaptA MB to improve efficiency and throughput on the line as compared to traditional conveyors.

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