Change is coming: global machinery trends in packaging

7 September 2018

Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president of market development at The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI), discusses the state of the industry, focusing on research conducted by PMMI into global trends for packaging machinery in its market-leading report, ‘Vision 2025’.

In 2017, the largest industry was food with 40% of the total market, followed by beverages at 30%. The pharmaceuticals industry is forecast to be the fastest-growing market by 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1%. This will be followed by the beverages sector, which is expected to have a CAGR of 2.8%.

In 2016, the two largest machinery markets were for filling and dosing; and labelling, decorating and coding, which accounted for 20.7% ($7.6 billion) and 12.6% ($4.6 billion) of the industry, respectively.

The ‘Vision 2025’ report published by The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) noted a popular sentiment throughout the packaging community: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

According to input from more than 58 consumer packaged goods (CPG) professionals, some familiar fundamentals are fuelling new approaches to industry challenges, including changing consumer demands and their impact on the internal production operations of CPG companies (CPGs), and the increased collaboration between CPGs and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). These factors have brought about change in the packaging sector for a long time, but today’s solutions feel very fresh.

Consumer conditions

When we talk about the core fundamentals, what exactly do we mean? Changing consumer demands can refer to several factors. Firstly, increasing calls for greater convenience and the dwindling tolerance of delays in gratification continue to create challenges for manufacturers. What do consumers want now? The answer: a diverse range of products, easy-to-use packaging and single servings top the list. As a result of these demands, there has been a rise in the meal kit market, with players like Blue Apron and HelloFresh offering consumers the experience and nutrition of a homemade meal, without the hassle of searching for recipes and shopping for ingredients.

Thanks to changing consumer habits, manufacturers require increasingly flexible, multifunctional equipment to allow quick and efficient changeovers, as well as short product runs. Over time, we’ve seen an increased demand for user-friendly human machine interfaces (HMIs), tool-less equipment changes, modular components and clean-in-place (CIP) capability. These attributes reflect the need for allergen controls, waste reduction and compliance with the US Food Safety Modernization Act. In short, this combination of challenges has spurred the need for a new balancing act, especially for ready -to-eat products that have complicated requirements for space and logistics. The bottom line is that increased complexity in the supply chain adds cost. Manufacturers seek solutions to reduce complications where they can, implementing ‘one voice’ programmes to get all departments on the same page, particularly for bringing marketing closer to production operations, thus overcoming the potential for strained relations. By drawing departments closer together and boosting collaboration, these companies hope to attain agility.

OEM and CPG collaboration

The need for greater collaboration extends beyond CPG departments. While manufacturers have always depended on OEMs for critical solutions and expertise, the need for partnering continues to grow as the challenges become more complex and standard operating procedures default to an increasing number of short runs.

When asked what the ideal arrangement between CPGs and OEMs would look like, focus groups that participated in the ‘Vision 2025’ report’s research listed several points, such as having both parties come to the table on a project early in the design phase. CPGs would also like OEMs to help them manage the operating costs of their equipment, provide transparency, integrate with other parties regarding the development of a project, innovate with CPG input, and provide training and parts support after making the sale. Additionally, CPGs would like OEMs to act as true partners and think ahead to foster strategic improvements.

The height of innovation

While the core approaches seem broad and long standing, the technological evolution and industry initiatives they fuel may seem more contemporary. The need to meet changing and diverging consumer demands prompts innovation across a wide range of equipment, materials and processes. Many of the CPGs that participated in the PMMI report cited advances in additive manufacturing and 3D technologies, particularly in thermal form filling. In addition to the need for CIP-ready solutions, sophisticated automation, equipment compatibility with new materials, tool-less changeovers and modular components, CPGs also require self-learning and monitoring attributes from their equipment as they embrace the industrial internet of things.

On the materials and containers front, CPGs need solutions for consumerfocused ‘handheld food’; the attributes of preservatives, in order to compensate for foods that are free from these; connected packaging for track-and-trace solutions that address challenges presented by ecommerce; and options to improve label-stock variety. Meanwhile, process improvements may include the adoption of phone apps for robust marketing relating to ecommerce, the use of metadata for better understanding consumer demands in retail environments and transport innovations that improve on automated-guided vehicles.

Technological developments

Since the days of computer-integrated manufacturing, manufacturers have aimed to connect machines enterprise-wide. Today, the next generation of this initiative, industry 4.0, could provide companies with a more unified view of their manufacturing operation by leveraging big data and better HMI. However, widespread implementation depends on whether suppliers can clear up manufacturer confusion. CPGs perceive challenges around interoperability, data integrity and the oversupply of unnecessary features. But there are many benefits to be gained from industry 4.0, including the identification of weak points and detecting issues early with self-auditing. Some CPGs are even looking to augmented reality for troubleshooting and training.

Smart packaging lines can improve traceability, uptime and quality, while reducing running and ownership costs. Most of the benefits come from having an integrated component and control platform that allows the seamless exchange of data between devices and a control system. Having access to this component level data is one of the key factors in realising the benefits of an industry 4.0 system.

Even if some data is available with older equipment, it is typically just a binary on/off indication – either the machine is working or not and the sensor can or cannot detect something. There is often no granular information that could indicate if a machine is operating at less than full capacity, because of increasing wear on the motor bearings or if an optical sensor is getting dirty instead of breaking altogether.

So, capturing that data electronically is a good first step. This may require changing a working process to make sure that the data is logged correctly and not just scribbled illegibly in paper form or, in the case that the data has already been captured by the equipment, connecting the machine to a high-level IT domain or analytical software. The equipment may need small technical upgrades to add sensors that capture operating data, convert existing analogue information into a digital format or implement a data communications module that enables remote data capture and control.

Once the basic data-capture process is in place, it is possible to start analysing the data to see how efficient the line is running and to identify potential bottlenecks in the process that would allow further efficiency improvements. It will also be possible to monitor a device’s condition, permitting preventative maintenance-type functionality.

Imagine that the labelling machine on your line has a small fault; the operators know that it needs to be adjusted every now and then to keep it running smoothly, but as it only takes one to two minutes to fix, they do not track it anymore. Over time, that could significantly impact the line’s efficiency. Having a good understanding of how well a packaging line is running can let companies prioritise investing in the parts that are least efficient, allowing them to develop a strategy for migrating their lines to enable smart, flexible production.

In today’s fast-moving markets, product runs tend to be shorter and more diverse. Lines that were set up for a single product, or that take a long time to changeover to a different one, can be significant causes of inefficiency. Retooling a line so it supports different products – or automates a changeover – can keep existing lines running longer and reduce the time lost when switching between items.

Whether a company is upgrading part of an existing line or building a new one, it is critical that all the machines communicate using standard protocols and common data sets. It is likely that new lines comprise components from various manufacturers, so making sure they all ‘talk the same language’ is essential.

OPC Unified Architecture (UA), for example, is an open and secure communications standard that is widely used for industry 4.0 applications. OPC UA is a cross-platform development of OPC (OLE for Process Control), which was first defined by a number of players in automation alongside Microsoft in 1995. OPC UA builds on the success of OPC Classic, offering a platform-independent solution that also includes model-based data handling.

In addition to communicating with each other, equipment on the line also needs to provide standard interfaces for operators. Standards like packaging machine language (PackML) define a series of modes, ensuring a common HMI and method for conveying important data between machines.

By having the data available in a common and easy-to-understand format, operators and production controllers can make more informed decisions about the status of a packaging line. Issues can be identified and fixed much faster. More importantly, smart systems can detect problems before they occur, allowing preventive maintenance to be scheduled to keep the line running.

Ecommerce offers most CPGs a promising future for rising sales, but many must experience growing pains while they find their footing in the digital space. For many companies, it is difficult to forecast demand on ecommerce platforms and overcome challenges concerning fulfilment and content verification, all while meeting sustainable packaging demands and retaining control over branding when products are repackaged for distribution by third parties. Some companies struggle to identify which of their products are best suited for ecommerce; frozen food manufacturers, in particular, are eager to understand how to get in the game.

Companies are looking to high-growth ecommerce markets like China, in order to solve these problems. They also aim to implement packaging technologies that respond to climate challenges and employ alternatives for fulfilment, including in-house sourcing and other third-party sourcing solutions.

Getting the right staff

Workforce shortages have plagued CPGs for years, as they battle negative images associated with manufacturing and the challenges presented by employee development. As the baby boomer generation plans to retire, the threat of a knowledge gap looms large; however, companies are making strides in recruitment and education to retain talent. These steps include carving out swift, individualised paths for growth among junior workers.

In addition, CPGs are working to make jobs more interesting for employees, connecting them with their work on a deeper level and increasing recognition for a job well done. Several companies advocate for training provided by technical schools or apprenticeship programmes that provide young workers with the opportunity to learn key skills on the job, but others report that union affiliation can sometimes prevent such creative solutions. Improving benefits and automating certain jobs are other measures businesses can consider.

Keeping pace with workforce development is a challenge associated with generational differences. CPG respondents reported that the management of expectations among their younger employees, along with the resistance to change from their older staff, were key hurdles. Measures to improve communication and collaboration include convincing emerging leaders to take ownership of their work and advocate for it, and increasing the use of technology and social media to connect different generations of workers.

Rapid technological changes and the encroaching retirement of baby boomers can seem overwhelming at times, but today’s most pressing challenges and opportunities are rooted in a few fundamental and long-term factors, which have been overcome before.

Figure 1. The growing global market for packaging machinery (in billions)
Figure 2. The global market for packaging machinery by machine group (in billions)

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