Go fourth

8 September 2017



Future factories, NFC-enabled communication and the merging of technology with big data all have great potential, but what tangible benefits has industry 4.0 provided so far, and how can these be further exploited? Sonia Sharma looks at how brand-owners are getting ahead in the new economy.


Changing consumer demands, advanced production processes and the rise of ecommerce are fuelling rapid development within the packaging industry. It is a challenging time for UK manufacturing, which has some of the lowest productivity levels among industrialised nations. However, progress is being made towards combatting these challenges, particularly where industry 4.0 is concerned. What is often referred to as the ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’ has been hailed as the future of productivity and growth within this sector.

The industry is being transformed by recent technological breakthroughs. For example, the Ethernet – either in cable or wireless form – is connecting machines in order to provide information more efficiently for an enhanced user experience. This drives manufacturing, enables smart packaging and contributes to deeper consumer engagement.

Automation-driven technology – such as data exchange, the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing – are transforming manufacturing and distribution processes, and creating ‘smart factories’. Technology is helping to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process by enabling machines to connect and communicate independently, with no human input.

Cloud-based systems

Mobile and cloud technologies are already very present. They are changing and improving how businesses engage with their software applications; however, the reality of a digital enriched factory has yet to reach the physical production line for many food manufacturers. This may be about to change with the launch of a suite of practical services from Tetra Pak. The company unveiled a new suite of digital systems that harnessed digitalisation potential to help manufacturers optimise operational efficiency and reduce food safety risks at the 2017 Hannover Messe exhibition in Germany.

In order to realise the potential of big data analytics, the company has partnered with Microsoft to develop a cloud-based predictive maintenance platform that can help manufacturers identify critical failures before they occur. Tetra Pak’s vision can be broken down into two core components: a cloud-based data-monitoring platform that enables manufacturers to identify potential failures, and new communications equipment that empowers service members when performing maintenance tasks on-site.

“Tetra-Pak worked intensively with Microsoft for 18 months,” says Johan Nilsson, the packaging firm’s services vice-president. “These things typically start as an exploration of an idea before they turn into a real project, because you work with the unknown a little bit.”

Microsoft’s Azure condition-monitoring platform uses a combination of historical and real time performance, error and service data collected from IoT-enabled sensors to track how machines are operating along client production lines. Using uniquely developed machine learning algorithms, Tetra Pak systems can calculate the remaining usable lifetime of components and predict failures a month in advance.

When real-time performance data begins to deter from optimal levels, Tetra Pak can use the information to advise clients of their maintenance needs in a more timely and effective way, allowing them to order parts in advance, schedule service events, and better manage foodsafety risks during production downtime.

The information collected can also be accessed and updated by on-site service members. Using a smartphone, workers can add issues and solutions to maintenance logs, which can then be accessed during future service events.

“If a service member has a quality problem or a technical issue,” explains Nilsson, “they log that issue and what they did. The next person who has a similar problem then starts with the knowledge of the previous one and can use that knowledge of [whether or not] that problem was created or solved.”

Armed with the Microsoft-powered HoloLens mixed-reality headset, on-site service members in remote locations can use Skype to contact one of Tetra Pak’s global specialists when performing maintenance tasks.

“Tetra Pak customers operate in a complex landscape in which quality is essential and production lines are sophisticated,” says Nilsson “Using the HoloLens, customers around the world can now access a whole network of specialists, wherever they are, through the Tetra Pak service engineers. This completely transforms the delivery of support and enables quick resolution of quality issues. Anyone who runs a manufacturing plant today, no matter what they manufacture, is aware of industry 4.0 and IoT.

“Many are aware of buzzwords, but don’t really know what they mean. They know that something is going to happen to them and think that they need to be part of the journey. I think we’re still in the situation where our imagination is causing more limitations than the technology.”

Stay engaged

The right smart connectivity, such as a mobile app, will give employees access to all historic customer interactions, quickly enabling them to check, update and share real time information on the go, while having every valuable insight at their fingertips. Mobility means that any issues or opportunities are seen to immediately.

Consumer engagement through NFC-tag-based connectivity was seen recently in the beverage arena when Absolut-owned, coconut-flavoured alcohol brand Malibu launched two smart packaging solutions, one of which allowed bar-goers the ability to order a refill without having to leave their chairs.

The Coco-nect cup uses IoT to communicate with bar staff; drinkers can place their next order simply by twisting the base of the cup, eliminating the need to wait in a queue. After the base of the cup has been twisted, the drinker’s exact location in the venue is triangulated, and then constantly tracked by bar staff.

A light on the bottom changes colour when the drink is being prepared, which then starts flashing to help bar staff identify the right person when the drink is ready. Developed in partnership with IoT agency SharpEnd, the Coco-nect is a drinks-industry first and makes use of existing Wi-Fi and RFID technology.

Deborah Nunez, global marketing brand manager at Malibu, says, “Traipsing to a crowded bar to face a lengthy queue for drinks can put a real dampener on social get-togethers, and research shows that ‘fear of missing out’ can be a real frustration for young people who don’t want to miss out on the fun of the party.”

According to SharpEnd founder Cameron Worth, “NFC is a passive ‘tag’ technology that sits on a product. When an NFC-enabled smartphone comes into contact with a product, the tag ‘wakes up’ and launches a URL directly in the browser on the phone. This is where consumers might access competitions, mix-cloud playlists and bar locator apps.

“There are other uses of NFC but, for now, SharpEnd sees launching URLS serving as their main purpose for connecting brands to consumers. The company will be announcing results shortly, but can already say that it has proved NFC to be an intelligent choice for product packaging as a way of digitally connecting with consumers.”

Driving brand loyalty through IoT technology is increasingly popular, says Worth: “Malibu is a brand targeted at digital natives, and they are embracing the bottle as a media platform to engage this group in a new way.

“Serving personalised content with seamless technology improves the relationship consumers have with an otherwise passive product and allows brand-owners to be more in tune with what sort of additional experiences they might be after.”

“The eventual goal is to have connected bottles as a global initiative that markets can activate on a local level. NFC offers the best user experience for engaging with smart packaged products.

“Once the iPhone opens NFC capabilities, we’ll see more brands coming to market with the same sort of technology offering, and this will hopefully create a critical mass ahead of the technology becoming a mainstream ‘thing’.”

It is not only the food and beverage industry that can benefit from smart engagement. Cosmetics is another arena in which industry 4.0 is being used. Dr Liz Wilks, director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement Europe at Asia Pulp and Paper, says,“As smart-packaging features such as NFC and IoT become more advanced and commonplace, there is growing opportunity for these to be incorporated into packaging for FMCGs such as cosmetics.

“By offering the consumer a host of additional features, these can offer a greater incentive to consumers to buy the real deal. For example, NFC technology can increase consumer interaction by offering a wealth of user content. By scanning NFC chips embedded in packaging, consumers could gain access to tutorial videos, make-up looks and details of complementary products, providing the consumer with an incentive to buy the authentic product rather than cheaper counterfeit goods.

“IoT, however, can sense when a product is running low or nearing its expiry date and actively sends a notification to the consumer’s smartphone to prompt them to renew the product.

“As well as providing a useful service for consumers, this has the additional benefit to brands of encouraging more regular purchases from consumers.”

Developing digitalisation

Digitalisation of manufacturing stems from working towards more streamlined and efficient processes, according to Trakrap’s CEO, Martin Leeming. “Industry 4.0 is about the pursuit of operational effectiveness, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and the ability to achieve mass customisation at mass manufacturing prices,” he comments. “It is also about approaching things differently, introducing higher levels of automation and connectivity, and making better use of big data.

“Done well, industry 4.0 significantly improves the industrial processes that are involved in manufacturing, engineering, material use, asset performance and management. However, it also makes significant new demands of the supply chain, including packaging.”

Customers are demanding higher levels of responsiveness, mass customisation and product availability, which increases pressure on inventory. Adding industry 4.0, and its focus on flexibility and seamless changeovers, to this mix means that a huge variety of items are entering the supply chain faster, each of them requiring packaging for transit.

Cost of success

“The problem extends beyond packaging to machinery,” notes Leeming. “One of the benefits that manufacturers seek from industry 4.0 is a reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) and an increase in OEE.

“TCO is not just the initial cost of a machine, it accounts for costs over the asset’s entire life cycle, from installation and deployment, to energy consumption and cost, to service and upgrade.

“This immediately raises questions about the suitability of some of today’s accepted packaging norms, such as the use of shrink tunnels, which consume energy at eyewatering rates.”

Leeming goes on to explain how the creation of a ‘digital twin’ allows extensive simulation and virtual development to take place before any metal is cut. Consequently, whole new operating platforms have been developed that have low energy consumption, reduced materials use and the flexibility to manage a wide variety of packs, as well as rapid changeover times and enhanced production speeds.

“The same digital twin then ‘lives’ in IoT,” says Leeming, “where it constantly monitors the physical twin to ensure each element is operating as it should.

“In the event of any issues, preventative maintenance is quickly identified and undertaken, and the problem of costly downtime is eliminated.”

Capitalising on an opportunity

Manufacturers must focus on development, and one of the ways they can achieve this is through industry 4.0; investing in technology and automation is the key to improving efficiency and productivity.

“Manufacturing machinery cannot be allowed to operate in a silo,” says Leeming. “It must be modular, smart and fully connected, capable of improving a manufacturing company’s packaging speed, and able to deliver customised products and effective, scalable production.”

Companies that are agile and alert will achieve higher productivity and better revenues. To remain truly competitive, packaging companies must use new technologies to their advantage – beyond the manufacturing process alone.

The fourth Industrial Revolution does not show any signs of slowing down; in fact, it has firmly cemented itself as a trend that is here to stay.

Investing in the latest automation technology is key to unlocking the benefits of industry 4.0.
Malibu uses NFC technology to digitally connect with its customers.


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