Automation in Packaging – Transforming the Industry
The trend is positive for the global Packaging Industry where figures are not easy to compile. But going through the data from various sources and research agencies, the picture is positive.
To find new and better ways to deploy robots to handle specific tasks.
A recent survey estimates the global packaging industry in 2016 amounted to US$ 424 billion with an annual growth rate of some 3.5 per cent. Europe accounts for US$ 127 billion (30%), North America for US$ 118 billion (28%), Asia for US$ 114 (27%), Central America for US$ 30 billion (seven per cent) and other countries for US$ 30 billion (eight per cent). According another report, the global packaging market is expected to show a steady growth and reach global revenue of around US$ 1 trillion by 2021. But figures apart, it is obvious that the industry is on the upswing.
Packaging is a technology that refers to the process of enclosing or wrapping of products for various purposes, such as storage, distribution, safety, and adding aesthetic value and protection from the external environment for sales. The Wikipedia describes it succinctly: ‘Packaging is the science, art and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use. Packaging also refers to the process of designing, evaluating, and producing packages. Packaging can be described as a coordinated system of preparing goods for transport, warehousing, logistics, sale, and end use. Packaging contains, protects, preserves, transports, informs, and sells.’
Packaging is one of the most automated industries and touches each and every industry as well as all aspects of human life. Depending on the actual requirements, there are a host o solutions in fully automated as well as semi automated machines and packaging lines. Together with the logistics segment with which it is closely linked, the packaging industry is also a significant source employment globally.
Automation – Transforming the Packaging Industry
According to Infiniti Research, a leading market intelligence company with a global presence, technological innovations have driven the packaging industry. At the same time, a new ARC Advisory Group research on the Packaging Machinery and Automation Market reveals that advanced technologies, such as robotics, the convergence of information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT), machine level analytics, and 3D printing are changing the business dynamics. “Robots are now used in 94 per cent of packaging applications, including sorting, orienting, case packaging, multi-SKU packaging, and palletising. This doesn’t mean that 94 per cent of all packaging lines are now ‘robotised’; it merely indicates that machine builders are embracing the technology and finding new and better ways to deploy robots to handle specific tasks,” says David Humphrey, Director of Research, at ARC Advisory Group Europe, and key author of ARC’s Packaging Machinery and Automation Global Market Research 2017-2022 report.
Infiniti Research has listed the following automation trends that have made packaging an efficient and less time-consuming task:
- The Connectivity Trend: Automation has helped integrate various functions involved in the packaging industry. It gives a clearer picture of the various sub-processes and plant conditions, which helps to optimise complex packaging processes and improve smart maintenance.
- End-to-end Digital Engineering: With the help of automation, most of the processes involved in the packaging industry have been digitised. The tasks that had to be carried out manually in the industry can now be done with higher accuracy with the help of automation. End-to-end digital engineering also helps identify errors in the processes and can be rectified immediately.
- Adaptive technology: There are various issues that a machine faces during its functioning. However, innovators in the packaging industry are constantly formulating new and efficient techniques to overcome such errors. Prefabricated software functions are now being used to prevent jamming on the packaging line. Recent research shows that the next generation packing machines will also be able to regulate and adjust the process speed and product handling phase automatically.
- Space Saving: Space saving has been one of the key automation trends in the packaging industry. Cabinet free machines not only assist in saving space but also help reduce machine footprint. The packaging industry is adopting a modular machine configuration that facilitates machine operators and customers to respond flexibly to different requirements. In a modular machine configuration, a single hybrid cable connects the individual modules, which can be easily integrated into the machine.
- Keeping it simple: The growing need to simplify diagnostics and maintenance is giving birth to more web-based service tools and innovative machine concepts. The ability of companies to integrate new machines or lines easily into existing systems is essential for them to adapt to the changing technology.
The Indian Scenario
All it took was the humble sachet and a locally made packaging machine to revolutionise the FMCG distribution in rural India, until then an undiscovered and untapped market with huge potential. MNCs soon discovered this and followed suit, after initially sniggering at the Re 1 unit price. The Velvette shampoo story is the stuff marketing legends are made of, and the rest, as the cliché goes is history. According to informed sources, approximately 70 per cent of the products sold in India are in small pouches, and the FMCG companies – from unorgansied as well as organised segments – are merrily tapping into smaller packaging, raking in the profits from the large volumes. From detergent powders, shampoo, hair oil, soaps, spices, tobacco, mouth fresheners and even pickles, small packages are very popular among rural consumers.
The Indian packaging industry constitutes about 4 per cent of the global packaging industry. While the organised retail and explosion in e-commerce offers huge potential for future growth of retailing, the packaging sector is a big gainer in the process. However, the per capita packaging consumption in India is still quite low at 8.7 kg, compared to countries like Germany and Taiwan where it is 42 kg and 19 kg respectively. But today the Indian Packaging Industry is highly competitive and offers solutions globally. Companies like Essel Propack Ltd, Ulflex Ltd and Cosmo Films Ltd are among the global leaders in the industry.
The Indian packaging market is expected to reach US$ 32 billion by 2020, according to N C Saha, Director, Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP), the national apex body of the packaging sector in India. IIP was set up in 1966 by the packaging and allied industries and the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, with the specific objective of improving the packaging standards in the country. The Institute is an autonomous body working under the administrative control of the Ministry of Commerce.
IIP endeavours to improve the standard of packaging needed for the promotion of exports and create infrastructural facilities for overall packaging improvement in India. This is achieved through the Institute’s multifarious activities which are today, in line with those of premier packaging institutes the world over. Headquartered in Mumbai, the IIP aims to make India a focal point for contemporary developments in art, science, technology and engineering, with respect to the field of packaging. With regional centres located at Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai, the IIP conducts major activities like Training & Education, Research & Development, Consultancy & Projects and Testing & Certification.
Another organisation, the Institute of Packaging Machinery Manufacturers of India (IPMMI) is an exclusive national body representing the packaging machinery manufacturers in the country. They cater to the need of the packaging industry covering package conversion, packaging line operations, packaging systems, online and end of line systems, ancillary machinery and equipments besides testing and quality control equipments. IPMMI has members spread across the country. The primary objective and activities of the institute is to create awareness about the technical standards, provide technical advisory services to the members and package user industries, promote safety standards and extend training and educational programmes to the packaging industry, besides publications. IPMMI also aims to liaise with industry associations and institutions - both within the country and overseas, in order to help its members to update on the latest trends in the industry. The IPMMI also organises national and international conferences/seminars and expositions to promote the capabilities of the members besides addressing to various industrial and fiscal issues.
The latest trend gaining momentum in the market is focus on sustainable packaging solutions. While plastic is widely used thanks to its many advantages of which the foremost is low weight per unit, glass and metal containers are making a comeback in certain categories, driven by environmental concerns. Even the flexible packaging industry is looking for biodegradable materials Consumer product manufacturers prefer various types of eco-friendly packaging designs and materials for supporting sustainable business operations. For instance, paper can be recycled up to seven times, thereby giving corrugated packaging vendors an advantage over other types of packaging product vendors. Thus, packaging vendors are focusing on the production of the packaging solutions, such as corrugated boxes, which are 100% recyclable.
Going forward, emerging technologies like Cobots and 3D printing or additive manufacturing are expected to play significant roles as the packaging industry continues to evolve with changing times, tastes and requirements.
Pix Robot: Robots are now used in 94 per cent of packaging applications. Photo credit: Kuka Robots
Pix Interpack1: A fully automated packaging line. Photo credit: Interpack/Messe Düsseldorf
Pix Interpack2: Cobots are now used increasingly in packaging applications. Photo credit: Interpack/Messe Düsseldorf
Pix Essel: Essel Propack is a global brand manufacturing aluminium & plastic laminated tubes, caps & closures.
Pix Velvette: The Velvette shampoo story is the stuff marketing legends are made of.
© 2017 IED All right reserved.