Unprecedented levels of packaging variety and complexity from consumer demand requires packagers take right approach to adapt and remain competitive
In response to increasing consumer demand for convenience products, today’s packaging lines are trying to accommodate unprecedented levels of package variety and complexity. However, without the right approach, this can result in higher operating costs, reduced throughput and increased operator risk. It is possible to avoid many of these pitfalls by incorporating innovative automation solutions to help increase line flexibility, reduce losses, and safeguard machinery and operators.
Product packaging is experiencing dramatic transformation in size and type. With one- or two-person households representing 61 percent of all U.S. households, packages that are sized to serve one or two people are becoming increasingly popular. Data from a PMMI Flexible Packaging Market Assessment Report reveals easy-open and resealable closures are on the rise, and more products are moving to flexible, retortable pouches. In fact, package variety is increasing at such a rapid rate that in the food processing industry alone, four out of five companies surveyed by PMMI reported having more than 100 product SKUs – and more than half predict SKUs will continue to increase.
More SKUs may offer added convenience for consumers, but those same SKUs pose significant operational issues for packaging lines that rely on outdated technologies and machinery lacking the modularity and automation necessary to accommodate these demands. These production lines experience more frequent, increasingly complex changeovers that take more time yet are necessary to manage a variety of products and smaller batch sizes. They also are forced to create suboptimal package designs that match their limited capabilities rather than designing the best package for customer or business need. As a result, these lines use more material than necessary and give away product through overfills. This combination of suboptimal designs and inflexible machinery also introduces greater opportunities for errors, which can lead to bad products that must be scrapped. Automation technology can help packagers better handle complex shapes and material joining and reduce potential for leaks and contamination inside machines that result in more nuisance stops and losses.
As operational complexity increases, packaging lines also must contend with more losses – both on the line and at the shelf. This added complexity – coupled with the pressure to maintain world-class throughput levels – can result in operational issues such as higher quantities of inaccurate fills and product scrappage, which can reduce profits and damage a producer’s reputation. Innovative technologies such as smart meter verification can help deliver more accurate, effective filling to ensure consumers are getting what they expect and producers aren’t giving away free product. Technology can also be leveraged to ensure accuracy of critical measurements, improve quality control, increase machine availability, and improve machine health and performance.
Line complexity also makes it difficult to ensure operator safety while meeting production demands. And when specific changes are made to improve a machine’s safety, interactions can become even more complex and time consuming – pressuring operators to bypass these measures and expose themselves to unnecessary risk. The resultant safety incidents can expose an operation to lost time incidents, agency fines, increased regulatory scrutiny, and many other additional costs. Mitigating and preventing these incidents is critical, and technologies such as zoned safety and power quality systems can help protect operators and machinery while maintaining production standards.
Although overcoming these issues can be challenging, the goal is clear. For packagers to meet consumer demands and remain competitive, they must adapt. As an automation provider, Emerson recognizes these challenges and can help packaging lines leverage powerful automation technologies that enable them to achieve more flexibility, reduce material waste and scrappage; improve productivity through more efficient machines and changeovers; and deliver quality products through a cost-effective approach.