In the retail space, packaging is often the first interaction that customers have with the product. It’s effective not just in attracting the customer’s interest, but also in offering a tangible way to connect with the product and understand its many aspects.
Additionally, packaging is a way to establish a brand’s visual identity and enhance customer perception. A Paper and Packaging Board study revealed that nearly 72% of U.S. consumers believe packaging design to have a significant influence on purchase decisions.
With demand for consumer products witnessing a profound upsurge in recent years, efficient and robust packaging solutions are the need of the hour. One of the most important pillars of the packaging domain is the implementation of high-speed and high-throughput packaging equipment.
This equipment, also known as packaging machinery, is designed to develop a diverse range of packages of different sizes, shapes, and materials, depending on the product requirement.
The global packaging equipment market demonstrates significant potential across a vast industrial spectrum, including electronic devices, pharmaceuticals, personal care, chemicals, and food and beverage. Applications include inspection, filling, sealing, wrapping and labeling.
In the current retail landscape, outlets such as supermarkets, convenience stores, supercenters and more are expanding rapidly, ushering in new opportunities for innovations in the packaging industry. Furthermore, the emergence of the highly competitive e-tail sector is creating a surge in demand for innovative packaging solutions that will cater to evolving customer perceptions — which in turn will buoy the need for sophisticated packaging machinery.
In order to accommodate these surging expectations, the packaging equipment industry is rapidly turning to technology to develop innovative solutions for future-ready packaging. One of these solutions is automation.
In the modern era, technology is evolving at breakneck speed. Automation refers to the creation and application of technology toward monitoring and controlling activities associated with goods and services, from production to delivery. In essence, it refers to the digitization of tasks previously performed by human workers.
Automation spans a vast spectrum of technologies, including telemetry and communications, robotics and expert systems, cybersecurity, electro-optics, process management and control, sensors, and systems integration. A broad range of industries, including manufacturing, transport, utilities, facilities, defense and even information technology, are incorporating automation into their operational activities, and the packaging sector is no different.
Automated packaging equipment is an efficient way to streamline the entire packaging process. These machines are able to automatically fill, cap, seal, and label packages of varying sizes and shapes, without requiring human intervention.
Automated packaging machines are of two broad types, fully automatic and semi-automatic. While the functions of both types are fundamentally the same, semi-automatic machines require more human labor.
Businesses are rapidly recognizing the benefits of automating their packaging operations, and are incorporating these solutions into their packaging lines. PGP International’s California plant has implemented a new automated packaging line to make flour packing in valve bags quicker, safer and more power-efficient. The automated packaging equipment features a high-speed filling process, in-line ultrasonic sealing capacity and automated palletization and stretch-wrapping facilities, to ensure stability and safety of the packaged product, even during transit.
Automation of packaging machinery is carried out with the help of several aids, including human-machine interfaces (HMIs), motion-control devices and sensors, to control, supervise and enhance equipment efficiency in packaging lines.
Internet of Things (IoT) technology, intelligent or “smart” packing, and smart sensors are some of the technologies making significant strides in the packaging equipment landscape. Fully automated packaging machinery is taking hold across industries such as cosmetics and food and beverage, owing to the savings in time and labor.
Smart packaging is a promising new growth trend, demonstrating considerable potential in the global packaging industry. It’s characterized by the incorporation of a number of future-ready technologies, such as smart sensors.
Sensors help the machine to “understand” and “interact” with its surroundings. The aim of earlier versions of sensors was to collect information and perform simple decision-making processes, but modern smart-sensor technology can prepare, process and interpret the data it collects.
Today’s sensors no longer just sense, but with consistent digitization, they’re able to “think” as well. The data collected by smart sensors can be converted into valuable insights, which can help machines to perform complex tasks more efficiently.
Automation aids such as robotics and smart sensors are rapidly making their way into the packaging equipment landscape. PWR Pack, a provider of robotics-based food packaging solutions from the Netherlands, adopted 3-D technology in its packaging line to improve efficiency. The use of 3-D technology in intelligent vision systems allows for precise product supervision and correct label placement, and augments the quality-control process.
Implementation of industrial IoT (IIoT) in packaging machinery is gaining in popularity. This technology will not only boost the efficiency of packaging lines, but also open up new avenues for advanced machine-to-machine, machine-to-infrastructure, and machine-to-operator connections, paving the way to a more digitized future for packaging equipment within the next decade.
Saloni Walimbe is research content developer at Global Market Insights.
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