The packaging sector has undergone significant changes in the last decade – from design innovations to an increased focus on sustainability, of both the process to make the products and the products themselves. Innovation in the packaging sector never stays still and Industry 4.0 is only increasing the rate at which transformations are introduced.

Digital changes are having an explosive impact on the paper and packaging sector, and if companies keep abreast of digital transformations, they can greatly improve their operational efficiency and advance consumer relationships. Two technological advancements which are already having a huge impact on the sector are smart packaging and robotics. Early companies to adopt these technologies are already experiencing wide improvements, including time and money saved.

Smart Packaging

Smart packaging may conjure up images of a milk bottle communicating with you like an AI assistant, but the reality of smart packaging is much more fascinating. Smart packaging can be divided into two categories: active packaging, which provides functionality like moisture and oxygen control, and intelligent packaging, which can communicate product changes and other information.

Many companies are already using intelligent packaging to track products journeys from warehouse to shop or customers’ homes. By using intelligent back-end technology, products are tracked throughout the supply chain, so if they are lost or misplaced, companies are notified immediately. Intelligent packaging is also improving customers loyalty – by placing QR codes and specialist barcodes on products, consumers can find out more about the item, such as nutritional information, brand story, product news, video tutorials, and personalised content.

More and more consumers are also becoming aware of the impact of food wastage and packaging companies are recognising this and acting. While your food won’t be talking to you any time soon, the days of the sniff test may be coming to an end. German data company, QuoData Gmbh is developing an app that will be able to accurately determine whether food or drink is still edible. Sensor labels will be in or on the packaging and will monitor certain variables to determine whether it’s time to bin the food in your fridge. Another company doing something similar is Timestrip. The technology business designs and manufacturers indicators that monitor elapsed time and/or temperature changes across food, pharmaceutical, and consumer products. Effectively the Timestrip helps reduce wastage, monitors component lifetime, delivers quality assurances, improves sales, and builds brand share.

By taking advantage of the technology available to them, companies can use smart packaging to improve their efficiency and customer loyalty and save themselves and their consumers’ money in the long run.

Robotics

When using a mix of technologies in manufacturing, complications can arise. In the past, manufacturers have kept a distance between their human workers and robots, but with the creation of superior artificial intelligence collaborative working between people and co-operative robots is increasing safety and productivity.

The co-operative robot market, also known as cobots, has an estimated 57% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between now and 2023. But, why is there such a huge amount of growth expected? The top six trends behind the rise, as outlined in the Evolution of Automation Report, are skilled labour shortages, global increase in product demand, rising demand for flexible manufacturing, need for consistent quality, decreasing operating costs and increased smart machine technology.

The uses for cobots are endless too, they can be implemented into a variety of industries such as packaging, plastics, electronics, metal fabrication, automotive and general manufacturing. Within the packaging and plastics sector, cobots have taken on repetitive tasks that tend to cause strain for humans, and dangerous tasks that involve working closely with other machinery.

A company that has effectively implemented cobots into its operation is Cox Container, a plastics blow moulding manufacturer. The business deployed a Rethink Robotics cobot in its packaging function to address challenges associated with labour shortages and offer high-quality jobs to its workers. By successfully applying cobots to their operation, Cox Container has reduced labour needs in one packing cell by 50% and freed up three full-time employees reassigned to more valuable and meaningful work.

When implementing cobots into their operation, companies need to ensure the application is correct. Get it right and they can save money, time and increase productivity.

The future

The packaging sector will continue to be shaped by external influences over the next 10 years which will increase the rate of digital transformations within the sector. Economic growth, consumer trends and brand owner trends will force packaging and paper companies to rethink their operations and adopt new technologies to succeed in an ever-evolving climate.

About Chad Harrison International

Chad Harrison International is a leading search firm offering a number of dedicated solutions from search, talent acquisition, interim management, leadership assessment and talent mapping. We offer both permanent and interim solutions at board level, senior specialist, and Executive level positions within Packaging, Built Environment, Chemical & Life Sciences and Mining & Metals.