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The method of outsourcing shines bright in overcoming long established packaging industry challenges

Tony Hague

Much like in the Warehouse Automation focus published a few weeks ago, e-commerce has become a major influence on the trends driving the packaging industry, and the pandemic has moved the manufacturing outcome of these trends up a gear.

Before the pandemic, economic and demographic growth in emerging markets such as China and India were already accelerating. The global population continues to expand and in these emerging markets, increased consumer incomes are facilitating more spend on consumer goods and a desire to engage with global brands.

An aging population also plays its part. In key developed markets such as Japan, this is an outcome that puts more demand on the delivery of healthcare and pharmaceutical products. The knock-on effect for the industry isn’t just about demand though, it also drives innovation. Brands and packaging manufacturers are working to make packaging adapted to the needs of an aging population, including new ways to provide easy opening solutions.

Beyond economic and demographic growth, there are several key trends revolutionising the packaging industry and the manufacturing techniques and demands developed in conjunction. Sustainability tops the agenda for most manufacturers and the technology needed to be successful in these efforts is the kicker. The two are outlined below.

Sustainable packaging

Over the years, the packaging industry has adapted to increasing customer and consumer awareness around environmental concerns. It has resulted in a more scrutinous position that puts sustainability and regulation centre stage. The packaging industry has had to evolve at speed to ensure that it both operates in an environmentally friendly way, but also manufactures environmentally friendly solutions.

Three specific focus areas are presenting sustainability challenges for the packaging industry. They are design for recycling, upgrading recycling streams, and increasing recycled content.

Multi-material structures can be difficult to recycle in mechanical recycling processes, and packaging is fraught with them – the use of traditional laminate composite structures comprising of sealant film and polyester are typical. Design for recycling will look to value chain collaboration to increase recycling rates and maintain performance. It will result in new machine functionality and process innovation.

For industry to make a truly worthwhile impact on sustainability in packaging, new innovations need time to flourish. The time to innovate and support the changes in materials and disposal methods is difficult to find though, especially when demand doesn’t slow.

The outsourcing model offers an incredibly prosperous solution, giving packaging manufacturers a leg-up on sourcing that sought after time for innovation and R&D. More on that later.

Packaging automation

Productivity, precision, and quality control are ever-demanding principles built into the manufacture of packaging solutions. The move to automated production and inspection processes has started to mitigate any manual operation risk, reducing packaging recalls significantly.

The e-commerce renaissance we currently live in is applying more pressure on packaging to be structurally sound and durable to ensure goods arrive safe and sound.

Manufacturers have been investing a lot more in packaging production and quality control automation. By automating these processes, manufacturers are ensuring a maximum return on investment, time efficiency and of course, the loyalty of their customers and the end-user.

Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming production and creating new opportunities too. Traceability requirements from package production to the final product being placed on the retail shelf is becoming a familiar demand and Industry 4.0 is expected to play a critical role in ensuring the industry keeps pace. IoT sensors and devices allow brands to integrate diagnostic and indicator functionalities in their packaging, helping customers to engage in real-time to check a product’s condition.

The method of outsourcing shines bright in overcoming long established packaging industry challenges » 2019 11 PP Mech Fluid Hydraulics 2 2000px » PP Control & Automation

Similarly, the internet of packaging or Smart packaging is another term you may be familiar with. It brings technological disruption to traditional packaging and allows consumers to better connect with brands. QR codes, smart labels, RFID & Near Field Communication (NFC) chips, even AR functionality are technologies well-leveraged in packaging solutions today. They offer the value-added benefits of security, authentication, and connectivity, turning product packaging into data carriers and digital tools.

This is a unique time for the packaging industry and an interesting one for outsourcing specialists like PP Control & Automation. The need to follow sustainability trends relies on a blend of collaboration, innovation, and automation.

Over the years, PP C&A has become the first critical link in a supply chain that ultimately leads to the influencing of the very best end-application accomplishments. The packaging industry is no exception. Specialist machinery for inspection requirements, weighing, sealing, wrapping and feeding/reject systems are typical of the automated machines built for the packaging industry and  PP C&A works collaboratively with a number of World leaders in this sector – providing an optimised solution that meets their specific outsourcing requirements.

A challenging industry position needs outsourced support

Ultimately, the packaging industry needs to find time for, and apply more resource to areas such as R&D, new technology innovation and how to bring new machine solutions to market; all whilst keeping on top of demand for existing builds.

Maximising manufacturing output whilst developing new solutions is a challenge more common than you might think. This kind of scenario is where the method of outsourcing shines brightest.

Strategic outsourcing allows machine builders and OEMs to build more machines faster and better. The financial impact of revenue growth eclipses the singular focus on cost reduction to increase company profitability. Working with a strategic outsourcing partner also supports risk mitigation for the machine builder and creates greater speed and agility in new product development and launch – often critical in securing market share in a competitive and fast-moving marketplace.

Without having to find the time, people, and space to maximise manufacturing output and adapt to demand, machinery builders can better utilise their time and start to prioritise future trends. They can get ahead of the competition on environmental sustainability solutions that will ultimately unlock the answer to overall business sustainability.

Additionally, involving an outsourcing partner with vast DFMA experience and access to specialist industrial design & approval partners will continue to innovate existing machines. This will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the same phases being undertaken internally by R&D and design departments looking at innovative new solutions. Collaboration on multiple levels will be the key to succeeding in overcoming sustainability and the associated automation challenges.

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