Changes in consumer demand don’t only affect products, they also affect how they are packaged. Smaller production runs and changing trends call for more flexibility in packaging equipment. Sarah Falson reports.
Whether you are a manufacturer or producer of food, pharmaceuticals or another type of consumable, chances are your product needs packaging to keep it in optimum condition from the times it leaves the warehouse to the time the consumer takes it home.
Packaging is used for a number of reasons including to keep a product safe or sterile, to control portion size, to display ingredients and instructions, and to ensure it stacks easily and therefore makes optimum use of pallet, warehouse and retail shelf space.
With the sheer size of Australia’s packaged goods industries and the constantly-changing consumer demands for new and different types of products, manufacturers and producers have their work cut out for them. They expect a lot from their packaging machinery, most importantly flexibility, the ability to control quality, reducing lost time, efficiency and productivity.
ifm efector is a specialist in the supply of sensors, networking and control systems for use by a number of manufacturing and production sectors. According to the company’s managing director, Dave Delany, the issue of quality control is particularly prevalent as Australian manufacturers increasingly turn to smaller production runs.
“One machine that can package multiple products is a necessity, and set-up and quality control are both issues in these circumstances,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“For example: when a product’s physical size changes, it’s easier for damage to occur or the product to be missed, which results in an unhappy customer.”
For Delany, industrial imaging – in particular 3D sensors – are the latest technology providing a leap in the area of quality control, therefore helping small- to medium-sized businesses in particular become more flexible and more efficient with less material waste.
“Currently there are very basic sensors that detect a product, however these have a number of limitations and therefore errors still occur. The next option available is very expensive camera systems which are quite involved to set-up and require expertise to maintain,” Delany explained.
“We believe a game-changer in this area is the ifm 3D time of flight laser sensor. It uses thousands of 1mm laser beams to look at the product and produce a 3D image. The game-changing part is the very cost-effective price of $1,500, plus it doesn’t require any maintenance and is child’s play to set up. This solves the problem of quality control, as it doesn’t miss products and enables fast set-up of different product sizes and shapes.”
In Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) director, Burt Beaumont’s experience, new trends in product packaging mean the equipment manufacturers use to package their products needs to offer – above all – speed and efficiency.
“One of the big issues Australian manufacturers that use packaging equipment are facing is shelf-ready packaging, and therefore the increased speed required of downstream machines, including case packers and palletisers,” Beaumont told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“We find that for established businesses, OH&S and line efficiency are the main drivers that cause them to look at automation.
“We are also seeing an increase in the types of packing material used for primary packaging, which in turn causes machinery manufacturers to look at alternate technology to accommodate these newer forms of packaging – one of those being pouches in their many forms.”
According to Beaumont, beyond speed and the capability to handle a large range of sizes and pack variants, packaging equipment customers are also looking for service support, both local and remote, including built-in features like cameras and modems.
“Ease of size changeover is also rated highly,” he said.
The team at product coding, labelling and traceability solutions specialist, Matthews Australasia, is noticing an increased uptake of packaging equipment in the fresh produce sector, with some items which were once sold mainly loosely now being packaged.
“One of the difficulties for this sector is that many operators are buying equipment for the first time, so often they don’t know what they truly need, but they need a solution quickly. That tight time frame, without clarity on exactly what equipment, can be a challenge, because it can lead to short-term decisions being made that don’t necessarily benefit them in the long run,” Matthews Australasia general manager of operations, Mark Dingley, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“For instance, do they want to code directly onto film, which they can do with thermal transfer overprinting, or go with labels? And will those labels be pre-printed and then applied with in-line label applicator technology? Or do they need thermal direct/thermal transfer labels, placed on produce via label printer applicators? Do they need a weigh-price labelling system, to weigh, then label produce with information including the price? Or a weigh-labelling system, for weight-dependently pricing produce?”
Dingley advises addressing the processes and outcomes required, before looking at what technologies will meet those criteria.
“Our aim is to always go through a company’s business needs with them, and encourage them to look not only at their customers’ immediate requirements, but also to address longer-term needs too. Major supermarkets and distributors require suppliers to follow their specific standards in labelling, coding and quality rules for supply chain efficiencies – so sure, they need to provide produce with the labelling, coding and packaging that their customers demand – but we look at which technologies will best suit their business and meet customer demands.”
Matthews is launching a new product this month, the Mperia L-Series, which uses high-resolution thermal inkjet coding technology and a patented Lexmark delivery system to deliver print-quality labels at high speed, on nearly any substrate.
“Depending on the Mperia controller chosen, the system can grow with a manufacturer’s coding requirements,” explained Dingley.
“Because of its ability to add additional features as they’re needed, the manufacturer buys the core system once; they adjust the options to meet their current needs, knowing they can upgrade to cater for future needs, as they come about. For example, their immediate need might be a 12mm-high font, but six months down the track they might need 20mm.”