Packaging for the Future

Packaging for the Future

Automating the packaging process in a made-to-order world brings inherent challenges but with challenge comes opportunity for innovative OEMs and end users. Independent cart technology answers the call for a better way to manage the high-mix and agile packaging needs of the future

Consumer demand for different sizes, shapes and flavors has completely changed the way consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand owners and manufacturers produce and package their goods. The Amazon Effect – the ongoing evolution and disruption of the retail market – has an unquestionable impact on how retailers go to market. However, the underlying movement of changing consumer demands and expectations goes far beyond brick or click shopping habits.

Manufacturers are equally pressured to produce and package high-mix and low volume products as demand for specialization and variety packs continues to increase rapidly.

Lost revenue from lengthy changeovers

Imagine there are a dozen products running through the same packaging line. A product may run for a few days, then the hours-long changeover process takes place, causing all work in progress to stop before the next product has its turn. This practice often means building up a month’s worth of inventory for each product because it could be that long before it gets time back on the line again.

Unfortunately, this scenario is too common in manufacturing plants around the world. Living with lengthy changeovers is something producers do, due to the given budget constraints and legacy systems. Through an army of delta robots, a variable pitch infeed and a couple of smart valves, most machines in operation today can expand pack sizes, from six to 12 to 24. It takes a while for the changeover, hurting productivity, but it is possible.

With the Amazon Effect however, you may need a variety of flavours in each of those six, 12 or 24 packs. From here, things get manual, really fast. Leading CPG companies and local producers alike are finding themselves literally unpacking single product packs and manually repacking into rainbow packs. Spare a thought for the packaging waste and lost revenues. The already critical challenge of finding workers is compounded by needing even more manual labor.

As OEMs you have an opportunity to solve these challenges for your customers using efficient, agile and intelligent automated packaging solutions.

A smarter solution

Now is the time to take a stand against the need to unpack in order just to repack. You no longer need to modify and retrofit for each change in consumer behavior. There is a smarter way and it starts with thinking ahead, educating up front and being a business enabler – not just a packaging equipment manufacturer.

The answer is a modular, scalable linear motor system. Proven systems like independent cart technology (ICT) are smart alternative to the throughput and physical limitations of existing mechanics. The MagneMover® Lite system from Rockwell Automation is helping higher-SKU operations efficient by moving payloads faster in a more flexible way than traditional conveyors do today.

This flexible system can now move heavier products and support larger-scale applications. It also reduces downtime because it allows for changeovers with the push of a button and no mechanical intervention.

The MagneMover® Lite system features new wheeled cart options that give users five-times greater carrying capacity than sliding carts for heavier products. The single and tandem-wheeled carts can carry payloads of up to 2.5kg and 10kg, respectively. This allows producers to scale up from one product size to another without the need for multiple machines to produce and package their product varieties.

For larger scale applications: Using Ethernet-enabled motors and Ethernet-based node controllers to replace serial communications allows users in high volume industries to improve layout flexibility and run hundreds of carts per path, while requiring fewer node controllers. The MagneMover® Lite system is ideal for larger applications using long paths with high switch and cart densities.

“Machine builders and manufacturers that have seen how this technology can reimagine manufacturing, assembly and packaging operations have been keen to do more with it. It supports bigger payloads and delivers even better performance. And it can scale applications up to previously unseen sizes,” said Neil Bentley, director of product line management, Rockwell Automation.

Product tracking from process to packaging

For manufacturers moving closer to highly personalized options, the ability to individually track products from process applications through packaging is critical.

Imagine a scenario where a manufacturer offers online ordering of custom personal care or household goods. Whether regulatory requirements apply, the success of that initiative depends on the manufacturer’s ability to consistently deliver the correct product or product combination to the correct consumer.

Because ICT is based on establishing and maintaining carrier position at all times, it intrinsically creates a high-fidelity track-and-trace record to ease the process. For products that must meet regulatory requirements, this functionality can also streamline validation and compliance.

Indeed, intrinsic track and trace capabilities also open new avenues of efficiency for industries that traditionally have not used automation. For example, what if a customer could select every ingredient for a rice bowl or noodle dish online, and then have the custom, packaged entrée delivered to their door?  It is happening today, with ICT. 

The future is here

Consumer demand for specialized products is on the rise. This is showing no sign of slowing down as the trend towards smaller households continues to spur the growth in single-serving offerings. In addition, a heightened demand for convenience has prompted the emergence of more multi-pack options. For OEMs, this trend means that your packaging needs to perform differently than ever before.

The reality is that most packaging lines are simply not equipped for rapidly changing demand and producers are finding themselves in a highly manual conundrum of delivering in this mass customization environment without the proper automated packaging solutions to make it cost-effective.

Thankfully, technology has the answer. Independent cart technology can deliver the productivity and flexibility that today’s manufacturers are craving. The world continues to evolve and the future is here and now. This may seem daunting to producers with conveying systems that are struggling to keep with rapidly changing consumer demand but your OEM is here to help. A modular, scalable linear motor system can help your business and your customers, prepare for today and tomorrow.

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