5 trends dominate at PACK EXPO
PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022, McCormick Place, Chicago) drew more than 44,000 attendees, surpassing the attendance recorded in 2018.
That was the last in-person edition of the packaging and processing show, produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
Exhibitors and educational sessions were strongly focused on automation, cybersecurity, integration, service and sustainability.
Automation ranks high on the wish list of many end users because it can boost productivity while offsetting labor shortages and meeting challenges posed by the growth of e-commerce. The Future of Automation in Packaging and Processing, a recent report published by PMMI, highlights how consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are automating to enhance and optimize production, storage and distribution processes. The use of robotics is rapidly expanding due to lower prices, easier programming, the development of sanitary, washdown-compatible designs, and the potential to enhance worker safety by assuming tasks requiring repetitive motion or heavy lifting.
Distancing workers from the process also reduces interaction with the product and minimizes the risk of operator-related contamination. In addition, advances in end-of-arm tooling designs enable gentle handling of delicate, nonuniform products at high speeds. New pricing options like robotics-as-a-service cut lead time, simplify deployment and eliminate upfront costs.
Automation often involves connecting systems to allow remote access. Although available for some time, the use of remote access exploded as the pandemic shut plants to outsiders. Although packaging lines are more accessible now, interacting via remote access has not slowed down because troubleshooting and repairing equipment without a field service call cuts downtime and saves money. Unfortunately, granting access to systems can open the door to malicious attacks.
To help end users protect their operations, the Digital Transformation Workgroup of OMAC — The Organization for Machine Automation and Control has developed a series of cybersecurity documents including The Practical Guide for Remote Access to Plant Equipment and Security Considerations for Remote Access. Other PMMI resources include Cybersecurity: Assess Your Risk and Bridging the IT-OT Gap on Cybersecurity.
Several PACK EXPO International exhibitors showcased integration capabilities by linking machines to create packaging systems or, in some cases, entire lines from primary packaging to palletizing. Selecting one OEM to provide a turnkey system/line streamlines design, purchase, installation and startup can overcomes gaps in in-house knowledge and manpower.
Along with assuming bigger roles in integration and cybersecurity, OEMs are expanding service offerings with particular attention to predictive maintenance and downtime prevention. Tiered plans allow end users to pick the level of service that best suits their needs. Plans typically include multiple service visits that are timed so wear parts can be replaced proactively. Some service plans also include training options.
Sustainability continues to command attention with demands being met by new environmentally friendlier materials, replacement of currently unrecyclable multilayer materials with recycle-ready mono-material substrates, adoption of returnable/reusable packaging, increased levels of recycled content, equipment that consumes fewer resources and waste- reduction efforts including diversion of food waste to productive use. For produce products, suppliers are developing compostable packaging, which typically is made from renewable materials and reduces the use of plastic.
A report from PMMI and AMERIPEN, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, the 10-Year Packaging Materials and Sustainability Compass, forecasts how material choices will shift in the next three, five and 10 years as well as anticipated legislative changes.
Meanwhile, to counter the criticism being leveled at conventional plastics, entities such as the PET Recycling Coalition are working to improve collection and sortation along with developing recycling methods that would achieve a true circular economy for plastic packaging.
On the equipment side, OEMs are engineering systems that consume less energy and reduce waste with more efficient startup and better handling of sustainable materials. In addition, OEMs and end users are beginning to calculate the carbon footprint of their machines to drive improvements and provide a metric for comparison. Moving up to the plant level, there’s a concerted effort to conserve power and water, maximize the efficiency of pneumatic systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Learn more at pmmi.org and packexpo. com.