By: Rhys Rajan *
Incorporation of numerous automation technologies into packaging processes are becoming a widespread phenomenon. Most manufacturers are now assessing the value generated by the addition of new technology over a period of time instead of looking at it as a cost that may put red on their annual profit and loss statement. A recent survey conducted by the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies revealed that in 2017, around 94 percent of food packaging operations have incorporated robotics and are planning to increase their automation levels over the coming years. The increasing use of robotics in food packaging lines is primarily because of the looming shortage of skilled workers who can operate the equipment. The packaging industry has largely benefited from the adoption of automation technologies in their packaging lines. A report published by Adroit Market Research on global Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), the packaging market projected revenue generation of $703 billion in 2017. It is growing at a CAGR of 4.1 percent with food and beverage packaging sectors generating revenues of approximately 450 billion in 2017.
Automation in Food Packaging: Its Need and the Outcome
The rapid growth of the food packaging industry is mainly attributed to the expansion of robotic automation capabilities in recent times. Industrial robots which offer enhanced flexibility and efficiency have allowed packaging plants to introduce new products on the same assembly lines. The process of weighing, feeding and bagging food products have been rendered more efficient and accurate with the introduction of automation. Automation in these areas has positively affected the economies of scale, quality control, standardisation of products, and several project management solutions. Enhanced economies of scale have allowed manufacturers to provide their clients with superior products at the lowest possible market prices. By creating alliances with reliable automated packaging suppliers, manufacturers around the world are constantly upgrading to automated equipment technology. Furthermore, automated packaging lines ensure adherence to different regional quality control standards thereby resulting in a flawless product. Maintaining sanitation in food packaging and adhering to the highest levels of cleanliness on the packaging and production lines is of prime importance.
Automated packaging in terms of weighing, feeding and bagging has proven to be a benchmark tool for achieving all the quality standards. Packaging companies are relying on automated options that meet the client’s needs at the project management level instead of merely providing a service. By streamlining services, automated packaging reduces costs and limits the error margins. Such a paradigm shift has been enabled by continual innovations offered by the players in the automation market. One such innovation worth a mention here is being offered by Automated Packaging Systems, Inc., a U.S. based automated packaging solutions provider, where the company has rolled out two new machines which offer high-speed productivity, i.e. the Autobag 500 and Autobag 550 baggers. These machines have a cycling speed of up to 45 bags per minute and were designed to maximise machine up-time at a lowered total cost of ownership.
Integration of Related Technologies in Automated Packaging Processes
The advancements in packaging materials such as; the use of lightweight and cost-effective materials like polyethylene have led to the development of automated packaging line designs to enable effective packaging of the products. The advancements in rotary impulse sealing systems which allow vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) polyethylene packaging of fresh food products have led to the reduction in product wastage and optimised product transfer. Increased bagging speeds offered by VFFS in polyethylene packing systems, such as tna robag FXIS 3ci offered by tna packaging and processing solutions, an Australia based packaging solutions company, allows an optimal speed of 150 bags per minute as compared to the conventional polyethylene machines which offer 70-80 bags per minute.
Variable Sized Packaging Solutions
The packaging of fresh produce presents numerous difficulties in terms of handling, food protection and shelf life. Speed is the key factor when transporting fresh produce as they have a short life-span. Automated operations improve the shelf life by aligning the filled bags accurately, resulting in consistent closure. Furthermore, variation in pack sizes with an increased focus on catering to the single person household demographic has led to the surge in convenient, single-serve formats of packaged food. The size variation complexity has further increased when seasonal and promotional offers such as ’40 percent extra’, are being run on the production lines. Automated packaging allows for quick and efficient accommodation of weighing and feeding limits while ensuring high operational efficiency effectiveness (OEE) and compliance with stringent safety regulations imposed by major retailers and industry bodies. Increased productivity is another benefit presented by the adoption of automated weighing, feeding and bagging lines as these are designed to address the wider inefficiencies. The shortage in staff has resulted in an escalated demand by manufacturers for packaging lines that offer intuitive maintenance, convenient integration, and enhanced flexibility to fluctuating manufacturing demands.
Therefore, Automation in Weighing, Feeding, and Bagging is the Solution
The implementation of a fully automated packaging system allows the manufacturers to eliminate a substantial level of the workforce on the production lines. Automated production lines and decreasing the workforce interactions can reduce the margin of error that might occur during the weighing, feeding and bagging process. In industries such as poultry and meat, the main focus is on the maintenance of sanitation and food quality. The automation of these processes can help to reduce the risk of product contamination. Budget reduction and scaling up of production is the primary driver of automating food packaging process globally. The food packaging companies will continue to integrate robotic automated systems to their production lines in order to accelerate and streamline the entire packaging processes. Furthermore, the adoption of automated lines will also receive tremendous impetus from the enhanced safety and performance of the workers that it offers. Therefore, as technological developments unfold, the automated process for weighing, feeding and bagging of food will continue its forward momentum.
* Research Analyst at Adroit Market Research