Finding flexible automation solutions to meet mass customization needs at PACK EXPO 2019

As we get ready to kick off the trade show season with our first event, PACK EXPO Las Vegas, happening Sept. 23-25, 2019 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, we wanted to give you a preview of what to expect this year at the show and talk about a new trend that is happening in the industry: flexible automation.

Simutech Multimedia is proud to be exhibiting at the show dedicated to advancing the packaging industry and is the most comprehensive packaging event in North America in 2019. The PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, surveyed a number of food, beverage and packaging member companies to put together its Vision 2025 report.

The report finds that the new challenge of the day is to meet consumers’ expectations for tailor-made, personalization products. This “mass customization” refers to the ability to produce a high variety of custom products, but done so with the low unit costs more common with mass production.

Customers have been demanding more diverse and particular food and beverage products to meet different diets, lifestyles and preferences. Manufacturers have been responding by increasing the amount of SKUs they produce, using cleaner ingredients and delivering them in more sustainable packaging. Doing this requires a great deal of innovation across the board, from R&D to operations to logistics.

At PACK EXPO, expect to see more processing and packaging equipment designed with “flexible automation” to meet CPG manufacturers’ mass customization needs. Automation has been tapped for decades to produce products at low costs. However, what automation hasn’t been particularly good at is producing a wide variety of products. A common complaint with investing in automation is that it fixes a manufacturer into producing a lot of one thing.

With flexible automation, equipment and production lines are focused on smoothing out changeover bottlenecks and increasing uptime even when producing a great variety of products with different ingredients and package sizes. Processors producing a wide-variety of products, but less of them must perform shorter runs on productions lines putting pressure on rapid changeovers on high-speed, high-efficient lines. New machinery is being designed with these new uses in mind, such as “superblock” lines that are collapsible, expandable and interchangeable.

With the skills gap and labor pressures on CPG manufacturers, robotics is another area of particular interest. The new breed of collaborative robots, or cobots, is being seen as having great promise to food and beverage processors trying to solve production operations challenges. Cobots are also more flexible and can work alongside people, rather than the more traditional industrial robots that were high-speed, capable of doing only one or two jobs and requiring cages or other barriers to keep people separated from them.

That’s our PACK EXPO 2019 preview. We hope it’s inspired you to make plans to visit us at PACK EXPO in Vegas at booth 8171 (in the upper south hall).

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