There are distinct challenges within the sector. Being aware of them will allow you to optimize not only your production chain, but also your path to success.
The packaging industry is one of the most dynamic in the world, as it serves most industries and is a key element in the marketing chain. Each product is now designed with packaging that guarantees that the product reaches the user in optimal and healthy conditions. In the case of food, it is also a barrier to light and biological contamination. It is an element of storage and display on the product shelf, it is an element of traceability and it is a source of information and assurance for the consumer.
The packaging is a brand vehicle. In many cases, that’s part of it. Let’s think, for example, of soft drinks and their distinctive packaging. It is a very important sector for the economy. In 2010 alone, it represented 1.5% of the gross domestic product of Argentina and Mexico, in the latter it represented 8.5% of manufacturing GDP and included 8.8 million tons of packaging production; of which 37% is glass, 17% plastic, 12% wood, 27% paper and cardboard and 7% metal packaging.
In 2010, Mexico bought $500 million worth of packaging machinery and parts. This puts the country in the top 10 places as a machinery importing country. Given its dynamism, this industry is constantly facing new challenges.
The packaging industry today faces a series of challenges that can be classified into four major groups: productivity; innovation; regulations, standards and norms; and sustainability.
The economic crisis that began at the end of 2008 – and which, with small improvements and declines, continues to this day – forced companies to improve their profitability and competitiveness. The manufacturer strives to identify and remove waste. All activities that do not add value will be minimized and ideally eliminated.
Historically, there has been a tendency to over-specify equipment, with consequent over-investment and over-capacity, anticipating (and expecting) future growth. Today, on the contrary, we see a dangerous undersizing of equipment, considering the very short term and with special emphasis on the initial cost, since high flexibility is required to adapt to strong market changes at that time.
Today, the vast majority of factories measure the total cost of ownership (TCO) and carefully sign contracts with suppliers who are able to supply, customize, install, commission the equipment as well as maintain it in optimal conditions at the lowest possible costs. .
Measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), not only in terms of achieving high packaging speeds, but also in rapid presentation changes and reduced downtime is the new industry standard. You have to stay competitive!
Another feature required by the packaging machinery market is connectivity. Having an Ethernet port is already a must for all equipment, since it enables the collection of information and its delivery to computer systems that run online programs for production control, as well as monitoring, diagnosis and even remote repair or configuration of equipment.
In many cases, new equipment is used that is integrated into existing production lines to achieve this connection. This is the case of encoders that are traditionally placed at the end of packaging and packaging lines and that print out variable information, such as production batch or expiry date, but at the same time are now used as a feedback instrument on production volume for new computer systems. In this way, old production equipment is used, but real-time production information is available.
Finally, we see the need for new packaging equipment that allows the use of innovative packaging that optimizes the transport, storage and display of products, as is the case with the stacking and packaging of bottles that optimize, in a visually attractive way, the stacking of bottles. , enabling a greater number of stacked pieces, reducing space and transportation and storage costs.
Challenges of innovation
Innovate or die. It’s a challenge, but never innovate for the sake of innovation. Faced with changing times, we are experiencing drastic changes in consumer habits and purchasing habits that correspond to new demographics, new purchasing powers (sometimes reduced) and new distribution systems at our disposal.
This requires new designs, new ways of production and distribution. If there is an industry that is particularly affected by these changes, it is packaging, and manufacturers must respond to new challenges.
So, while previously familiar presentation was the norm for many products, today we see market segmentation leading to highly specialized individual doses for each segment. This change in individual doses also corresponds to demographic changes: many singles and elderly people living alone, for whom family presentation would mean both great expense and loss.
It was necessary to draft a standard (ISO 11156:2011) in order to face these challenges in an orderly manner. In addition, the challenges of the new economy, the crisis, have led to the substitution of packaging in order to reduce costs and maintain competitive prices in the market, so we see how it has evolved from traditional packaging, such as bottles and cans, to flexible packaging. such as those known as pouches, doypacks, stand-up pouches, which allow dispensers to be refilled or even eliminate their use.
In the case of cans and glass bottles, we see some substitutes for plastic containers that can be retorted, namely: flexible and heat-resistant containers that allow food products to be preserved for a similar time to canned goods.
A retort bag is a laminate composed mainly of three or four films, usually: polyester, aluminum, nylon and polypropylene, which provides one or more barriers (multilayers). This eliminates the need for refrigeration and can withstand aseptic processes at temperatures above 110°C. This allows us to offer new possibilities, differentiate the product (see the case of Isadora beans in Mexico) and new features such as the possibility of use in microwave ovens. However, the way we package, label, encode, store and distribute is changing radically.
A dynamic economy requires great flexibility and adaptability. It is a very interesting example of low-alcohol drinks (alcopops), which began to be marketed in standard bottles, but decorated with shrink wrap. In this way, the existing infrastructure, the availability of relatively cheap standard packaging and the new labeling technology, which made it possible to clearly distinguish the products, were used.
Finally, we strive to innovate to differentiate ourselves from the competition by providing highly engaging added value to the end consumer. An example is multi-peel packaging, packaging that can be closed and which allows optimal preservation of the product during consumption, which can sometimes last several days. For example, resealable snack bags, usually containing nuts and peanuts, that are not consumed at once and can be resealed to retain their freshness. The same case with boxes of premium cigarettes, which are resealed to prevent the tobacco from drying out and losing flavor.
A combination of innovation and increased productivity is the use of lids that can be peeled off, for example in yogurts, which eliminate the need for traditional lids, reduce material use and guarantee impermeability.
Challenges of regulations, standards and norms
Globalization and the free movement of capital have created new challenges for the packaging industry. It will now be necessary to comply not only with national regulations, but also with supranational regulations, standards and norms, where the penalty for non-compliance is the loss of a job or a strong erosion of profits.
Some industries are, by their very nature, highly regulated, such as the pharmaceutical and automotive industries. Pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers must identify and document each control system for validation purposes. The software included in each piece of equipment must be reviewed, tested, verified and documented.
More and more pharmaceutical manufacturers require software testing and validation before equipment delivery and revalidation at the time of delivery. Other regulations are generally applicable to most industries, such as the ISO 11156:2011 standard, which: “Provides a reference framework for the design and evaluation of packaging, so that more people, including people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the elderly, as well as people with sensory , physical and cognitive abilities weakened, can identify, manipulate and use the content.
What started as fashion and good wishes is now a social imperative, which, if not taken care of, can end up with the good prestige of a brand built up over the years or the loss of profitability due to the use of techniques that consume natural resources. , increasingly scarce or expensive.
The challenge is to be able to work in the same or better way than we have been doing, but impacting our environment as little as possible and preferably while reducing costs. Therefore, we see great efforts to reduce the weight of containers, their lids, thereby reducing material consumption, net weight to be transported (and thus hydrocarbon consumption) and material to be recycled.
The use of new materials that can be recycled or that are neutral from the beginning is privileged. The replacement of conventional polymers of petrochemical origin with biodegradable plastic from corn, wheat and rye starch, as well as the use of soluble films, is worthy of attention.
What is not measured, is not weighed. The carbon footprint is a certificate that measures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that occur in the production chain of goods, from obtaining raw materials to processing waste. It is a measure of the impact of human activities on the environment, and is determined by the amount of produced greenhouse gases, measured in units of carbon dioxide.
The CO2 footprint aims to enable companies to reduce pollution levels through a standardized calculation of emissions generated during production processes. It pays to start measuring, even if informally, these indicators, in order to start continuous improvement processes aimed at this.