logo

Search:

Members press release

Adept, Germany - IFR-Partner

Achieve Packaging Sustainability with Flexible Automation

Preserve, Protect, Prosper- Achieve Packaging Sustainability with Flexible Automation

Packaging sustainability is the ultimate goal of packagers. The challenge is to balance economic prosperity with environmental and social responsibility. Preserving resources by minimizing their environmental impact, reducing energy consumption, and scrap and adopting new environmental friendly packaging will be the trends manufacturers will be following. Additionally packagers need to ensure that its products and employees are protected by improving processes to minimize contamination, tampering & injuries. Finally, coupled with these challenges packagers must ensure their company's continued prosperity by maximizing their production efficiency. In short manufacturers and packagers alike must work to preserve, protect and prosper to achieve packaging sustainability. This paper will detail the role that flexible automation will take in accomplishing this challenging balancing act.

Flexible automation is a powerful and effective solution for packagers to achieve packaging sustainability. Automation allows packagers to increase production, consistency, and reliability while improving working conditions and allowing manufacturers to quickly change to more eco friendly packaging materials and options. Following is a look at what is driving this movement and how flexible automation can address these issues.

Preserve

Packaging, when tallied up, accounts for almost a third of trash thrown away in the United States. According to the EPA, paper, cardboard and plastics, most of which involves packaging in some form, constitutes 46% of all worldwide municipal solid waste.

It is a necessity to protect product from contamination, spoilage, damage, and tampering however it has a significant detrimental environmental impact. Packagers in 2009 and beyond must review how products are packaged, and how it affects the environment. The solution for packagers is to produce less, which means reducing the quantity of materials and other resources used in packaging. Packagers are investing in new packaging that weighs less, is smaller, uses recycled material and incorporates renewable resources whenever possible. Adopting this policy they will reduce waste, save on energy costs with lower shipping weights, cut production costs and offset price increases.

New formats such as concentrated forms of detergents requiring smaller packages, eliminating secondary packaging, and replacing rigid packaging with flexible packaging are necessary for packagers to address the preservation issue. Wal-Mart has even instituted guidelines for its suppliers that requires strict adherence to environmentally savvy packaging. According to the EPA Wal-Mart anticipates that with this program in place they will reduce packaging of a toy line significantly enough to save 3,800 trees, 1,000 barrels of oil and $2.4 million in transportation costs in one year. Many manufacturers are redesigning product packaging to be "smarter". So clearly this trend is growing.

How can automation affect these trends? Flexible automation can deliver a process that preserves the earth's natural resources. It leads to the reduction in scrap products and wasted materials, allows for quick and easy changeover to environmentally conscious and innovative packaging materials, gives manufacturers the flexibility to handle less rigid, light weight packaging and allows manufacturers to optimize space and time.

Packagers will need to take a hard look reducing scrap and wasted materials if they wish to remain competitive. Robotics and automation in general is a much more efficient and reliable method of handling and packaging products. It is consistent every time and therefore produces less scrap and wasted materials due to handling errors. Automated handling far exceeds in reliability over manual handling every time thereby innately will reduce on scrap.

The easiest and quickest way to change from one format to another to adapt to all the new environmentally conscious packages coming on the market will be automation that is flexible and adaptable to rapid changeover. Fixed machines and manual handling simply cannot keep up. Robots with various end of arm tooling capabilities can easily adapt to various changes.

In order to minimize a packager's environmental footprint they must maximize the use or their space and time. Flexible automation with its various configuration potentials (ceiling mounted robots, multiple EOAT etc.) allows manufacturers to produce more quickly and from the amount of space they are currently using.

Protect

According to the Centre for Disease and Control and Prevention, approximately 70% of all food borne disease is due to viruses spread by direct or indirect contact with infected individuals. Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States and about 600 people die of it, according to the CDC. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reports that as many as 76 million illnesses are caused by food contamination every year in the US. Add in the effect of product tampering  (consider the Tylenol poisonings in the '80s) and the statistics from OSHA that estimates that repetitive strain injuries account for 60 percent of all "workplace illnesses" packagers and manufacturers have to seriously review any and all methods of keeping their employees and products safe.

Flexible automation can address most of the issues involving contamination, injury and tampering by virtue of its ability to reduce human contact on products being manufactured and packaged.

Tedious tasks such as picking and placing products into packaging are ripe for repetitive stress disorders. Automation can accomplish these tasks faster and more efficiently thereby protecting employees and at the same time saving manufacturers costly medical compensation.

There is no doubt that humans are innately carriers of disease. The less contact employees have with products particularly consumable products the better. Not only is this safer for the consumer it saves the manufacturers and packagers the exorbitant cost of product recalls let alone the costs to a company's reputation. Automating contact with products will naturally help reduce the human contact equation and reduce incidents of contamination. Less human contact also reduces the probability of product tampering.

Prosper

Manufacturers can address the issues of preservation and protection but ultimately they have to balance this with their economic prosperity. Whether the economy is good or uncertain, companies must maximize their packaging efficiency to ensure economic growth. To combat the rising costs of manufacturing a careful analysis of how a company is using the factory space it currently occupies more effectively is essential.

Optimizing the use of valuable floor space currently available to a company is the most efficient method of protecting profitability. It is a cornerstone behind the concept of lean manufacturing. Simply put the more you can produce in the same amount of space the more profitable you will be.

As Labor rates continue to rise and product packaging diversity multiplies within the wake of new eco-friendly packaging manufacturers will need to find ways to increase production without increasing employees.  Increasing production with the same number of employees coupled with the fact that the makeup of potential employees is trending towards more educated resource pool means packagers will need to automate to produce more with what they currently have.

Flexible automation gives packagers and manufacturers the ability to increase production and flexibility. Robot costs are declining while labor is climbing. With the ability of automation to deliver unmatched reliability and consistency at a faster production rate than manual labor packagers will be best advised to adopt this method.

Parallel Robots package products significantly faster than previous robot models

Automation has advanced significantly with regards to speed and reliability. Back in the 90's with a vision guided SCARA robot for example we were packaging chocolates at 47 pieces per minute and that was unbelievably fast. Now with for example a parallel robot we can accomplish that same task at 130 pieces per minute and the cost of the robots themselves has dropped fairly significantly. So we're at nearly 2 ½ or 3 times the productivity for less money. Manufacturers and Packagers alike can now produce more, at less cost.

Change is inevitable and as requirements for shorter runs and faster cycle times increase packagers will be introducing new products and packaging at a much accelerated speed. Automation allows manufacturers to easily and quickly change to accommodate new products and packages of varying sizes, shapes and materials. The ability to change end of arm tooling also increases the lifetime usefulness of packagers' capital equipment.