Focus: Industry 4.0 in packaging: turning concepts into reality

Confectionery manufacturers increasingly require packaging lines that are flexible enough to cope with rapid product changes, customisations and small batch sizes. We examine Industry 4.0 technologies and how they can be used to improve the efficiency and flexibility of packaging lines. Daisy Phillipson reports


From seasonal chocolate treats and personalised cakes to fortified gummies and functional snack bars, the pace at which the global confectionery and bakery sectors are changing is accelerating. While this is great news for the consumers, the packaging industry is currently facing several challenges to address the need for faster and more flexible and sustainable production.

While the concept of Industry 4.0 is nothing new, technologies such as robotics and data analysis are now gaining momentum with confectionery and bakery suppliers as a means to increase versatility, ensure efficiency and meet ever-changing market and consumer needs both now and in the years to come. This case is made even stronger in the current climate.

“The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly brought into even sharper focus some of the key benefits of more automated processes, as factories have had to restrict external visits and implement social distancing measures,” explains Ross Townshend of Ishida Europe. “And with nearly every part of the economy suffering from the after-effects of lockdown, the need to maximise productivity and efficiency throughout the factory will be even more vital.”

Harnessing the power of data analysis

The fact is that transformational technologies required to deliver these results are available, and yet the food industry has still not fully embraced the potential of Industry 4.0. This is partly due to the apprehension of suppliers who fear the disruption of their established packaging lines, not to mention ROI, cybersecurity and how best to apply the data that is collected to ensure tangible business benefits.

“Key to achieving this is to ensure the supplier can match their software expertise with engineering experience and market knowledge,” explains Townshend. Once a manufacturer invests in initial equipment with data analysis and remote monitoring, while working with a supplier that can immediately demonstrate where productivity gains can be made, the potential of digitalisation becomes clearer and more engaging.

The ability to map the entire packaging process digitally and analyse it in real time makes it possible to access the information remotely from any location and take the necessary action immediately. An example is the new Ishida Sentinel software, which connects compatible Ishida machines from anywhere in the world to a central system manned by Ishida engineers.

Such software solutions combine machine performance monitoring with comprehensive data capture and in-depth analysis, enabling processes to be continually optimised and allowing predictive maintenance for all connected equipment. Users can see trends, batch information and statistics in real time, while assessing how different packing lines measure up against each other in benchmark tests.

The software is able to gather and store information on machine runtimes, downtime and alarm logs. “This continuous data analysis provides an extremely accurate picture of a company’s packing operations,” says Townshend. “User errors can be detected and remedied quickly, and employees given appropriate training.

The result is a marked improvement in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).” Another advantage is that machines are only serviced exactly when required, making the scheduling of the work much easier to fit in with production timescales and order deadlines. This is particularly useful in light of the pandemic where an unscheduled call can be a challenge for manufacturers.

Addressing the need for cybersecurity

In the context of cybersecurity, Ishida has incorporated a high level of security into the software design of its Sentinel to create a fully secure network that ensures remote access can only be performed by authorised personnel. This is another example that highlights the importance of seeking a solutions provider with proven market expertise and knowledge.

Not only to ensure security, but also to provide different levels of support depending on individual requirements so that a company is able to concentrate on their core business while reaping the benefits of their selected technical services. Another company to highlight the importance of cybersecurity and data analysis is Schubert.

Specifying that the collection of this information is not enough, the global packaging brand notes if a confectionery or bakery supplier is to benefit from big data, it will need a meaningful analysis of the important key figures. Moreover, it is extremely important that under no circumstances digitalisation comes at a risk to cyber attacks on sensitive production areas. It’s these key pointers that motivated Schubert System Elektronik and genua to develop the Industrial Gateway GS.Gate.

This tool provides two separate compartments running in a single compact industrial case, and is now integrated as an industrial gateway standard to every new Schubert TLM packaging (pictured main image) machine to allow for the detailed evaluations of system productivity to be collected. These results, which can be viewed either on the customer platform or on the machine operating terminal, are then available for a manufacturer to analyse and therefore open up potentials and possibilities as to how the OEE ratio of the packaging line and the added value can be improved.

The second compartment of the GS.Gate contains a firewall and the remote access components for secure remote maintenance access. The filtered information is securely encrypted and transferred via the firewall over the internet to the user’s analytics system or cloud to ensure optimum security, reliably protecting the industrial gateway and therefore networked machines from cyber attacks.

This is just one example of how new technologies are helping to overcome concerns surrounding cybersecurity and offset any doubts a food manufacturer might have around adopting Industry 4.0 technologies.

Automation in action

As discussed, manufacturers of confectionery and bakery products face immense pressure to ensure flexibility and agility on their packaging lines. Where what was once mass production now exists smaller batch runs, all of which must be achieved without adding to unit prices. “For this reason, automation across the whole production/ packaging value chain has become the only financially viable way of addressing these variation-driven challenges,” says Mark Chivers, global key account Manager at Cama.

An example of how this can be achieved is a recent contract by Cama Group for a global confectionery company in the Czech Republic that wanted a single packaging line that could handle multiple product variations. The line was originally set up to package three products – a standard bar, a tablet and a soft-centred tablet – each of which has its own dynamics and therefore handling requirements.

In this application, Cama turned to its breakthrough generation (BTG) technology, more specifically an IF296 Monobloc Display-box Topload Cartoning Machine. Cama’s IF Series offers a combination of integrated packaging machines and robotic loading units, incorporating reduced footprint, flexible size changing and high reliability.


All primary functions are operated by servo motors and dedicated product grouping devices, determined according to product specifications. “When it comes to switching batches, we try to make it as straightforward as possible,” Chivers elaborates.

“To this end we employ technology and traceability (such as RFID coding components) and we exploit pokayoke principles to mistake-proof the operation. This, combined with a high level of centre-lining, helps ensure fast, repeatable changeover with vertical start up where all parts are homed and in the correct position.

Then it is just a case of pressing a button.” Describing how manufacturers must have one eye on the future, Chivers states that this is especially true when considering the impact of global phenomena such as covid-19: “The market is looking for financially stable suppliers to develop supplier/producer partnerships with much higher levels of trust. This will set the trend for doing business in the future, where the market needs suppliers that can also deliver a broader scope, in terms of service, support and manufacturing.”

Optimising systems

Clearly, new technology has strong potential to streamline and improve confectionery operations in both primary and secondary packaging applications, as automated operations at any stage of the process ensure a high level of efficiency and hygiene.

As an alternative to human operators, Syntegon Technology provides packaging solutions with entry-level robots for feeding, loading and visual inspection as an innovative operational method to avoid contact between employees and products. By opting for easy-to-clean equipment and robotic solutions, confectionery producers can reduce the number of contacts with surfaces and decrease manual operator intervention, which benefits food and consumer safety.

Other than enhancing hygiene standards, robotic technology caters to the industry’s need for increased flexibility, since it can be used for a wide range of products and tasks, such as handling random product streams. Given their speed and agility, robots are able to address frequent product changes and can handle different products with ease. Leading robot manufacturers even try to increase robot availability: Innovative robots have their data analyzed on a daily basis. This enables production managers to determine if and when they need maintenance, for example. In this sense, robots constitute reliable, automated labor where repetitive tasks have to be carried out at high speeds.

Robotic technology also plays a major role in secondary packaging, predominantly in cartoning. For bulk products, manual feeding into secondary packaging is the most common approach. Usually pick and place technology is used to quickly compile products for multipacks, which is a major asset for eCommerce sales channels for example.



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