Three trends for the packaging, processing industry in 2017

The packaging and processing industry is becoming more automated with more companies being bought out and a greater focus being put on eco-friendly packaging.

By Cord Unbehaun, Stellar March 8, 2017

There’s a lot happening in the food and beverage industry, and November’s Pack Expo in Chicago proved that. There are many changes occurring in the industry and three major trends, in particular, are on the horizon for the packaging and processing industry that will have a major impact:

  1. The entire packaging process is being automated
  2. Large conglomerates are buying up smaller vendors
  3. Eco-friendly packaging continues to be a large focus (especially in beverage).

So what do these trends mean for food and beverage processors? Let’s unpack them.

1. The entire packaging process is being automated

Automation has grown exponentially in food and beverage plants everywhere, but a world where packaging and processing lines are 100% automated from beginning to end isn’t far in our future. In fact, that’s already the case in some places.

We’re seeing the shift from human to robot across every conventional touch point in a facility, including:

  • Depalletizing
  • Unpacking
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary packaging.

Human intervention is slowly being replaced with machines that can accomplish the same tasks with a few taps of a touch screen.

One area where this is becoming more common is in quality control inspection. For example, take bottle filling, which typically involves inspection of incoming materials and inspection of the final product post-filling. Previously, workers had to take a bottle from the line, inspect it, and release it. Now that can be done online and in-line, effectively taking the human interaction out of the process. Thanks to automation, bottles can be inspected as they’re being filled.

Some view this shift to mean less jobs on facility floors, but it’s also increasing the demand for more specialized workers to operate these automated systems. The growing prevalence of automation is making packaging and processing lines more efficient.

2. Large conglomerates are buying up smaller vendors

Another developing trend involves a strategic avenue some businesses are taking. A number of big companies are getting bigger by purchasing smaller, more specialized vendors. Having a wide array of offerings and machinery allows these companies to provide a variety of services under one umbrella.

While this means fewer small companies, it benefits food processors looking for a one-stop-shop. One example is the Kentucky-based packaging machinery company Pro Mach, which could have multiple pieces of equipment that one original equipment manufacturer (OEM) might not have.

So what does this mean for food and beverage processors? If they’re building, expanding or renovating a facility, a bigger one-stop-shop can speed up your project. A larger supplier could provide the various equipment required, integrate them and deliver them within a short time period—often in half the time compared to sourcing from multiple vendors.

3. Eco-friendly packaging continues to be a focus (especially in beverage)

For some time now, the beverage industry has been exploring ways to make packaging more environmentally friendly, and that effort is continuing to evolve. Priorities include:

  • Making bottles lighter
  • Reducing cap size
  • Encouraging recyclability.

It’s not just the big players anymore, either. It seems everyone is trying lightweight packaging in 2017. Not only can eco-friendly packaging reduce your company’s carbon footprint, but it can sometimes save money as well. While going lightweight can often be a win-win, you have to be smart about it.

Sometimes reducing primary packaging weight can force users to increase their secondary packaging to ensure the product can safely withstand the environment in storage and distribution. There’s a lot of ways packaging can get beat up in these environments.

-Cord Unbehaun is a packaging engineer at Stellar. This article originally appeared on Stellar Food for Thought. Stellar is a CFE Media content partner.

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