Brand owners welcome voice-enabled packaging lines

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Automation on March 13, 2018

Some automation technologies—like robust human-machine interfaces (HMIs)—offer a lot of advantages in packaging production. But newer technologies, like voice recognition paired with machine learning, have the potential to boost efficiencies to higher levels.

Last fall in an online poll, Packaging Digest asked its global online audience what they thought of using their voice to monitor and control packaging lines. Interestingly, users see more value in this than their machinery-manufacturer vendors. We’ll tell you why in a bit.

First, let’s look at the results of our 2017 poll that asked, “What do you think about the viability of using ‘voice’ technology to monitor and/or control a packaging machine and/or line?”

A slight majority of All Respondents, 58%, say they are pro-voice—but when the results are filtered by Brand Owners, the support jumps to 70%.

When asked why, respondents easily site the potential benefits. One person replies, “I work in an automated environment and most times the machine issues are just operator errors by not knowing what the machine needs. This would improve yields and minimize downtime.”

And this respondent voted “Yes,” but notes the advantages might not be without risk: “This makes it easier to track problems, but can prove more complicated like the old cars before they had all this electronic sensoring.”

Of the 30% of Brand Owners who chose “No,” some say the rewards are not yet worth the risk:

“Early stages at this time. Maybe can use simple commands now but the error risks with the noise in the machine areas may make this quite frustrating to use.”

“Voice recognition leaves a lot to be desired. Not so much about the risks, but about consistency in understanding what is said. Even humans listening to one another misinterpret what people are saying. I’d rather see a simple visual prompt for the operator (if you have to have a voice, have it talk to the operator as a reminder).”


Least in favor

The people answering our poll with the lowest percentage of acceptance of voice technology are the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers at 50%, which is still a significant percentage.

Packaging Digest initially posed the question “Is voice-enabled technology suitable for packaging lines?” last summer to executives at a handful of leading packaging machinery manufacturing companies. As foretellers of our machine makers’ poll results, their opinions were split—with some seeing promise and others seeing problems.

Poll respondents from packaging machinery makers who are open to the technology (those saying “Yes”) are still guarded: “Good idea but it needs to be designed in such a way so that limits of what can be done or asked, or who can ask, can be set. This should help with questions on how to control/limit changes and prevent unauthorized users from making any changes or see how the equipment is running.”

But barriers to implementation can be severe, as this machinery supplier attests: “Communication issues between all of the electrical components is getting worse, not better. It is a fight every time you try to build a new machine.”

And this machinery manufacturer asks, “Why should the operator have to ask if the cartoner needs to be refilled? A properly designed interface between humans and machines will make this known without prompting.”


Future outcomes?

A third type of respondent to our poll is “Other.” This group is one-third for, two-thirds against using voice to control a packaging machine or line.

Respondents on the “for” side are pretty upbeat:

“IIoT is coming fast and makes lines more productive,” says an industry analyst respondent.

“Operators tend to get into a robot mode,” says another respondent in the aerospace electronics area. “Being alerted with only the most accurate and higher priorities is a great step towards operator standards of the same industry.”

But are past results an indication of future outcomes? “OMAC’s PackML is struggling almost 20 years now with only very limited installations,” says this integrator/consulting engineer who voted "No." “I see no application of speech technology in a close future. Furthermore, the packaging lines are very noisy.”


If you didn’t get an opportunity to vote in the first poll, here’s another chance. Packaging Digest will continue to monitor the viability of speech recognition technology for packaging lines—so we’re conducting the same poll in 2018. Share your opinion here: It only takes a minute or so.



Packaging line efficiencies, ecommerce challenges, sustainability trends, new bioplastic technologies and more are among the topics on the agenda at EastPack 2018 (June 12-14; New York City). This free educational program will have more than 16 hours of can’t-miss presentations and demonstrations. Register to attend today!

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