The rise of modular machines

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Optimization on August 01, 2014

“I don’t want ‘monster’ systems,” said Denise LeFebvre, vp, global packaging and engineering technology at PepsiCo, talking about large, high-volume packaging equipment. “I can’t buy 50 of those and put them all over the world at $20 million a clip. And it makes no sense for me to because freight is a huge cost and a huge issue when it comes to environmental sustainability. We won’t address environmental sustainable issues…making things at huge mass scale and freighting them everywhere. It’s just not viable.”

As the opening keynote, Denise made these comments to a rapt audience at Packaging Digest’s recent 2014 Global Food & Beverage Packaging Summit.

So what does PepsiCo want from packaging machinery manufacturers?

“I want systems that are modular,” Denise said. “I can put some small volume here, medium volume here, large volume here—depending on the scale and size of the appropriateness of that business.”

Why is this so important for today’s packaging operations?

“You need to be able to adapt to that changing market with price, pack, with new designs, with new pieces. You need to have lower, ongoing capital costs. You need pieces that you can freight around,” Denise pointed out. “I know this is idealist of me, and maybe I’ll never see it before I retire, but it’s really important if you want to [address consumer trends]. And it’s not on the radar of a lot of people.”

But it should be. PepsiCo isn’t the only brand owner gravitating toward modular packaging machines and modular packaging lines. Packaging engineers at Procter & Gamble have been moving in this direction for years. And, for decades that I know of, a contract packager’s success has been determined by how well and how fast they are able to reconfigure packaging lines for the business of the day or hour.

Modular packaging equipment was one of myriad topics discussed at the event, from optimizing production and engineering to strategies for marketing and brand differentiation. Held in Chicago July 16-17, the Global Food & Beverage Packaging Summit staged high-level presentations from packaging executives. In addition to Denise at PepsiCo, we heard from Roger Zellner, director of global packaging innovation and sustainability, RDQ (research, development and quality), at Mondelez Intl.; Chris Cetnar, senior scientist at The J.M. Smucker Co.; Jill McCurdy, director of packaging innovation and development at MillerCoors; and dozens more.

Attendees were quite active on Twitter during the event, sharing insights and key points using the hashtag #FBPackaging. See a sprinkling of Day 1 tweets here.

Packaging Digest will be sharing more highlights from the conference in the next several weeks, including on-site video interviews. Watch the first of them here.

Gordon Bockner, president of packaging consultancy Business Development Associates Inc., attended the Summit and shares his two striking takeaways from the successful event in "Packaging leads sociological evolution."

Hope to see you at next year’s Summit.

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