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How to Beat Today’s Packaging Automation Bottlenecks

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Here’s what some packaging machinery partners are doing to ensure delivery of the systems, parts, or solutions you need to keep your packaging line running as it should.

Collaboration is never more important than when dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems — like the supply chain pain points today that are causing agonizing delays in packaging machine or parts deliveries.

To find answers for you, at the 2022 SouthPack show — which was part of the larger inaugural IME South advanced manufacturing event in Charlotte, NC — Packaging Digest Senior Technical Editor Rick Lingle posed probing questions to a handful of engaged packaging machinery exhibitors:

• What packaging automation questions are customers asking these days? Knowing what others are asking helps you benchmark where you are compared to peers or competitors on key issues.

• What are you doing differently because of today’s supply chain challenges?

Insights shared in this podcast come courtesy of:

Chris Mullins, Account Manager, Cincinnati Test Systems, a sister company of ATC Automation
Ahmad Douzal, Business Development Manager, Formic Technologies
Jochen Frankie, Marketing & Trade Show Coordinator, Groninger
Shawn Smith, Director of Sales, JR Automation
Jason Hudek, Regional Sales Manager, PAC Machinery

 

PACKAGING POSSIBILITIES - Season 2: Episode 15

If you have a topic you’d like to propose for a future PACKAGING POSSIBILITIES episode, please email Lisa Pierce at [email protected].

 

TRANSCRIPT IS AUTO GENERATED

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Hello! This is Lisa Pierce, Executive Editor of Packaging Digest, with another episode of Packaging Possibilities, a podcast that reveals what’s new and what’s next for packaging executives and engineers, designers and developers.

The last couple years during the pandemic have been a bit of a scramble for some of you, as labor shortages and delivery delays have knocked manufacturing off track a bit. Packaging lines have struggled to produce at the same high thru-put as pre-COVID-19 runs.

Improving packaging line automation can help, of course. But deliveries with a troubled supply chain haven’t been reliable. And that may be sugar coating the situation too much.

Packaging Digest Senior Technical Editor Rick Lingle took the opportunity while attending the SouthPack show in Charlotte, NC, last month [June 14-16] to look for answers from a handful of exhibitors.

He starts with Shawn Smith, who is Director of Sales for JR Automation.

Rick Lingle
Yeah, this is Rick Lingle here at IME South. And I’m with Shawn Smith, Sales Director of JR Automation. So, Shawn, what packaging automation questions are customers asking you about these days?

Shawn Smith (guest)
Uh, yeah, Rick. We’re into, you know, multiple different markets across all industries — from medical device to automotive to consumer products to semi-conductor, ecommerce. We definitely have a lot of questions coming in from the packaging side.

They’re really looking at ways to minimize their packaging size to maximize how much throughput they’re getting out on the backend of their production line.

They’re really looking at ways to minimize their packaging size to maximize how much throughput they’re getting out on the backend of their production line. We’ve got a lot of new devices that are coming out, specifically like in the medical device vertical. So that’s creating a lot of new opportunities for automation in these areas.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Jason Hudek, Regional Sales Manager for PAC Machinery, points out another major pain point that’s driving a need for automation, as customers are also asking for help with …

Jason Hudek (guest)
… packaging products without labor … labor is very difficult to get a hold of these days. It’s also difficult to not only acquire but also retain labor. So the questions I’m getting are in relation to automatically bagging and shrink wrapping articles that may have been done manually in the past. Manually bagging with ziplok bags or impulse-bar seal bags. Could also be manually shrink-wrapped items or other manually packed items that we can address with either our baggers, shrink wrappers, flow wrappers, or bag sealers.

Labor is very difficult to get a hold of these days. It’s also difficult to not only acquire but also retain labor.

Rick Lingle
Have you seen any other impact from the tight labor market that you want to comment on?

Jason Hudek (guest)
Yes. There has been a very — from my perspective — huge increase in the number of people or companies that need the labor situation addressed. It’s hard for me to comment on the exact increase because I’ve been in this position for a year. But since I’ve been in the position, it has increased significantly over other positions I’ve held at other companies.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
While this next example from Groninger’s Marketing & Trade Show Coordinator, Jochen Frankie, is specific to pharmaceuticals, the need he talks about crosses all markets.

Jochen Frankie (guest)
Yeah, the customers are asking for more flexibility in the lines so that you can do multiple containers. Like you want to have vials and syringes and cartridges in one machine instead of having three complete lines to save the footprint of the machine — and can go between batches quicker. So that I can go between a syringe and a vial, really quick turnover time between different products.

Customers are asking for more flexibility in the lines so that you can do multiple containers … to save the footprint of the machine — and can go between batches quicker.

Our solutions would be development of machines there, which can handle all of this at the same time. So we’re still doing the only-one-product line — like just a vial line, which is going high speed. But the trend is going more slow speed but flexibility and we have those machines that can handle vials, syringes and cartridges in bulk and in nest, some of the machines. So one can do all kind of them.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Many packaging operations turn to robotics to give them this needed flexibility since robots can easily be programmed and reprogrammed. So Rick talked with a company that provides Robotics as a Service.

Ahmad Douzal (guest)
My name is Ahmad Douzal, and I am the business development manager at Formic Technologies.

Rick Lingle
So what kind of packaging automation questions are your customers asking you these days?

Ahmad Douzal (guest)
That’s a great question. I would say when a customer needs robots and we’re kind of having those conversations, their concerns are about, you know, what does it look like when Formic is servicing and maintaining our robots? What is that going to look like one or two years from now? What does the end of a term cycle look like from Formic? Does that mean we re-lease? Does that mean you guys come pick up the equipment? And these are, more or less, the basic questions that we answer for our customers.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Some automation improvement projects are slow going though these days because of forces outside the control of packaging suppliers. Rick delves into this issue too, starting with Ahmad from Formic.

Rick Lingle
What are you doing differently in servicing customers because of the challenges and the supply chain and the availability of parts and components these days?

Ahmad Douzal (guest)
It’s a problem that I’m pretty sure everyone in the industry is coming across. For us, it’s about being transparent with customers and just being honest with them up front. You know, if there is a system they are looking to deploy, but the lead time on a robot might be, you know, several months from now, we just very straightforwardly let them know. And let them know at the same time, you know these these projects and scopes of them, they take a long time to deploy. So it’s better to be proactive opposed to reactive.

These projects … they take a long time to deploy. So it’s better to be proactive opposed to reactive.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Shawn Smith from JR Automation, who we heard from at the beginning of this podcast, also had quite a bit to say about being proactive.

Shawn Smith (guest)
Some of the supply chain issues we have today where, you know, trucks aren’t as available as they were, it takes longer to get goods to place so if you can get parts, products, and smaller packages — get them out the door faster — you can get more of them volume-wise on the trucks and therefore you could get more volume to the end customer.

Rick Lingle
There’s some serious pinch points and shortages. What is your company doing differently or reacting to that to try to speed things up in the supply chain?

Shawn Smith (guest)
Yeah, it’s been kind of a very dynamic, ever-evolving last 12 to 18 months, especially with supply chain. What we’re doing right now is several different things. So our procurement team, our leads of supply chain, they’re working very closely with a lot of our key suppliers. And we’re looking at actually stocking components that we actually use a lot of year in, year out — and using our own surplus to kind of help feather out the ebbs and flows of the needs we have from our customers.

We’re looking at actually stocking components that we actually use a lot of year in, year out — and using our own surplus to kind of help feather out the ebbs and flows of the needs we have from our customers.

But we’re also encouraging our customers to buy early. So even if we’re working on quoting some automation, a package, a concept — we’re saying, “Look. You’re going to have these key components in it. These are going to take you, from our history, from our recent history, they’re going to take you 24 months, they’re going to take you 36 months. Get all those long leads on order now.” And then as those are coming in, we can continue to work through the concept and the design of your equipment, so by the time we get through the design phase, hopefully, we tried to mitigate most of what the supply chain issues are going to be.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Chris Mullins agrees. He’s an Account Manager with Cincinnati Test Systems, which is a sister company of ATC Automation.

Chris Mullins (guest)
So, early in the project, we are identifying the long lead items, critical components, and we’re working with our customers to get permission to order those items earlier than we normally would, so that we can offset lead-time challenges.

We’re working with our customers to get permission to order those items earlier than we normally would, so that we can offset lead-time challenges.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Building parts stock or looking for local supply are pretty good ideas for any packaging supplier — but especially for international manufacturers like Groninger, as Jochen Frankie explains.

Jochen Frankie (guest)
So we are German-based company and a lot of our parts in the past came out of Germany directly from the headquarters. But our Charlotte, NC, facility, we invested more and more — before COVID and especially during COVID — so we can make more of those parts, manufacturing parts, in house. We are sourcing locally as much as we can. So ideally, we want to be totally independent and get everything out of the United States. Either make it in-house or get it locally so we don’t have to deal with, like, shipping delays and shipping in general, which is a big issue right now to get a boat with your stuff over or airplane because the supply is limited for the transportation.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
These clever workarounds are sure to help you beat today’s packaging automation bottlenecks, especially since the need for automation solutions is still great and the supply chain challenges are likely to continue into 2023.

Lisa Pierce signing off. On behalf of myself and Senior Technical Editor Rick Lingle, thanks for listening to this episode of Packaging Possibilities.

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