New Tech and Next Gen Help Packaging Operations Thrive

Artificial intelligence and small-footprint automated packaging systems meet up with an engaged workforce and sustainable shipping at Pack Expo 2022, as Day 3 concludes. Oh, plus a couple of happy robots.

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

October 26, 2022

Looking for an ecommerce package that gives a better unboxing experience? How about a high-barrier metallized film that can be recycled through store drop-off? Or maybe artificial intelligence is your bag for its efficiency in optimizing pallet loads. And have you considered how you could leverage the ideas of your next generation of workers? Curious to hear about new inspection technology that has already been proven for decades? How important are small-footprint automated packaging systems to you?

Packaging Digest’s team of reporters outline their picks of the day from Pack Expo in this episode of Packaging Possibilities. Contributing are:

• Myself, Lisa Pierce;

• Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest;

And our three regular content contributors and subject matter experts:

• John Henry, owner,;

• Claire Sand, principal of PTR consultancy and adjunct professor at CalPoly;

• And Meaghan Ziemba, founder of Mavens of Manufacturing.


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


Lisa McTigue Pierce

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. Day 3 of Pack Expo 2022 has come to an end, at least for us. There is still about another half hour of the show floor, but we're doing this podcast instead of walking the show floor because we've seen so many cool things already that we want to share with you.

I am joined with our senior technical editor Rick Lingle and our three contributors, regular contributors to Packaging Digest that we are absolutely thrilled to be working with: John Henry, owner of; Claire Sand, owner of PTR consultancy group; and Meaghan Ziemba, Mavens of Manufacturing and our newest addition as a contributor. So we're thrilled with that.

We're going to start with Claire today and then move around the circle and go from there. So, Claire, take it away.

Claire Sand

Well, first, I'd like to give a shout out to Flexy the robot at the Flex booth. The booth is 22063. His command of seven languages really warmed the hearts of many today. If you haven't seen them, check them out. Nice guy.

What I wanted to talk about, though, was Smart Karton, which is in booth W24036. It's been on the market for about five years, but this is the first time I've seen it and it's really taking off in the marketplace. It's an unboxing experience that's amazing with no void space — so, perfect for ecommerce. Recyclable structure. It's got paper in there. The interesting thing is they could do 70-pound, 50-pound, and 40-pound paper, laminated to the inside of the corrugated box using a starch-based adhesive.

And this was the beginning innovation. Laminating a narrow strip of paper required specialized equipment. So they had to basically build their own equipment. The box is opened, the base is erected, the product is placed on top, the box is sealed, the box … the boxes that flipped upside down, adhesive papers folded down, and then the base is sealed. When the consumer unboxes at them — of course the right side up — no void space is seen. This limits the movement for fragile products and can use multiple layers for layering products like heavy things, even automotive parts. Uh limits abrasion from product to product during contact with the ecommerce.

The next one I just want to mention quickly is Charter Next in Booth W-24001 further work with Mbold really cool initiative and store-drop-off recyclable polyethylene with metalized film in it. So those of you who think you can't do store-drop-off recycling because you need a barrier, they've got the solution.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Wow, that's three pretty amazing things. So thank you for sharing all of that.

Next up we have John Henry and he's going to tell us about …

John Henry

Well, I've been walking the show investigating artificial intelligence. I found it interesting. Robotics company CMES Robotics — CMES Robotics — and BHS Robotics. CMES makes the software; BHS does the robot application. They are taking pallets of mixed cases, bags, cartons, whatever. And using a camera and artificial intelligence to analyze the layout on the pallet and determine which cases to pick and then sorting them into lanes. They're also taking cases from the different lanes of different sizes and creating mixed pallets to go out. So, it's an ideal application for a distribution center, distribution warehouse. It's doing something that hasn't … I haven't seen so far and apparently nobody else is doing — because there's a lot of systems that will handle 3D picking and 3D stacking, but they won't do it at random using vision; they have to be programmed. So I thought that was my pick. They’re in the North hall 5469. Please check them out; tell them Packaging Digest sent you.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Excellent. Thank you, John. And you know, a lot of the attention here at Pack Expo is for manufacturing plants, but there actually is quite a bit of packaging that goes on at distribution centers. So it's always good to keep an eye on what's going on there too.

OK, next up, Meaghan. This is your first day here at the show. You spent the whole day here and tell us, what was the coolest thing you've seen?

Meaghan Ziemba

The coolest thing that I saw was actually the Pack Challenge, that involves some of the students that came here. And I had an interesting conversation with one of the coaches who is a teacher. He actually quit his six-figure job to go to teaching because he knows that we are in trouble with the workforce. So, he wanted to invest back into his community and help pass on his knowledge that he picked up being an electrician and working in the window industry. And he actually started the VOTECH program at his high school. And I just think that listening to those stories and talking to those individuals is really important. Because without the future workforce, we're gonna have a really hard time maintaining the workforce that we have right now and some of these solutions won't be possible if we don't bring in the ideas of the next generation. So it was really exciting to see all the students engaging and talking to the different exhibitors that are here.

And it was also really exciting to see them get excited about the spot robot that was walking the show floor. And was that great solutions. And it also came to a presentation that I did with Jake Hall just to see them light up when that thing came into the room. And ask questions about it and how they can get involved being either an intern or apprenticeship for robotics was really amazing because they're actually wanting to know more information about this sector. So that opened up my eyes to, OK, so how can we have more of these conversations with students before they start deciding what career they wanna go into?

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Yes. Excellent. And earlier this morning, I was at the Women's Leadership breakfast. And at the end of the breakfast — which was fantastic, Dawn Hudson. But at the end of it, they had put together a …  whoever wanted to do a tour, show tour, and bring some students along with them as kind of like a teaching opportunity, to go ahead and do that. And they had set that up and I'm sorry I didn't know that they were doing it because that's right up my alley. I would love to do that kind of stuff. So next time I'll be ready.

OK, ready or not ready, Rick. It’s your turn. OK. Here we go. Rick Lingle, amazing senior technical editor for Packaging Digest. And I'm building him up way too much. The pressure is on.

Rick Lingle

Yes, you do. I wanna just point out that I had a new way to find a technology. Usually it's from walking the show floor here at Pack Expo, which there is a lot of floor and a lot of show. But I was introduced to a new contact the other night by food packaging expert and contributor Claire Sand.

And that led me to visiting the booth of the very oddly named Spookfish Innovations. Well, it turns out the name Spookfish is pretty appropriate. It's … spookfish is a real fish that has an eye on top of its head and another eye below its head. And so it sees things that most fish don't. Well, it turns out they have a technology that we talk about that's not involving fish at all, but it sees things that humans and standard inspection systems don't see.

The system is called Snipe. It cleverly combines World War II thermal technology — tried and true, been around for decades — with an infrared vision system. And then it also uses artificial intelligence as the brains of the whole system to pull it all together. It's applicable for induction sealed caps, heat sealed stick packs and any heat-sealed packaging such as flexible packaging.

Some of the key benefits to this are high line speeds, extremely high accuracy, there's no waste through destructive testing. It's proven. There are 70 units in Europe, and it can work for something. Examples of things that it detects are powder on the rim for an insufficient seal, or insufficient torque, which is a fairly common problem. I'm missing liner or torn liners. And it's appropriate for pharmaceutical, food, and industrial markets. You'll find Spookfish over in the West Hall in Booth 17033.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Excellent contribution. Right. Thank you so much. So I'm gonna end things off here. I came to the show looking for some very specific things. And one of them is small footprints on the machinery. And there's a lot of it here. But I did see one at the Coesia booth, which is in the South building: 2501. And this specific one was the MGS —that's Mary George Sam. It was their case packer, which is being touted as having one of the smallest footprints for the speed and the capability, for that kind of performance. In addition to having that small footprint already, they even had a little area built into it for future growth, which is always good because you never know what the future is going to hold, and you hope that the future does hold growth.

It's a top-load case packer, does about 15 to 20 cases per minute. And the footprint, because the footprint size is the biggest deal there that I wanted to talk about — the footprint of this system is 2.3 meters in width, 4 meters in length. And I meant to do the conversion on this before doing this podcast and, oops, forgot to do that. So anybody can do the conversion online. 2.3 meters in width. 4 meters in length [about 7.5 feet wide, 13 feet long]. I do, however, have the American measurements: 85 inches tall [about 7 feet]. And a couple other reasons why I wanted all of those measurements is because I was struck at the height.

One of the reasons why they have these small footprints is they are reaching now to the small and medium-sized manufacturers. Some of them are bringing in equipment into their facilities through double doors rather than some of those larger manufacturing facilities that have the large loading bays. And so that size is one of it.

But we all know that automation is big these days, partly because of the worker shortage and partly to improve productivity and all of that. The reason why small footprint is so much more important these days is because these plants already exist and, if you need more automation but you don't have the footprint for it in your plants, you do need to find room to bring in this additional automation. So small footprint. That's a good reason why small footprint is such a big deal.

I said that this was a case packer. It's actually erect, load, seal. And here at the show they were doing tape sealing, but it's also available with glue. And the loading operation was with the gantry-style robot, which gives a lot of flexibility from a product programming point of view.

So that wraps up Day 3 at Pack Expo 2022. Thanks again to our contributors here: Rick Lingle, Meaghan Ziemba, Claire Sand, John Henry. And of course, me, Lisa Pierce, thanks so much for listening.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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