At some point during every packaging automation project, someone has to decide not only what equipment to use, but who is best qualified to make that choice. The integrator? The packager? The end user? That was one of the questions addressed in the “Automation in Packaging” study recently published by Packaging Digest and Control Engineering (see www.packagingdigest.com/automationresearch).
When it comes to the packaging equipment itself, the obvious answer would seem to be either the manufacturer that is developing the system or the brand owner who will be using it. They're the subject-matter experts, after all. And sure enough, a whopping 69 percent of the system integrators surveyed said that in their experience, it is the packager or the end user who typically chooses the type of packaging equipment to be used.
So what about the automation components? Wouldn't the subject-matter experts for that choice be the automation system integrator? Maybe not. Only 47 percent of the integrators surveyed said they select the automation components for a project. The rest cited the packager (39 percent), the packager's equipment vendor (8 percent) and miscellaneous third parties as the decision maker.
That might seem odd, considering that neither the packager nor the end user chose the steel used to build the packaging facility, nor the wiring used to install the lights. One packager who provided written input to the survey offered some insight into why he might not want to give his integrator carte-blanche authority to choose the automation components. In his advice to integrators he wrote, “Look at all packaging options. Don't just push equipment you're familiar with from a business perspective.” Perhaps some packagers aren't ready to trust their integrators to select the required components solely on technical considerations.
But packagers might assume an unnecessary risk if they reserve all product-selection decisions to themselves. One integrator wrote in his advice to packagers, “Allow the integrator to apply new technology so that you can reap the benefits of innovation.” In other words, integrators make their living understanding and applying the latest automation technology, so packagers should at least listen to their recommendations when it comes to equipment selection.
That very question was posed in a study by Bull's Eye Research (www.bullseyenet.com) in 2000. The respondents were integrators serving various automated industries, but the results were just about the same. More interesting was the follow-up question: To what degree would the integrator's decision-making influence increase or decrease relative to the end user's influence in the next five to seven years? Almost half of the respondents predicted their decision-making influence would go up, while 42 percent envisioned no change. This timeframe has elapsed. It seems “no change” was the right answer.