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New technologies better enable packaging’s usefulness

New technologies better enable packaging’s usefulness
Integrated systems and robotics were popular at Pack Expo 2014, as shown in this example from Delkor for its LILP-500 case/tray packer.

Doing more—not with less but with some nifty, interactive technologies—marks the main trend seen at the recent Pack Expo International show.

Google Glass, augmented reality and other multimedia technologies headlined at Pack Expo International 2014 (Nov. 2-5; McCormick Place, Chicago) as more areas of packaging go interactive to help make your work life easier.

This simplicity comes with greater functionality and sophistication, though.

On packaging machines, we saw human/machine interfaces (HMIs) touting more functionality and smart sensors designed to help you maximize uptime by keeping a close eye on quality and productivity—and communicating to you via smartphones. It’s “information anywhere,” says one component manufacturer, who adds that “a smartphone can be a mini HMI.”

At the packaging design level, virtual reality lets brands test package concepts before a single prototype is made.

Here’s a specific example of the “simple yet sophisticated” trend: Technical editor Rick Lingle took a deep dive into robotics at the show. He reports that the number of booths showing robots seemed to be about double from the previous show. “Besides standalone robotics systems, there are definitely more robotics integrated into OEM systems,” Lingle says. “Robots are faster, stronger, smarter, more nimble and have an expanded work envelop—they reach further and lift heavier items.

“Improvements in hardware and software also make sophisticated operations simpler,” he adds, noting that advanced technology in the interfaces is making it easier to use robotics. Robots, like the people they collaborate with (or replace), can react better to changes, using sensors and vision to see and understand what’s happening in plants.

This slice of the packaging machinery market illustrates some of the broader trends that we noticed across other product categories. Specifically, integrated systems are combining tasks and/or functions, giving users more value. These double-duty systems help save floor space and can be more affordable than separate machines.

Here are a few more narrower trends:

• X-ray inspection gets the nod more these days because costs have come down—and the systems are more robust and simpler to use now than before. With product safety an imperative, X-ray machines have an advantage in that they are able to detect more contaminants than a straight-forward metal detector. Another example of double duty?

• Several manufacturers touted smaller equipment that didn’t need compressed air, adding to the all-electric trend that we reported at the previous Pack Expo. Plants not only save on a consumable, they also simplify or eliminate complexities involved with delivering high-quality, filtered air.

• 3D printing is showing up in new and unexpected areas: One end-of-line machinery manufacturer made its robotic end effectors on a 3D printer.

• Augmented reality is seeing new life in various areas, including for testing of retail shelf sets; consumer eye tracking for insight into effective graphic designs; and, remarkably, for machinery monitoring/control.

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