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Articles from 2018 In November

If your brand sells on Amazon, you can’t miss this free webcast

If your brand sells on Amazon, you can’t miss this free webcast

The clock is ticking for brands to get on board with Amazon’s new Frustration-Free Packaging program. Vendors of select products sold and fulfilled by Amazon have until Aug. 1, 2019, to ensure their packaging arrives in the ecommerce giant’s fulfillment centers in certified packaging that doesn’t require any shipping preparation or an overbox. Those that meet the deadline will benefit from an early-adopter credit to help offset the costs of complying with the Frustration-Free Packaging initiative; those that don’t will face ongoing chargebacks for every package not certified.

Is your brand affected? If so, will you need to redesign your packaging? How can you achieve compliance with the Frustration-Free Packaging program and ensure you’re not subject to the chargeback?

Packaging Digest will have the answer to all those questions and more—right from the source. To get the scoop, register for our free 1-hour “Ask Amazon!” webcast with Brent Nelson, Amazon’s senior manager, packaging - sustainability on Dec. 6, 2018, at 2 p.m. EST. Nelson will explain the ins and outs of the Frustration-Free Packaging program and answer your questions about how the program might affect your brand. Webcast attendees can submit specific questions for consideration by Dec. 4, 2018, via this link.

If you sell on Amazon, this is a must-attend webcast. You’ll come away with a thorough understanding of the Frustration-Free Packaging program as well as critical information to take back to your brand, including:

• Next steps to ensure your company earns the incentive credit and avoids ongoing chargebacks.

• Resources available to assist vendors in complying with the program.

• Best practices from other Amazon vendors that have reduced their packaging while improving the experience for ecommerce customers.

Don’t miss this chance to get the lowdown on Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging program in our free 1-hour webcast Thurs., Dec. 6, 2018, at 2 p.m. EST. The deadline to comply with the program will come along faster than you think!

Jamie Hartford is content director for UBM Americas, Advanced Manufacturing Group, owner of Packaging Digest.

Bye-bye Baxter, so long Sawyer
Rest in peace, Rethink Robotics.

Bye-bye Baxter, so long Sawyer

On Oct. 3, 2018, collaborative robot trailblazer Rethink Robotics shocked the industrial automation world by closing down its business. Since then, two companies have stepped up to carry on the company’s legacy. On Oct. 25, German robotic solutions provider Hahn Group bought the defunct company’s robotic technology. And on Nov. 13, competitor Universal Robots hired 20 Rethink employees for its own Boston facility.

Packaging machinery expert and cobot enthusiast John Henry remembers when he first saw a cobot and considers the future of robotics in packaging.

In the summer of 2013, I got a press release for a robot that needed no guarding and could be taught rather than needing to be programmed. It was human-friendly and they were calling it “collaborative.” First time I’d heard the word.

It all seemed a bit fantastic to me. I made a note to see it at the upcoming Pack Expo but I also figured I’d be disappointed.

I wasn’t. It did everything the press release said and more. In three to four minutes, they had me teaching it to identify and pick up rubber ducks then place them in a case. I was hooked. I believed then and still believe that collaborative robots, or cobots, are the future.

Universal Robots introduced its UR series of cobots at the same show and they blew me away too. Since then, virtually every major robot manufacturer has introduced its own line of cobots. At the most recent Pack Expo, it seemed like I couldn’t turn around without seeing one.

Most were in typical robot applications and they do well there. A few visionary companies—such as X-Pak, Dyco and FP Developments—were using the robot as the machine. I think this, along with cobots, is the next stage of robots in manufacturing.

Baxter incorporated a lot of interesting technology besides being collaborative. Most robots need to be programmed from a keyboard. Programming has gotten a lot simpler over the years. It is still programming and still scares people away.

Baxter was taught. Press a button in the arm, move the arm where you want it, release the button. It was that simple.

Robots used to need parts to be precisely positioned for pickup. Cameras have become common as an add-on to “find” the parts. Baxter was one of the first, perhaps the first, to integrate cameras into the robot itself.

Robots generally look mechanical. Combine that with the cages and they can be intimidating. Baxter was designed to look human friendly, as well as be human friendly. Who couldn’t look at the smiling face atop Baxter and not smile back?

On the other hand, Baxter was somewhat slow and not as precise as many people expect from a robot. With only a single model, applications were limited. More importantly, once other bigger and more established robot companies saw the future with cobots, they jumped in with both feet and quickly surpassed Baxter. Baxter’s sibling Sawyer was an attempt to keep up but perhaps too little, too late.

So RIP Rethink Robotics. I was and am a fan of what you did. You made everyone sit up and take notice of collaborative robots. You invented a whole new category and the world is benefitting. That is not nothing.

As for Rethink’s founder, chairman and chief technology officer Rodney Brooks, I am sure we will see him somewhere down the road with another groundbreaking idea. I certainly hope so. People like him don’t sit still for long.

Known as the Changeover Wizard, John R. Henry is the owner of, a consulting firm that helps companies find and fix the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He has written the book, literally, on packaging machinery ( and is the face and personality behind packaging detective KC Boxbottom, the main character in Adventures in Packaging, a popular blog on


In addition to leading suppliers showing the latest solutions in labeling, automation, food packaging, package design and more—WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) gives you access to the industry's leading educational offerings with the 3D Printing and Smart Manufacturing Innovations Summits, the MD&M Medtech Conference and free industry education at the Expo. Register to attend today!

For safety’s sake, cobots should all be the same color
If cobots were all the same color—perhaps green like the pictured Fanuc cobot—packaging line workers could easily recognize whether the machine was a typical robot or an inherently-safer cobot.

For safety’s sake, cobots should all be the same color

Robots are joining the industrial human workforce in large numbers. But how do workers know if the machine beside them is an inherently-safe collaborative robot or not? Robotics expert John Henry champions for an industry standard color for cobots.

Green means different things to different people. To some it means environmental friendliness, to others it means money. To Fanuc Robotics, it also means collaborative robots.

Fanuc, one of the world’s best-known robot manufacturers, has always stood out with its bright yellow robots. Its cobots, however, have always been green.

Collaborative robots, for those not familiar, are robots that can work alongside humans without the need for guarding between them. There are several approaches to this including as elastic servo motors, sensors, slow speeds, padding and overloads. The first cobots were introduced by Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots in 2013. Since then most of the major robotic companies have introduced collaborative robots.

Some companies at Pack Expo 2018 were showing uncaged standard robots using special proximity sensors. These slow the robot as a human approaches and stop it when they get too near. While these allow some collaborative use, they are not collaborative robots in the sense of being inherently safe.

Even collaborative robots, depending on payload and speed, are not always inherently safe. As with any industrial machine, they must always be treated with respect.

I had seen the green Fanuc cobots before but, until Pack Expo, the color had not really registered. Thinking on it, I realized that it would be a good idea for industry to standardize on green for cobots and other colors for non-cobots.

According to the Robotics Industry Assn.,  more than 33,000 robots were shipped in North America in 2017. That’s a 9% increase over 2016 (and 2016 increased almost 30% over 2015).  A fast growing proportion of these are collaborative.

As robot use increases, so does demand for workers, leading to a less experienced workforce. That is a recipe for increased robot/human accidents.

John Kowal, director of business development at B&R Automation, points out that it is not only robots. Other automated machinery is being built to be collaborative using similar principles.

Some of us connoisseurs can distinguish robots like fine wines. To most people, though, a robot is a robot is a robot. They can’t readily tell a relatively safe cobot from a standard robot where strict safety precautions must be observed to avoid injury. Awareness is always the first key to safety.

Ignacio Muñoz, director of robotic integrator AutoPak Engineering, agrees. “Attention grabbing colors will acknowledge the robot’s presence to workers and visitors alike, helping to respond appropriately to the work process,” Muñoz says.

To instill better awareness, the robotics industry should adopt a clear and visible way to identify collaborative robots. Fanuc, as they have before, is leading the way with its green cobots. Adopting green as an industry standard for cobots will be one way to achieve this.

This suggestion is not too far-fetched. If the coffee industry can voluntarily agree on green labeling to indicate decaffeinated grounds, robot manufacturers can standardize on a cobot color, too.


Known as the Changeover Wizard, John R. Henry is the owner of, a consulting firm that helps companies find and fix the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He has written the book, literally, on packaging machinery ( and is the face and personality behind packaging detective KC Boxbottom, the main character in Adventures in Packaging, a popular blog on He can be contacted at


In addition to leading suppliers showing the latest solutions in labeling, automation, food packaging, package design and more—WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) gives you access to the industry's leading educational offerings with the 3D Printing and Smart Manufacturing Innovations Summits, the MD&M Medtech Conference and free industry education at the Expo. Register to attend today!

A sea of voices: Trends and perspectives in marine plastic pollution
Solving the marine debris problem requires looking beyond recycling.

A sea of voices: Trends and perspectives in marine plastic pollution

A key theme in this year’s conversations on sustainable packaging has been what to do about the (mostly) plastic packaging that ends up as marine litter. This year has seen a deluge of responses to the public outcry around this very visible and emotionally provocative issue.

Governments have responded with various regulations, and companies have responded with commitments to improve recycling rates and markets, as well as initiatives to invest in recycling technology and infrastructure. As a society, we are just now starting on the path to figuring out which solutions are most appropriate in which contexts. 

The problem is marine litter, not plastics.  Many in the packaging industry and sustainability space believe that demonizing plastics in packaging and other applications is an emotional reaction to plastic pollution, and that the problem really should be framed as marine litter, not plastics overall. Indeed, plastics are a versatile material with unique properties that sometimes do not have any viable substitutes. Problems emerge when they are mismanaged at end-of-life since they take a long time to break down in the environment. But not all plastics are mismanaged in all places. In Norway for example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have a 97% recycling rate.

It is possible for plastics to be managed at their end of life through a variety of methods. While we cannot all be Norway, there are successful examples of countries managing some plastics. Research shows that the biggest contributors to marine plastic pollution are land-based sources in emerging economies, namely Asia and Africa, which lack adequate infrastructure to manage these materials. Clearly these regions represent critical places for intervention.

Terminology around bio-based and biodegradable materials is confusing and potentially harmful in the marine plastics debate. Industry experts recognize there is a lot of confusion around these terms and how they relate to end-of-life management for plastics.

When talking about marine litter, oftentimes there are references to bio-based packaging, which actually has no impact on marine litter, since bio-based packaging refers to sourcing considerations for plastics and not their end-of-life. So when bio-based plastics are posed as a “solution” to plastic pollution, this is distracting from the end-of-life conversation. While some bio-based plastics are compostable, some are not, and these should be understood as separate concepts.

It is also common to hear about “biodegradable” packaging, which, while it sounds attractive to the general public, adds to the confusion on this topic. To impact marine litter, products must be biodegradable in certain conditions in the marine environment over a certain period of time. There is no marine degradability standard applicable to all conditions in which plastic would end up in marine environments. ASTM came out with standard D6691 that tests biodegradation of plastics under certain conditions, but recognizes there is significant variability in the nature of exposure of plastics in marine environments. Society at large should tread carefully on these claims and avoid popularizing the idea of “litter friendly” packaging.

Broad strategies are being discussed to address end-of-life management for plastics. Bans on certain single-use plastics have been prominent this year around the world. For example, we saw Chile and Burundi ban plastic bags, India promise to ban single-use plastics by 2022, Dominica to ban single-use plastics and expanded polystyrene by 2019 and, just this month (November 2018), the European Union (EU) promised to ban single-use cutlery, cotton swabs, straws and stirrers by 2021, as well as products made of oxo-degradable plastics and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene.

These bans have focused on some of the most common ocean-polluting plastics. However, many in industry believe we should not expect to ban our way to the circular economy. Broader strategies are needed that reflect material and regional differences, as well as opportunities in plastics packaging. 

The proposed EU plastics policy provides for other strategies, such as national plans to encourage reuse, minimum required recycled content, separate collection systems for specific products like PET bottles, variable fees to reflect broader package sustainability criteria and labeling for how to dispose of certain products. An explosion of voluntary commitments—like the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, a U.K. and Chilean Plastics Pact, G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, Commitments from Plastics Europe, the Canadian Plastics Industry Assn. and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Plastics division—commit to increasing recyclability, reusability and use of recycled content. There is also an ever growing list of individual corporate commitments, including the first commitments by suppliers like Amcor and Klöckner Pentaplast. Emphasis is being placed on a diversity of solutions and from many different players.

Many perceive recycling as the solution, but fixing recycling is not enough. In ideal economic circumstances, market forces would keep all plastics from going into the ocean and direct them towards recycling and then onto a second life. However, this is obviously not how things play out in the real world. Even in Europe, considered to be a leader in recycling, plastic packaging recycling across plastics types is still only around 40% according to Plastics Europe, which is robust compared to the U.S.’s 14.6% recycling rate for plastic packaging. 

Although not a lot of plastics today are getting effectively recycled, the recent 2018 Sustainable Packaging Study conducted by Packaging Digest and the SPC revealed that many still perceive recycling as the answer to plastic pollution. So, if recycling is the answer, why aren’t we doing more of it?

Recycling is not a perfect market since the value of some kinds of plastic packaging is lower than the cost to recover it. In addition, the actual process of mechanical recycling itself cannot adequately manage the diversity of plastic packaging materials on the market since some materials and formats are not widely recyclable today. While chemical recycling offers tremendous promise, there is a long way to go before this technology is scaled across packaging types. While low recycling rates for plastics are certainly part of the problem, conversations in industry are starting to acknowledge that fixing recycling is not the whole solution. We will not recycle our way out of this.

We need innovation and investment to help develop the system of the future. Many conversations are happening on the ground in communities about the good old days when recycling was just corrugated packaging and metal cans. While some unnecessary complexity can be addressed through market and policy incentives,we can’t go back in time. The world is moving towards more lightweight, flexible packaging.

At the same time, the recycling market has shown itself to be in need of investments and corrective measures to direct material efficiently. Innovators like Renewlogy, DEMETO and Loop Industries are working to scale innovations in chemical recycling and the SPC’s FlexPack Recovery Challenge seeks to find others. Investment firms like Circulate Capital are providing the critical capital needed to invest in end-of-life infrastructure where it is most needed globally. 

The plastics pollution debate will undoubtedly continue to unfold and drive an evolving conversation in the coming years, especially as new data is emerging on microplastics found in everything from drinking water to beer to air, which may move the conversation beyond packaging to textiles and other topics.

Many conversations and actions have taken place this year to build a roadmap to effective solutions. It is clear there is no silver bullet, but rather many solutions are required, and these might all look different in different places.

Tristanne Davis joined GreenBlue in November 2017 as a project manager with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). Her primary work involves helping to shape and deliver on its Industry Leadership Committee initiatives, ASTRX project and Forest Products work. Davis received her BA in economics from Skidmore College followed by several years of environmental consulting for a variety of clients across business and government, and a stint in Nicaragua managing an agroforestry program with a local non-governmental organization (NGO). She recently finished a Master’s program in industrial ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and an MBA program at IE Business School in Spain.



In addition to leading suppliers showing the latest solutions in labeling, automation, food packaging, package design and more—WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) gives you access to the industry's leading educational offerings with the 3D Printing and Smart Manufacturing Innovations Summits, the MD&M Medtech Conference and free industry education at the Expo. Register to attend today!

Thanksgiving cooks reach for jug-in-box peanut oil to fry turkeys
Jug-in-box makes it easy for consumers to handle 3 lbs of cooking oil.

Thanksgiving cooks reach for jug-in-box peanut oil to fry turkeys

For consumers who like to deep-fry their bird on Thanksgiving, LoCo Cookers has introduced a new product to use with its turkey fryers: LoCo Peanut Oil Blend. The food packaging—which uses a jug-in-box packaging design—is sturdy enough to support three gallons of oil and provides easy handling.

Two parallel, oblong die-cuts on top of the box provide a handle for the package. A round die-cut window, also on the box’s top panel, gives consumers access to the screw cap on the inner jug.

The round “cut-out was specifically designed for the Peanut Oil Blend’s lid,” says Sally Sumrall, marketing director at LoCo Cookers. “Consumers have the option to pull the jug out of the box and pour the oil into the fryer, or they can pour directly from the box.”

For those who prefer to remove the primary container from the box, the high-density polyethylene jug, produced by CKS Packaging, features a flat, molded handle.

Peachtree Packaging & Display produces the corrugated boxes for LoCo’s oil package using a Göpfert five-color flexo press and die-cutter, which prints and die-cuts in a single pass. The corrugated is flexographically printed in four colors, after which a water-based aqueous coating is applied.

Ad agency Scales designed the package’s graphics, which are color matched to graphics on LoCo’s turkey-fryer packaging; Peachtree Packaging & Display designed the box’s dielines.

LoCo Peanut Oil Blend is sold only through Lowe’s. “The Peanut Oil Blend box is positioned right next to the Turkey Fryer Kit, Turkey Frying Pots and accessories, for customer convenience,” Sumrall says.

LoCo’s oil packaging design matches its turkey-fryer packaging, which appears at the beginning of this video, and shows the fryer’s unboxing and set up.


In addition to leading suppliers showing the latest solutions in labeling, automation, food packaging, package design and more—WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) gives you access to the industry's leading educational offerings with the 3D Printing and Smart Manufacturing Innovations Summits, the MD&M Medtech Conference and free industry education at the Expo. Register to attend today!

Japan’s Kao Group makes sustainability look raku raku (‘so easy’)
With Kao's new Smart Holder, consumers insert refill packages, which eliminates the need for a conventional product container and reduces the amount of packaging used.

Japan’s Kao Group makes sustainability look raku raku (‘so easy’)

Environmental consciousness is a core value for Tokyo-based Kao Group, informing all aspects of its business and driving the global organization’s efforts in sustainable packaging.

The company owns myriad consumer brands in the cosmetics, skincare/haircare, healthcare and homecare categories and also operates a chemical business that serves industrial customers. Kao consumer brands popular in the United States include Jergens,Bioré, John Frieda, Curél and Kanebo, a Gold Award recipient in this year’s Awards for Packaging Innovation from Dow Chemical Co.

Through packaging innovation, Kao has made significant strides in reducing plastic waste in Japan. As an example, the company currently packages 80% of its personal care and household products in refillable packs; that has reduced plastic waste from those products sold in Japan by 74%.

Michitaka Sawada, president and CEO of Kao Corp., answers Packaging Digest’s questions about Kao’s sustainability philosophy, efforts and results.

What is Kao’s overall sustainability goal or mission?

Sawada: Since our foundation 130 years ago, Kao has purposed our business to contribute to the enrichment of people’s lives. We believe that continuing that pursuit constitutes sustainability for us. This is part of our mission statement in The Kao Way, Kao’s corporate philosophy, and Kao Group employees embrace this as the foundation of their work. Kao’s quest for sustainability is ongoing and continuous.

In the environmental sustainability area, Kao issued its Environmental Statement in 2009, making us one of the pioneers in the industry in adopting the LCA (lifecycle assessment: covering raw material procurement, manufacturing, distribution, use, disposal) approach, which aims to reduce environmental impact across a product’s entire lifecycle. LCA is impactful because it involves taking action beyond the production stage, encompassing the end use by consumers. This is a far-reaching approach and involves working in close cooperation with a range of stakeholders over the long term.

Now, we want to take this one step further, and this year, I made a public pledge to adapt and reshape Kao’s business model by benchmarking our performance against a set of nonfinancial priorities, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). Kao’s ESG drive is expected to bring together a range of ongoing sustainability initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and water use across the product lifecycle.

Why is sustainability so important to Kao?

Sawada: Sustainability is the foundation of Kao’s business, so it is something that we think about in every aspect of what we do. Since Kao is part of consumers’ everyday lives, supplying large quantities of products that are used daily, we believe it is crucial for our business that we operate in a way that is people friendly, community friendly and environmentally friendly—and that is sustainable now and into the future.

How does your company’s focus on sustainability extend to consumer-goods packaging?

Sawada: Kao’s approach to product packaging combines convenience, safety and ease of use with environmental consciousness. At Kao, we incorporate universal design (UD) principles into our packaging.

The refill packs that we have made a part of everyday life in Japan are a great example. We have continually improved and innovated these products since launching them in 1991, dramatically reducing the amount of plastic used. One such innovation is the use of BLP (bottle-like pouch) refills, made of film material and designed for outstanding ease of use (known in Japanese as raku raku eco pack, with raku raku meaning “so easy”). Our packs make the refill process simple and leave very little residue. At Kao, we have migrated the refills of all of our viscous products to these packs.

Currently, 80% of products in Kao’s personal care and household category are refillable. As a result, we have succeeded in reducing the amount of plastic waste from Kao personal care and household products sold in Japan by 74%. In fact, with other companies following suit, refills have become a large part of the market across multiple categories in household and personal care.

Another key element of Kao’s approach to sustainability is to reduce consumer product packaging through innovations to our products themselves. For example, by developing the world’s first super-concentrated liquid detergent, we were able to make our products more compact and significantly reduce the amount of plastic used in the product bottles.

Will Kao’s sustainability messages be tailored to the U.S. market? If so, how?

Sawada: Yes, because lifestyles and consumer needs differ from region to region, culture to culture. Although the guidelines under which we pursue sustainability are consistent across the Kao Group, customer and societal needs differ from market to market, and we tailor our activities to reflect these differences.

On the environmental front, for instance, in the U.S. we have now converted more than 90% of our paperboard sourcing to material certified by the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative).

We also plan to commence a partnership with How2Recycle with the aim of placing recycling labels on product packaging that customers will find easy to understand.

Our efforts also go into corrugated boxes for product cases, which will result in 30% fewer trucks required for product distribution. The new corrugated packaging is made of 100% recycled material.

The empowerment of women is also a key theme for Kao. Together with our partner, the Global Shea Alliance, we support the independence and empowerment of African women involved in the harvesting of shea butter by sourcing shea butter as the hero ingredient in our Jergens lotion, a brand that has the No. 1 market share in the hand and body lotion category in the U.S.

Please explain Kao’s RecyCreation initiative. Will Kao bring the RecyCreation initiative to the United States?

Sawada: Kao’s RecyCreation initiative [see image above] offers a way for Kao to team up with consumers and local governments to recycle the plastic film used in refill packs in Japan, and have fun creating new value from the recycled films. The initiative is designed to raise consumer awareness of the environment and the value of recycling to promote consumer behavioral change, which is the key to sustainability.

By partnering with local governments, Kao is also creating opportunities to promote the development of social infrastructure required to eliminate waste. We are still in the pilot phase, working with a few local governments within Japan. One example is a joint pilot program with the city of Kamakura, near Tokyo, where citizens were encouraged to deposit used refill pouches into designated boxes, and the pouches were converted into blocks that helped to create a symbol of civic pride—the front of a life-sized model of the much-loved local train. The model is on display in front of city hall to showcase the initiative.

Through this program, Kao aims to work with local communities to build programs to upcycle refill-pack materials to create a range of useful items for the community. While it is conceivable we will take this initiative overseas if refill packs gain traction, the initiative is currently limited to Japan.

What kinds of consumer-goods packaging innovations has Kao introduced recently, and what is in the pipeline?

Sawada: A recent packaging innovation is our Smart Holder, a system that enables these film-based refills to be used as the primary product package [see photo above].

And we continue to tackle new challenges: We are working on the development of a single-material, film-based primary-package bottle and innovations aimed at ease of recycling and further reduction in plastic use.

Does Kao have any plans for special packaging for ecommerce sales?

Sawada: No, not for the moment. However, the Smart Holder that I mentioned previously is sold primarily through ecommerce channels and has gained the support of young consumers.

We are not developing packaging specifically for ecommerce, but we do want to take on new challenges ahead, which could include products for advance sale on, or primarily for, ecommerce channels, as appropriate for the target audience.


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3 ways to control motors for precision movement in positioning conveyors
How much precision do you need in motor control for your conveyors?

3 ways to control motors for precision movement in positioning conveyors

Motors serve as integral components of motion control systems for industrial conveyors. Typically, conveyor applications operate at either a constant or variable speed, requiring only velocity control from a main drive motor. Positioning conveyors, such as those used for automated checkweighers, require more precision control. In these applications, the main drive must start and stop the positioning conveyor with moderate to high precision.

While DC and AC motors are popularly used to maintain velocity control for fixed or constant speed conveyor applications, step and servo motors offer more precise positioning capabilities for conveyors requiring more exact precision movement. Steppers are often the motor of choice, while servo motors offer numerous benefits for more demanding moves.

Stepper motors normally operate in open-loop control and offer the advantages of simplicity, excellent positioning and economy. But when configured with a feedback mechanism—such as an integrated high-resolution encoder—closed-loop stepper motors provide velocity and position information back to the drive/controller. The high torque, fast dynamic response of closed-loop systems addresses the demands of high-performance positioning conveyors.

Speed, torque, accuracy and size are important parameters to consider when choosing the right motor for a conveyor application. Motor suppliers can provide the expertise and tools to assist you in selecting the right design for your application.

After specifying the correct motor, choosing a proper motor control method comes next. Here are three of the most popular methods for controlling both step and servo motors used in positioning conveyors.

1. Pulse Control

Digital Pulse Control, also known as step and direction control, is a common method for controlling any step or servo motor. Digital pulse control is a good option if the primary PLC or controller in the machine contains one or more high frequency outputs, such as 20 kilohertz (kHz) or greater.

A minimum pulse output frequency of 20 kHz is required for step and direction control. While many users may want to use 100 kHz or more (many controllers offer frequencies as high as 2 or 3 megahertz or MHz), these high-frequency outputs add to system costs. Use lower frequency outputs by implementing a stepper drive or integrated stepper motor with Microstep Emulation. This powerful advancement in step motor technology enables smooth, microstep operation even when motors use low frequency pulse outputs.

Figure 1: This pulse control diagram shows how the primary controller outputs STEP and DIRECTION signals to the motor axis.

The configuration of this control scheme (see Figure 1 above) includes connecting the pulse output from the PLC to the step input of the motor drive or integrated motor. A second, non-pulse output is tied to the direction input. The number and frequency of pulses transmitted to the step input determine the travel length and speed of the conveyor, respectively. The signal (high or low) at the direction input determines the travel direction—forward or reverse. For smooth conveyor starting and stopping, the PLC/controller must ramp the frequency of pulses up and down to create smooth accelerations and decelerations. Without this capability, the conveyor will jerk when starting and stopping.

2. Velocity Control with Analog Input

Using a variation of discrete input/output (I/O) signals with one or two digital inputs plus an analog input is another popular scheme for controlling step and servo motors with positioning conveyors.

In this configuration, Run/Stop is the first digital input. When Run/Stop is set, the motor automatically reaches and runs at target velocity. When the Run/Stop input is reset, the motor decelerates to a stop. As motor acceleration and deceleration are configured in software during axis commissioning, the axis automatically controls them. A second digital input can control direction (forward/reverse).

While the target velocity of the motor is configurable in software to a fixed value, many users elect to control the speed with an analog signal (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2: This velocity control diagram shows how the primary controller provides RUN/STOP and DIRECTION digital signals, as well as an ANALOG signal for velocity reference to the motor axis.

This option provides much more flexibility to the machine designer. By configuring the motor axis to ratio its target velocity according to the voltage level at the motor axis’ analog input, the machine designer can accurately control the target velocity of the conveyor for different process conditions. Some conditions may require that the conveyor run faster than others. Many drives and integrated motors have at least one analog input that accepts 0 to 5 volts or up to +/- 10 volts. Analog velocity control is an effective method for controlling both the position and speed of the conveyor using a minimal number of I/O points. This control scheme is easy to program in the primary controller.

3. Network Control (Distributed Control)

Network control offers the greatest flexibility to the user, especially for those preferring to offload some of the control functions. Network control (see Figure 3 below) involves a permanent serial or fieldbus connection between the primary controller and the motor drive or integrated motor. This connection replaces all or most of the discrete I/O signals used in the previous two methods.

Figure 3: This network control diagram shows the network connection between the primary controller and the motor axis. The network connection can be a serial interface such as RS-232, RS-485 or Ethernet, or an industry-standard protocol such as EtherNet/IP, Modbus or CANopen.

Many drives and integrated motors on the market today support network interfaces for RS-232, RS-485, Ethernet TCP and Ethernet UDP, as well as EtherNet/IP, Modbus and CANopen. Any of these serial interfaces work for single-axis applications where the primary controller must control only one axis. However, RS-232 does not work for multi-axis applications when controlling more than one axis.

Once a network connection is made, all commands from the primary controller to the motor axis are sent over the network connection. The exact details of the commands vary by the connection method. For discussion purposes, this article will focus on sending SCL (Si Command Language) commands over an RS-232 or RS-485 connection.

Simple and easy-to-use, SCL commands are defined with two letters and follow a simple syntax easily adopted by programmers. The syntax for streaming an SCL command over an RS-232 or RS-485 connection can be shown as:


In this example, the command is FL, which stands for Feed To Length and represents an incremental or relative move command. The number 20000 is the distance parameter for this command and indicates 20,000 increments of motion. For a step motor, each increment is one step, while for servo motor, each increment is one encoder count. The at the end of the string symbolizes a carriage return (ASCII 13), which designates the end of the command string. Upon receipt of this command string, the motor axis indexes the conveyor forward a distance of 20,000 increments.

The SCL command set contains additional commands for velocity, acceleration and deceleration, as well as for movement in both forward (positive) and reverse (negative) directions. More than 100 commands are available in SCL, including those for absolute moves, homing moves and registration moves. For a dictionary of SCL commands, refer to Host Command Reference.

To choose which of the control schemes is right for your positioning conveyor application, consider the requirements for position and velocity, as well as the type and existing capabilities of the primary controller or PLC already in your machine. Adding a step-and-direction control module to your PLC or controller is easy. If the function already exists and is available, the pulse control method is a good choice. Pulse control provides accurate positioning.

If simple run/stop and direction control is only needed, consider the analog control scheme. As explained, this scheme is upgradeable any time with an analog signal for varying the conveyor speed. Keep in mind that the accuracy for the velocity control scheme to position the conveyor (starting and stopping) is based on the timing of setting and resetting the run/stop input.

Finally, if your PLC or controller has an available network connection, network control provides highly accurate positioning, as well as the opportunity to query the motor axis for status. Having the capability to query the motor axis for information—such as motor fault and alarm status—can be beneficial to maintaining the reliability of machine operation.

An application engineer, Eric Rice is marketing director at Applied Motion Products. Founded in 1978, the company specializes in high-precision, cost-effective motion control products. Reach Rice at

Chobani yogurt packaging goes to battle for military families
Chobani introduced its Hero Batch Red, White and Blueberry yogurt multipack—its first charitable SKU—to benefit Operation Homefront, an organization that assists veterans and military families.

Chobani yogurt packaging goes to battle for military families

Just in time for Veteran’s Day, Greek yogurt brand Chobani has launched a product in patriotic packaging to benefit veterans and their families.

Chobani’s Hero Batch initiative centers around Red, White and Blueberry yogurt. The product blends vanilla Greek yogurt with mixed berries on the bottom. The shrink-wrapped cups and outer carton are decorated with camouflage and gold-medal elements. The packaging was designed with the help of veterans on staff at Chobani; food development was led by Adam Croissant, R&D manager, who also is a veteran. Because the packaging changes were visual only, no line changes were required at the Twin Falls, ID, plant where the yogurt is produced and packaged.

With this limited-edition launch, Chobani is donating $500,000 to Operation Homefront, a nonprofit serving military families, and matching consumer donations up to $250,000, for a total of up to $1 million.

“Veteran’s Day gives us all a chance to honor this country’s heroes,” says Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO, Chobani. “We wanted to make something special with one goal: to say thank you to all who have served and to offer support to those who need it.”

Chobani’s donation will provide food and retailer gift cards to military families. Founded in 2011, Operation Homefront has provided nearly $25 million in financial assistance for veterans and their families, including food assistance.

“We are absolutely thrilled Chobani has chosen Operation Homefront as their partner as they seek to address the needs of our military families who may be struggling to make ends meet,” says Brig. Gen. (ret) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO, Operation Homefront.

While this is the company’s first charity stock-keeping unit (SKU), it has a record of contributing. The company’s Chobani Foundation also works with the American Red Cross and other groups to provide products to emergency shelters, local food banks, and pantries. The foundation also supports local initiatives with college scholarships and grant-making programs.

The product, which launched in late October, reportedly has been selling well; it will remain at retail for a one-year period.

Jenni Spinner

Freelance writer and former Packaging Digest senior editor Jenni Spinner is a trade journalist with two decades of experience in the field. While she has covered numerous industries (including construction, engineering, building security, food production and public works), packaging remains her favorite.


PackEx Montréal 2018 offers everything from design to manufacturing—concept to market—with valuable free presentations available throughout the event at Center Stage. See more suppliers, products, and networking opportunities to help you take your projects, company, and career to all-new heights. REGISTER NOW!

Recycled content sets beauty and personal-care packaging apart
Bottles, jars, tubes and closures for personal care products contain from 25% to 100% post-consumer recycled content.

Recycled content sets beauty and personal-care packaging apart

Eco-conscious beauty and personal-care brand owners now have an array of sustainable packaging options with the new Verdant line of bottles, tubes, jars and closures. The components are made from 25% to 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic.

The stock and custom items are available in polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP). According to manufacturer Berry Global, the components can be color matched per the brand owner’s specifications, and they offer the same characteristics as their conventional counterparts vis-à-vis squeezability, bounce-back and barrier properties.

Verdant components may be decorated using industry-standard techniques, including flexography, hot stamping, cold foil printing, soft-touch treatments, silk screening and registered embossing.

The product line currently includes:

• bottles in cylinder and bullet styles, in 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET);

• single-, double- and heavy-wall jars with up to 100% recycled content;

• laminate tubes with up to 75% recycled content;

• continuous-thread, non-flip-top closures with up to 100% recycled content;

• flip-top closures with up to 50% recycled content; and

• overcaps with up to 100% recycled content.

Colors are limited for the overcaps and for closures with more than 10% PCR.


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How smart equipment financing helps packaging operations compete
When you consider the benefits of production flexibility, high output and consistent product quality, can you afford not to invest in the latest packaging machinery technologies? Photo credit: zapp2photo -

How smart equipment financing helps packaging operations compete

When it comes to manufacturing packaging for their products, businesses are keenly aware of the importance of using equipment that is up-to-date and in perfect working order. The high precision required to produce efficiently, quickly and with no errors is critical to their overall business plans.

Striking the right balance between investing in the best equipment available—especially in light of increasing technological advances—and maintaining cashflow can sometimes present a challenge.

That said, smart financing strategies for packaging machinery can act as a highly-advantageous tool to help companies preserve cash and enhance the bottom line.   

Based on more than 25 years of experience working closely alongside manufacturers with a range of packaging needs, I’ve compiled our top strategies for today’s businesses to reap the greatest benefit when acquiring their packaging manufacturing equipment:

Consider upgrading now to grow and compete

Packaging machinery is naturally used by a range of dynamic industries—food and beverage, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and many others. These manufacturers understand that the ability to remain competitive and nimble, to adapt to both changing industry standards and business growth, is key.

When looking for efficient ways to meet growth goals, the adage “time is money” could not ring truer. The difference between producing a unit in two seconds versus three seconds can be significant to the bottom line and growth potential.

Small modifications to a production process can make a large impact. Even if current machinery is functioning at acceptable levels, any slowing or downtime for maintenance can cost a manufacturer thousands of dollars.

Thus, upgrading now to newer, advanced packaging manufacturing equipment can prove to be well worth the return on investment.

That said, acquiring the latest-and-greatest equipment generally requires high upfront costs.

The good news is, manufacturers across industries can increase and improve packaging production without interrupting cashflow through strategic financing. This allows equipment costs to be spread out over several months or years—so there is no need to delay upgrades to the “perfect” time.

Further, while the current rising interest rate environment might cause some companies to shy away from financing, the truth is that numbers remain at historic lows. Manufacturers should take a closer look at upgrading and financing—including fixed-rate options—now.

Gain additional benefits through smart financing

In addition to improving processes through the cost-effective acquisition of new equipment, the right financing structures can come with the benefits of decreasing the risk of obsolescence and depreciation, as well as preserving the capital that is critical to a company’s smooth operations and growth.

Technology is evolving faster than ever, with certain features—like advanced automation and improved sensors—transforming the packaging manufacturing process. This could leave new equipment purchased now far behind industry standards in just a few years.

Further, the ongoing move toward sustainability, both in the manufacturing process and with the final packaging produced, is another factor that contributes to increasing rates obsolescence.

This also means that the value of today’s equipment depreciates at even faster rates, rendering financing with flexibles terms more important than ever to bottom line—as purchasing equipment outright makes less and less sense.

Smart financing can also help companies of all sizes use improved equipment without tying up capital and better balance their cash outflows and inflows.

For example, through choosing options that greatly reduce upfront equipment costs and offer a manageable payment, businesses can the put more cash into research and development and marketing to build their brands—items that won’t drastically depreciate over time.

Understand different lease structures

The right financing solution can vary by company needs and type of equipment. Many manufacturers require a mix of certain core pieces, as well as specialized and customized equipment, for their packaging needs.

For example, we’ve worked with many rapidly-growing businesses that find capital leases—which are essentially lease-to-own structures—highly beneficial for core machinery such as case packing, shrink wrapping and conveyer lines. These pieces typically have a long lifespan relative to higher-tech, customized packaging equipment.

That said, due to significant benefits of efficient equipment, coupled with much faster rates of obsolescence, many companies are increasingly looking to take advantage of operating leases for their more complex pieces—often with terms as short as three to four years.

Operating leases come with the advantages of a “true” lease: a lower monthly payment and the flexibility of the option to defer ownership decisions until end-of-term. Manufacturers can use the equipment and easily hand it back with no strings attached, if it makes more financial sense to upgrade rather than purchase the piece.

For instance, let’s say a company pays $94,000 per month, or $1,128,000 per year, for equipment on a capital lease. Over five years, they will end up spending $5,640,000 over the term for pieces that will likely be close to reaching obsolescence and need to be replaced shortly. With an operating lease, they might pay just $64,000 a month, or $768,000 per year, leaving them with an extra $360,000 a year to put toward their next upgrade and no worries or time spent on disposing of the equipment.

The bottom line

Smart manufacturers know the importance of smooth operations in all aspects of business, including packaging production. Delaying equipment upgrades due to high upfront costs, especially within fast-growing industries, can ultimately negatively impact the bottom line. 

Luckily, there are options that allow for manageable payments and seamless, cost-effective upgrades to the newest equipment, when it makes financial sense.

Through educating themselves on not just the different packaging equipment technologies, but the lease structures available, manufacturers can adapt to growth, stay competitive and see the benefit to their bottom lines much sooner. 

Vahram Mergeanian is an account manager at Summit Funding Group, an Ohio-based company that provides equipment lease and finance solutions to businesses across the U.S. and Canada. Founded in 1993, Summit Funding Group has originated more than $3 billion in equipment lease and finance transactions to date. Contact him at



PackEx Montréal 2018 offers everything from design to manufacturing—concept to market—with valuable free presentations available throughout the event at Center Stage. See more suppliers, products, and networking opportunities to help you take your projects, company, and career to all-new heights. REGISTER NOW!