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Ho-ho-holiday packaging designs solidify the season’s sales

Ho-ho-holiday packaging designs solidify the season’s sales

Hop into our sleigh for a fun ride to see the latest holiday packaging trends for private label and branded products.

Trick-or-treat, gobble-gobble-gobble and Ho-Ho-Ho pack a powerful seasonal punch that goes well beyond any other time of the year.

The winter holiday season outshines back to school as well as Valentine’s Day and Easter, according to the National Retail Federation. The Christmas season alone is roughly 60% of all major holiday sales, as reported by IBIS World, who did the last major study on holiday spending. With the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA) projecting $1.6 billion worth of holiday candy sales for 2015, these numbers would surely even make Santa smile.

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) have long been in this game, with Coke actively changing its packaging with this year’s “Make Someone Happy” campaign and those fabulous limited-edition holiday Oreos we pull from the shelves. You can walk into any store this season and even see an entire aisle dedicated to celebrating the giving season, but more importantly, dedicated to buying.

Even retail brands outside of the store aisles are gearing up for the season. Starbucks seasonal lattes and coffee varieties have achieved monumental popularity, with Forbes estimating $100 million in revenue from just one flavor—pumpkin spiced latte—and not to mention the holiday red paper coffee cups, which caused a stir when they appeared without Christmas-specific designs earlier this year. Pizza Hut’s triple treat box also promises to push the season.

So this year at the U.S. Private Label Trade Show (Nov. 13-15; Chicago) organized by the Private Label Manufacturers Assn. (PLMA), we took a sleigh ride down the aisles to see what some of the attendees thought about holiday sales.

Mitigate obsolete inventory

Hearthside Food is one of the food industries largest contract manufacturers of baked goods and bars. According to Roy Jasper, vp of sales and marketing, Private Label, seasonal packages are highly strategic, core to his supplier strategy and about creating value for the customer (see photo above). "We do seasonal as a value-add. With it we can improve our chance of becoming a single source supplier by doing something that not many others can," Jasper says. In his category, he believes store brand seasonal sales, however, are declining for contract manufacturers, but not the overall category since retailers have allowed CPG-branded product to fill this space, mitigating their obsolete inventory risk associated with seasonal product.

Occasion-based marketing magic

The Popcorn Factory offers gourmet popcorn, sweets and more—and has made a business out of occasion-based marketing. Not surprisingly, the company’s take on seasonal packaging is wildly different. Christmas is number one because that’s when people spend, according to Alan Petrik, chief operating officer.

The Popcorn Factory really goes all out and has seasonal programs in department stores and on the web. He believes it is a big differentiator, and the benefit one gains from the risks of obsolete packaging outweighs the uncertainty; an astute and well-managed sales team can mitigate this risk. Given the importance of inventory management, the sales forecast becomes the Holy Grail. You have got to get it right.

In Petrik’s mind, doing seasonal packaging is not an option: “You offer a program seasonally because that’s when the influx of spending is.”

More multipacks?

Toad-ally Snax is a small manufacturer of chocolate coated and drizzled snack foods out of Bristol, PA. Company president Darlette Jenkins focuses on Christmas and the other three big holidays: Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter. She takes advantage of these high sales periods to drive incremental value. In addition, she believes holiday seasonal packaging and products increase profit margins, extend the brand and deepen consumer engagement. In the coming year, she expects we will see more gift and multipack holiday packaging—thanks for the tip, Darlette!

Whatever the reason, holiday packaging and products can add to your bottom line, whether it be to retain your existing revenue stream or to add to it. Just know that there can be an ugly downside—too much product and returned inventory. So risk mitigation must be a carefully thought through strategy. And while my children tell me that Santa is really good at this, it is still a challenge that he, even with his helpers, has yet to master!

Ho-Ho-Ho! Happy Holidays.

Diane Primo is CEO of Purpose Brand, an award-winning public relations, brand and content marketing agency that helps companies, brands and organizations put purpose into practice—making brands more relevant and stakeholder communities stronger.

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Learn about the latest developments in packaging design at WestPack 2016, Feb. 9-11 in Anaheim, CA.

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True Shelf Life in Real Time: There’s an App for That

True Shelf Life in Real Time: There’s an App for That
Paper sensor combined with NFC-enabled app provides precise shelf life indication for each enabled package.

Goodbye date code? New technology lets consumers know how much shelf life is left in every packaged food, even before they purchase it.

Ours is a highly mobile and connected world where sensors, the cloud and smartphones mean that global access to just about anything is just a keystroke away.

So why do we still use mass-produced use-by codes, which are longer the best option in 2020?

What if there was a cheap and accurate sensor for food packaging that could indicate shelf life in real time? And to make it even better, what if there was a smartphone app for that?

That’s all possible when the information on a food sensor developed by engineers and scientists at Imperial College London (ICL) is tapped by a smartphone app. These scientists from ICL formed a spin-out company, BlakBear, which is starting a partnership with TPG Rewards, a marketing technology company. TPG develops loyalty and promotional programs for some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies in the world.

ICL announced in a press release in June 2019 that it aimed to modernize the current model of preprinted expiration dates that are based on conservative calculations that assume less than optimum conditions in the supply chain.

The downside to such a calculated approach? It’s estimated that globally about 1.3 billion tons of perfectly good food is tossed into the garbage, which would feed more than 820 million people who suffer from hunger worldwide.

There’s a far better, highly precise method available based on the fact that microbes, which cause food spoilage, emit nitrogenous basic gases such as ammonia. Ammonia levels can be read by a cheap sensor that’s printed on cellulose paper—it costs just two cents apiece.

The deep tech spin-out company BlakBear, founded by Imperial PhD scientists, “develops new chemistry and electronics for simple chemical sensing, and harnesses new data with AI” that includes leveraging near-field communications (NFC) so that anyone could access the shelf-life data from a smartphone app.

BlakBear developed the algorithms used by the paper sensors to measure the product freshness and predict the expiry date.

When these components work in concert, the magic happens.

“We can bring it from the lab where it works very well to the industry, and then have producers, retailers and consumers use our technology,” said Giandrin Barandun, BlakBear CTO and author of the study.

BlakBear CEO Max Grell tells Packaging Digest that the tech is appropriate for any fresh food that expires, and their data is published for fish and meat. “It informs the consumer how much shelf life is left,” he adds.

As the technology enters the market, BlakBear will keep developing product-specific calibrations that also factor in the package volume, say for a single-serving unit vs a multipack, according to Grell.

And while that will require additional research, he is preparing for the next step. “We’re poised for trials in the United States, Asia, the UK and the rest of Europe.”

 

Kraft cheese and smart NFC tech

This leads us back to the smartphone app, which brings the consumer into the equation, and TPG Rewards, which has extensive background with apps and consumer engagement that operates on a popular NFC-based platform. It's been deployed for a multitude of nationwide executions for brands such as Kraft, Conagra, Kellogg’s and retailers from Walmart to Publix, according to TPG's John Galinos.

In 2019 Galinos oversaw an NFC-based execution of Kraft Cheese at Walmart.  “Every package of Kraft Singles cheese sold at Walmart during the promotion period of September to December 2019 had our chip on the package," he says. "The NFC chip that we deployed for the Kraft program was unique as the content that the consumer received changed based upon if the package was sealed or opened. It remains at this point the largest consumer-facing NFC based program Worldwide.”

As with such connected things, the cloud is involved.

“It’s this platform that is being integrated into the sensors,” explains Galinos. “The platform provides a digital connection between the brand and the consumer at exactly the moment that the consumer is about to complete their purchase decision. The consumer desire or need to know product freshness date now can become a conduit for the brand to dialog directly with the consumer.

“[Our] marketing platform deploys the results of the freshness read to the consumer's phone and provides the marketer the ability to incentivize the consumer to complete the purchase,” he continues. “The platform provides the marketer the ability to provide variable digital coupon denominations that are deployed based upon the remaining freshness of that product. For example, the higher the value of the coupons the closer one gets to the expiration date. In addition, the platform can also provide recipe suggestions based upon the freshness of the product, location, and weather.”

Watch a video of the Kraft Cheese NFC packaging on YouTube.

The sensor technology and marketing platforms are ready to go, Galinos says. "We would need 12-16 weeks to deploy a program after we have received input from a client as to the type of meat, package type, and what marketing functions they would like to deploy, whether coupons or recipes." When the BlakBear sensor is layered in, then more leadtime is required for shelf-life determinations.

The stars and technology appear to be aligned for the next evolution in consumer safety, with the benefits of unprecedented accurate shelf life indication and a dramatic reduction in food waste, all done in real-time for a specific package using a smartphone.

And, as a bonus, the frustration and confusion with use-by dates could be a thing of the past.

Reusable Toy Packaging Boosts the Fun Factor

Reusable Toy Packaging Boosts the Fun Factor
Educational Insights makes it easy for kids to play with the box their toy comes in. Click "View Gallery" below right of this image to see other photos.

Educational Insights, a leading provider of educational toys in Gardena, CA, is taking sustainable packaging in a new direction with reusable boxes for its Design & Drill Bolt Buddies product line. Each box transforms into a play set thematically linked to the toy that came in the box.

Design & Drill Bolt Buddies products include a rocket, a truck, and a race car, each with a kid-safe drill included. The packaging design for each product adds to the child’s play experience by creating a physical setting that can be used over and over. The child simply unfolds the box to turn it into a graphically engaging 3D play set.

Three Educational Insights team members fielded questions from Packaging Digest about the Design & Drill Bolt Buddiespackaging: Sahad Rivera, senior designer;Joey Lopez, senior graphic designer;and Lori Mannion, senior marketing director. Rivera and Lopez designed the package structure and graphics.

Is this packaging a redesign, or is Design & Drill Bolt Buddies a new product line?

Mannion: Design & Drill Bolt Buddies is a new product line from Educational Insights that combines the basics of simple construction and engineering — by having kids use a real, working, kid-safe drill — with a world of imaginative play, including rockets, race cars, and recycling trucks.

When did the packaging launch?

Rivera: The line launched in January of this year.

How did Educational Insights come up with the idea for the packaging?

Lopez: We want to be a responsible company that brings smiles to kids faces as well as their parents, and something we noticed this last holiday was a lot of negative attention to the leftover packaging waste left behind. So, what are we doing about it? What could be both fun and a good way to be responsible?

For many of us, it’s just a box. But to a child’s imagination, it could be a pirate ship or a building or a rocket launch tower. By looking at existing fold-up packaging and attempting to create fun structures that kids can use with the main toy, we folded up dozens of shapes over several brainstorm sessions.

Our goal was to make something the child would actually want to keep, extending the life of the packaging. For the rocket’s packaging, the play set follows a rocket launch story line — starting with the control center, then progressing to the launch tower, and finally landing on the moon! For the control center, we wanted our illustrations to inspire kids with possible future science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers in disciplines like astronomy and chemistry.

The rocket launch features an elevator for your Bolt Buddies to embark on their adventure. The moon-landing scene is filled with planets, moons, satellites, and shooting stars, complete with bolt-hexagon-shaped craters. There are also a few of Toy Designer Sahad’s feline friends hidden in the toy and play set.

What play sets can kids create with the boxes for the other products in this product line?

Mannion: Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Pick-It-Up Truck’s packaging becomes a recycling-center play set, and the race car box becomes a race track, complete with spectators!

Are the boxes made of paperboard or corrugated board?

Rivera: The boxes are made out of corrugated board.

Are there any packaging components inside the box to protect the product during distribution?

Rivera: There are a few corrugated inserts that are included for stability and protection of the product, as well as a poly bag to keep loose parts together and prevent them from getting lost or scratching other components.

When the box’s life is finally at an end, after many play sessions, can consumers recycle it?

Rivera: Yes, there is a “Please Recycle” callout on the box, as well as on the guide to encourage consumers to do so.

How is the box printed?

Lopez: Four-color (4/4) offset-lithographic printing on white-coated E-flute, plus ultraviolet (UV) gloss.

How have consumers reacted to the Design & Drill Bolt Buddies reusable packaging?

Mannion: Reviews indicate that parents love that it adds to the imaginative play and fun for their child. They also appreciate our company’s thoughtful effort to be environmentally conscious.

Reusable Toy Packaging Boosts the Fun Factor: Gallery

The box for the Design & Drill Bolt Buddies race car converts into a race track.

Educational Insights, a leading provider of educational toys in Gardena, CA, is taking sustainable packaging in a new direction with reusable boxes for its Design & Drill Bolt Buddies product line. Each box transforms into a play set thematically linked to the toy that came in the box.

Design & Drill Bolt Buddies products include a rocket, a truck, and a race car, each with a kid-safe drill included. The packaging design for each product adds to the child’s play experience by creating a physical setting that can be used over and over. The child simply unfolds the box to turn it into a graphically engaging 3D play set.

Three Educational Insights team members fielded questions from Packaging Digest about the Design & Drill Bolt Buddiespackaging: Sahad Rivera, senior designer;Joey Lopez, senior graphic designer;and Lori Mannion, senior marketing director. Rivera and Lopez designed the package structure and graphics.

Is this packaging a redesign, or is Design & Drill Bolt Buddies a new product line?

Mannion: Design & Drill Bolt Buddies is a new product line from Educational Insights that combines the basics of simple construction and engineering — by having kids use a real, working, kid-safe drill — with a world of imaginative play, including rockets, race cars, and recycling trucks.

When did the packaging launch?

Rivera: The line launched in January of this year.

How did Educational Insights come up with the idea for the packaging?

Lopez: We want to be a responsible company that brings smiles to kids faces as well as their parents, and something we noticed this last holiday was a lot of negative attention to the leftover packaging waste left behind. So, what are we doing about it? What could be both fun and a good way to be responsible?

For many of us, it’s just a box. But to a child’s imagination, it could be a pirate ship or a building or a rocket launch tower. By looking at existing fold-up packaging and attempting to create fun structures that kids can use with the main toy, we folded up dozens of shapes over several brainstorm sessions.

Our goal was to make something the child would actually want to keep, extending the life of the packaging. For the rocket’s packaging, the play set follows a rocket launch story line — starting with the control center, then progressing to the launch tower, and finally landing on the moon! For the control center, we wanted our illustrations to inspire kids with possible future science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers in disciplines like astronomy and chemistry.

The rocket launch features an elevator for your Bolt Buddies to embark on their adventure. The moon-landing scene is filled with planets, moons, satellites, and shooting stars, complete with bolt-hexagon-shaped craters. There are also a few of Toy Designer Sahad’s feline friends hidden in the toy and play set.

What play sets can kids create with the boxes for the other products in this product line?

Mannion: Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Pick-It-Up Truck’s packaging becomes a recycling-center play set, and the race car box becomes a race track, complete with spectators!

Are the boxes made of paperboard or corrugated board?

Rivera: The boxes are made out of corrugated board.

Are there any packaging components inside the box to protect the product during distribution?

Rivera: There are a few corrugated inserts that are included for stability and protection of the product, as well as a poly bag to keep loose parts together and prevent them from getting lost or scratching other components.

When the box’s life is finally at an end, after many play sessions, can consumers recycle it?

Rivera: Yes, there is a “Please Recycle” callout on the box, as well as on the guide to encourage consumers to do so.

How is the box printed?

Lopez: Four-color (4/4) offset-lithographic printing on white-coated E-flute, plus ultraviolet (UV) gloss.

How have consumers reacted to the Design & Drill Bolt Buddies reusable packaging?

Mannion: Reviews indicate that parents love that it adds to the imaginative play and fun for their child. They also appreciate our company’s thoughtful effort to be environmentally conscious.

Robotics

How Mobile Robots Deliver Efficiency to Your Packaging Line

How Mobile Robots Deliver Efficiency to Your Packaging Line
The Kuka KMR iiwa model combines a mobile platform with the lightweight Kuka LBR iiwa robot, which is suited to sensitive, human-robot collaborative tasks, including delicate assembly work. Photo courtesty of Kuka.

Advancements in robotics continue to reshape packaging automation, with mobile robots becoming a more common choice for tasks such as materials transport and machine loading and unloading. Is it time for you to bring autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into your packaging operation?

Robot systems that feature an industrial robot on top of a mobile platform can help with optimization of material flow and packaging processes. Mobile robots’ ability to move around the plant floor also offers production flexibility, as the units can travel among various packaging workstations and perform relevant work at each one.

Working collaboratively with humans, mobile robots can reduce repetitive-stress injuries and alleviate fatigue-related human error, which in turn improves product quality and increases worker safety. Mobile robots also provide data — about materials movement over the course of a shift, for example — that help production planning and improve efficiency.

Packaging Digest’s exclusive Q&A on mobile robots features in-depth commentary from the following industry experts, who describe not only the state of the art but also what’s on the horizon for this technology:

• Ed Mullen, vice president of sales, Americas, for Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)

• Denise Ebenhoech, regional head of advanced robotic applications at Kuka Robotics

• Joe Campbell, senior manager of applications development at Universal Robots (UR)

What recent advancements have you seen in mobile robots for packaging operations?

Mullen: The increased flexibility of autonomous mobile robots makes them highly attractive for packaging operations and enables even a single robot to be used for myriad applications within the same facility.

For example, companies can add a collaborative robot (cobot) arm (see video here) to turn the AMR into an automatic, mobile packing station to optimize internal logistics and production flows. In fact, with a precision docking station built into a stationary table, a lightweight cobot can execute precise and specialized tasks in packaging at multiple workstations.

There’s also been a strong demand over the last year for bigger, faster, and stronger AMRs that can handle higher payloads, as well as smaller AMRs that can move through tighter spaces. Higher-payload AMRs can deliver pallet loads of packaging materials to the packaging line, as well as take full loads from the end of the line to a warehouse or truck. Lower-payload AMRs can add hooks to tow carts, or even a pallet fork to pull full pallets or multiple packages simultaneously — or conveyor bands/belts or pallet lifters to vary their applications.

One of the most significant advancements in AMRs for packaging and industry overall is the addition of AI [artificial intelligence] features for improved navigation.

With AI incorporated into the software and strategically placed cameras that function as an extended set of robot sensors, AMRs can provide optimized route planning and driving behavior. The cameras enable the robots to detect and recognize moving obstacles and react accordingly. For example, the robots will continue driving as usual if they detect a person but will park if they detect an automated guided vehicle (AGV) on its track so the AGV can drive by. The robot can also predict blocked areas or highly trafficked areas in advance and reroute instead of entering the blocked area and then rerouting.

Campbell: I believe we will see a significant growth in mobile robots being implemented in the warehousing and fulfillment industry because of all the benefits described earlier. Manufacturers that do not automate will be at a serious disadvantage to those that do. New applications that I believe we will witness soon being widely deployed are AMRs with cobot arms mounted on top of them, driving between different picking stations.

Cobots can deliver all the advantages of advanced robotic automation with none of the traditional added costs associated with robot programming, setup, and dedicated, shielded work cells. Unlike traditional industrial robots that stay hardwired in a cage, lightweight cobots are an ideal option to mount on AMRs because of the built-in, innovative force-sensing technology that makes the robot stop operating — based on risk assessment — when encountering an employee.

“The out-of-box experience” with a collaborative UR robot is typically less than an hour. That’s the time it takes an untrained operator to unpack the robot, mount it, and program the first simple tasks. The term “collaborative” not only means that humans can collaborate directly with the robots, potentially with no safety guarding between them. We also apply the term to ease of use and deployment; a robot is not truly collaborative if it’s not easy to set up and work with.

Ebenhoech: Mobile robots are getting more and more independent from fixed installations on the floor, where they have traditionally had to follow a line or rail in the ground. This has opened up a number of interesting industrial and packaging applications. Packaging operations are often challenged with bringing material to and from machines efficiently and flexibly. Modern mobile robots use a combination of sensors and software for navigation, freeing them from fixed routes and making process-step changes easier to handle.

Another advancement that is supporting space-saving drive concepts is the omnidirectional wheel. These wheels allow mobile robots to drive in any direction — forward, sideways, backwards, diagonally, turning on the spot, curves — and also from a standstill position to enable the robot to navigate in tight spaces or docking situations.

Having a mobile robot as a system, meaning that it includes an industrial robot integrated on top of a mobile platform, makes the mobile robot an even more useful tool. Packaged or to-be-packaged goods can be directly handled using the robot on the platform. This also enables the mobile robot to change packaging material, especially when it is equipped with a sensitive robot. Imagine changing a packaging roll of material with a sensitive robot that has the ability to “feel” the pin that the center of the roll fits onto.

How do these advanced systems compare to the existing standard equipment?

Ebenhoech: In packaging operations, it can difficult to know which method of transportation to and from the packing station is right for the application. Using conveyers might take too much space, and they offer little flexibility if you have to change the path of the transported good. Forklifts and/or people are a more flexible solution, but it is often tough for companies to find enough workers willing to do these repetitive and, sometimes, non-ergonomic jobs. Tuggers and lines following AGVs might take too much space or be too inflexible for path changes.

This is an area where mobile robots offer a lot of advantages. Because they are equipped with laser-scanner navigation to create paths via software and with flexible drive systems, like omnidirectional wheels, mobile robots are able to add a lot to flexibility without using a lot of floor space.

Mullen: Mobile robots without the ability to add on top modules — such as cobots, conveyor belts, and so forth — can be limited to one application. And although all AMRs are designed to work collaboratively with people by automating repetitive and injury-prone material transportation, the standard sensors and cameras on AMRs without AI aren’t able to apply data for advanced decision-making.

Without AI, the robots react the same way to all obstacles, slowing and attempting to navigate around the person or object if possible, or stopping or backing up if there is no safe way to maneuver around it. The AMR’s standard approach is appropriate in nearly every situation but, in the same way that AI is powering new capabilities for self-driving cars and intelligent drones, it is also poised to dramatically change robotics.

What are the benefits of these advancements for packaging production lines?

Ebenhoech: Higher efficiency, quality, and safety all come to mind, especially if the transportation and/or handling of material is done by workers, for example driving forklifts, pushing carts, or manually handling/changing packaging goods or materials.

One example of higher efficiency would be a company that has several packaging machines. Each of the machines has a different process time. For some, it might take 15 minutes until a load is finished. Others might need several hours. All of them need to be loaded and unloaded over and over again.

Most of the time, the workers will have to stand around waiting for the machines to finish. Sometimes, it might be possible to give workers other jobs in between, but depending on these other jobs, there may not be a sudden break that lets the worker run to the next machine that is ready to be loaded or unloaded. Here, a mobile robot can provide a real advantage that optimizes the worker’s time. And, of course, waiting for a machine is not the most exciting job.

Another point to consider is that using a mobile robot that is controlled via software also means access to data is much easier. Mobile robots are usually connected to the other software and data parts in the factory. Using these data provides constant feedback about the location of the material, making it possible to get better insight into the actual material flow and develop an understanding of all material movement. This, in turn, makes it easier to improve and optimize material flow and production process for better efficiency.

Quality and safety are always important issues. There are dangerous or non-ergonomic tasks that need to be done. Even a lighter part that weighs 10 pounds can get really heavy if it has to be handled for several hours. This can lead to injuries, lower product quality, or human error when operating machines like forklifts. Here, robots and mobile robots can be very useful devices.

Mullen: The increased flexibility of AMRs makes them highly attractive for packaging operations and enables even a single robot to be used for myriad applications within the same facility.

What areas in mobile robots still need work and why?

Mullen: In today’s more connected work environment, sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0, AMRs need to be more connected with a company’s other technologies. That’s happening. Over the next few years, we’ll see more connected supply chains where manufacturing execution systems (MES), robots, and picking systems are united, as are robots and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems within production environments.

This means the process from ordering, to producing, and thereafter transporting goods can now be fully automated. This advancement will also influence the workforce, as we will see the same companies wanting to upskill their current workforce and recruit new employees with skills made possible by Internet 4.0.

Ebenhoech: In general, mobile robots — at least if running sensor and software-based paths — are still a fairly new technology. And while they have opened up a lot of great opportunities, there is still some learning that needs to take place.

One question would be, what part of the application is making decisions? Or better, what part is making which decision? Finding the right balance of the interacting parts, like humans, plant- or application-control software, fleet manager, and individual mobile robot, still remains a challenge. And the answer heavily depends upon the environment and application specifics.

Safety considerations also need to be investigated to find the right balance between keeping people safe while giving the robot enough freedom to be a useful tool. Situations like docking, in which mobile robots need to get close to a machine or workstation, must be carefully analyzed. There are good ways to handle these scenarios, and they are highly application- and environment-specific, as well. Although the safety standards in production are very mature, there is still room for improvement.

Another area that still has room for refinement is making mobile applications more efficient in production environments with a lot of traffic, especially if there are people around. Since safety is the highest priority, the robot will always stop or go around people. That takes time and, depending on the limitation of space, this can add up very quickly. There are a lot of different ways to approach this challenge, and more experience is needed to address all the different competing considerations.

What’s next and when might we see further improvements in mobile robots?

Ebenhoech: Mobile robots are extremely dependent on sensor technology, so the advancement that would probably drive the biggest improvement in their operation would be 3D safety sensors. These sensors would greatly enhance their ability to identify, evaluate, and judge the constantly changing surroundings they operate in.

Safety sensors that provide a 3D image of the environment would also greatly reduce the number of sensors that are used to support applications today. A 3D safety sensor that could differentiate between an object and a person would be a small revolution in this field. It would optimize the path and behavior of the mobile robot substantially.

It would also make it easier to have affordable mobile robots with industrial robots integrated into them. If you need higher-payload robots, the safety aspect gets more complicated. Having smarter and safer vision technology would help a lot.

At the rate in which these technologies are improving, I can’t see this type of leap being that far off.

Mullen: Expect to see more mobile robots used across myriad applications within packaging operations, as companies realize the benefits they provide over traditional material-handling methods for production and packaging lines, such as conveyor belts, AGVs, and even manned forklifts.

AI capabilities will continue to advance, as well. With AI, the technological barrier between AMRs and humans will continue to shrink, increasing collaboration and efficiency.

In fact, as AI advances, we may gain the ability to interact with robots more naturally, using speech or gestures. That might include holding up a hand to make the robot stop, pointing it in a preferred direction, or waving it on to pass or follow — or simply telling it, “This hallway will be blocked for the next two hours. Take another route until then.”

Although mobile robots will still be a controllable tool with emergency stop buttons, they will gain autonomy that will make them even more valuable. They will be able to understand where their routine can be improved and suggest better paths to their destination, more productive times of day to execute tasks, other robots that could be deployed for more efficient workflows, and the most appropriate time to recharge.

AI-powered AMRs will help turn workplaces into organic, data-driven environments, in which robots share relevant data from their own or remote sensors to help fleets of robots make informed decisions. With this data-sharing model, each robot essentially has access to every sensor in every other robot or camera, providing it with a much more detailed view of its entire environment, thus enabling much more efficient path-planning performance.

The MiR200 mobile robot from Mobile Industrial Robots incorporates the UR5 collaborative robot arm from Universal Robots, which is equipped with OnRobot’s RG2 gripper.

 

Flexible Packaging

Will Electric Vehicles Put Pouch Machines Out of Business?

Will Electric Vehicles Put Pouch Machines Out of Business?
Because electric cars will need time to recharge, it’s likely most charging will be done in work parking lots or at home, not where drivers can pick up a bag of pretzels in an attached c-store. Photo credit: Michael Flippo - stock.adobe.com

Flexible packaging is heavily into the salty snack market. Impulse sales of salty snacks soar at convenience-stores-connected-to-gas-stations. Packaging machinery wizard John Henry wonders, “Will Frito-Lay still need all its vertical form-fill-sealers when electric cars dominate the road?”

Russ Roberts is an economist with a podcast. Benedict Evans is a futurologist with an interesting way of thinking about things. Listen to them talk about EVs (electric vehicles) and you learn a lot about second- and third-order effects of the move away from fossil fuels.

Several recordings caught my ear, but specifically the one about the effect on pretzels and other salty snacks (chips, peanuts, crackers and more). According to Statista.com, convenience stores — most attached to gas stations — sold $6.5 billion of salty snacks in 2018. That’s more than a third of the total US salty snack market.

These sales, according to Evans, are often impulse sales. You’re buying some gas, so you buy a bag of chips to munch on during the drive home. Or pick up several big bags to take to the beach, and so on.

One of the obvious effects of EVs will be fewer gas stations. A second-order effect is fewer convenience stores (c-stores). A third-order effect is fewer snack food sales.

That’s as far as he took it in the podcast. I started thinking of fourth- and fifth-order effects. (Is it possible to take a good idea too far? Naaah.) If snack sales decline, the market for vertical form-fill-seal baggers will shrink. Fewer machines producing fewer products means reduced film consumption as well.

The further from the cause, the more diminished the effect, of course. EVs might kill 90% of gas stations but only 30% of c-stores and 10% of salty snack sales. The ultimate impact on packaging machine sales may be marginal. Not a big deal, unless your company happens to be one of those living at the margin.

SSMs (salty snack makers) need to be thinking about what’s next. If they lose the gas station c-store and its impulse buyers as a market, where do they make it up? New sales channels might mean new package designs. New package designs will probably mean new packaging machines. Will you be ready, Salty Snack Maker? What about you, Pouch Machine Builder?

Change is coming and there are three ways to deal with it.

1. Ignore it and continue as normal; then act surprised when the change happens. This is failure.

2. Or, study all market and production factors carefully and forecast what the marketplace will look like in 10 years. Then develop a plan to satisfy that marketplace. Your forecast will be wrong. Not “might be wrong;” it will be wrong. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at what anyone was forecasting for today 10 years ago. Or back in 1950 for 1960. Did anyone get anything right?

3. The third way is nimbility. Nimbility is the ability to be nimble. As new trends develop, such as changes in the c-store business, you need the ability to quickly identify them and adapt. And adjust your packaging operation to the new normal.

Successful companies are nimble. Non-nimble companies are seldom successful. Which will you be?

Healthcare Packaging

5 Pharma Trends and Their Impact on Packaging

5 Pharma Trends and Their Impact on Packaging
With self-medication continuing to advance, patients and caregivers appreciate packages like autoinjectors that simplify the administration process. Photo credit: Sherry Young – stock.adobe.com

The pharmaceutical industry is changing at an unprecedented pace. New biological treatments for cancer, and a dramatic rise of widespread diseases such as diabetes, call for new processing and packaging solutions to fulfill the different needs all over the world. Keep your eye on these five main packaging trends for 2020 for the global pharmaceutical market.

 

Photo courtesy of Sytegon.

1. Production flexibility and output are critical.

While the demand for common medication such as pain killers and prescription drugs like antibiotics is increasing in the so-called pharmerging markets, completely new forms of treatment are appearing in industrialized countries thanks to the access to more complex substances. Ground-breaking changes are occurring in the area of biological therapies — for instance, regarding the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases, as well as rare illnesses that only affect a very small group of patients.

Consequently, many global drug manufacturers are currently focusing on the development of new formulations and have outsourced their filling, closing, and packaging operations of legacy products to contract manufacturers, which are often based in the pharmerging markets like China and India. All manufacturers require highly flexible equipment that can adapt to new products and packaging formats quickly.

The main difference? Many new biological developments are produced in ever smaller batches, while traditional contract manufacturers and generic producers are looking to achieve the highest possible output at the lowest possible costs. Other contract manufacturers have specialized in the advanced technologies required for the emerging treatments like gene and cell therapies where many pharmaceutical companies still lack production competence and capacity.

 

Photo courtesy of Sytegon.

2. Self-medication is on the rise.

Unfortunately, comfortable lifestyles and rising life expectancy has also led to an increasing number of diabetes patients. Thanks to new, targeted therapies and application technologies for insulin administration, however, people suffering from diabetes today have the same life expectancy chance as their peers.

Traditional self-injection devices, such as standard syringes, are frequently being replaced by technologically advanced auto-injectors and insulin pens. This development also stems from the fact that self-injectable medicines are no longer used only for diabetes treatments or growth hormone therapies, but also for the increasing number of other therapies, such as for autoimmune diseases, asthma, and hepatitis C, as well as for emergency drugs, to counter opioid overdoses, for example.

This rapidly changing market demands that drug manufacturers be highly flexible and adapt their approach for this new generation of medication. Although many injector types have similar components, their design varies in terms of size, material, and shape. This is a major challenge, especially for contractors and service providers that produce auto-injectors for pharmaceutical companies worldwide and therefore must assemble a variety of differently shaped auto-injectors. Assembly and filling equipment must allow fast and easy changeovers for any known auto-injector type with the shortest possible downtime.

 

Photo courtesy of Sytegon.

3. Product and patient safety is non-negotiable.

For diabetes patients, easy and safe handling of the pens and auto-injectors is the most important criterion. Insulin manufacturers must pay attention to sterile filling and material integrity to ensure the highest product safety.

Insulin pens, for instance, are loaded with cartridges, which run through a number of process steps before the pens can finally be assembled: They are washed, siliconized, sterilized, filled, and closed, usually in a RABS (Restricted Access Barrier System) or an isolator. During this process, the cartridge is exposed to different temperatures, pressures, and movements.

Hence, inspection technology plays a major role in ensuring product and patient safety. Cameras are used to identify both cosmetic container defects, such as cracks or fractures, and particles within the product. An alternative technology used for particle inspection in clear solutions is the static division (SD) technology, which derives its name from the ability to differentiate static from moving objects by transmitting light through the solution.

After inspection, the pens are assembled. This equipment again requires a high flexibility in terms of handling different types of devices. Today, more and more manufacturers are producing for different markets on the same machine and are looking for highly flexible equipment in the medium output range with a compact design, a clear overview of all stations and good accessibility for easy cleaning and fast format changes.

Photo courtesy of Sytegon.

4. Serialization is just the first step towards “digital pharma.”

Another important safety issue is serialization. Numerous laws and guidelines have already come into force all over the world to protect consumers from the threats of counterfeit drugs. At the same time, serialization can also be seen as the first step towards digitization in the pharmaceutical industry. Manufacturers and contract packers are facing the challenge of selecting and implementing appropriate serialization technologies and connecting them with their production and packaging processes. The safest option undoubtedly consists in a scalable machine and software concept that can also be adapted to regulatory changes worldwide.

Apart from serializing the smallest sealable unit (that is, cartons or bottles), solutions are also required for the aggregation of products at different packaging levels, such as bundles, cases, or pallets. To control both operating condition and data at any time, the connection between the physical machine level and the control software must be integrated across many stages of the company Information Technology (IT). Data connection between all lines makes it possible to monitor them all from one central spot, even if the lines are situated at different locations.

 

Photo courtesy of Sytegon.

5. Digital services help optimize processes.

This is essentially what digitization is all about: making machines and services smarter, making data available centrally from across the globe, and using it to optimize processes, make them more transparent and more efficient.

The first step consists in visualizing the existing data, for instance on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), plant status, processes, or important events like alarms or downtimes simply and in real time.

In the next step, data mining can help to identify completely new potential for higher production transparency and optimization.

Further digital services — such as preventive, and in the future even predictive, maintenance or virtual reality (VR) trainings — lead to significant time savings and process improvements. Using special VR glasses, operators can practice part changeovers and expand their machine knowledge without great effort. Since VR trainings are no longer tied to fixed times or locations, they are especially suited for the globalized pharmaceutical industry.

 

Adhero Turns Metered-Dose Inhalers into Smart Packaging

Adhero Turns Metered-Dose Inhalers into Smart Packaging
Smart device, which easily connects to the top of an inhaler for treating chronic respiratory diseases, captures patient's "use" data to help improve health outcomes.

Pharmaceutical packaging is getting smarter thanks to a reusable, Bluetooth-enabled device that enables patients using metered-dose inhalers to track their daily inhaler use and better adhere to their respiratory-therapy regimen.

To create the smart device, called Adhero, India-based pharmaceutical company Lupin Limited partnered with Aptar Pharma, which is part of Crystal Lake, IL-based AptarGroup. Launched initially in India, Adhero attaches to the top of an inhaler. According to Aptar Pharma, Adhero is India’s first “connected device” for metered-dose inhalers.

Adhero helps patients with chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), adhere to their prescribed therapy using built-in sensors that track their inhaler-consumption patterns and daily use. A companion mobile app sends reminders to the patient’s smartphone as well as health alerts based, for example, on the Air Quality Index at the patient’s current location.

Navia Life Care, also based in India, developed Adhero’s digital platform, which includes the MyAdhero Patient App, Care Provider App, and Doctor Portal. Physicians can access Adhero tracking data and other information through the dashboard portal and through the Care Provider App, with their patient’s permission. The apps also provide visual analytics to aid in understanding the data collected by Adhero.

Aptar Pharma estimates that almost 45% of patients don’t adhere to their prescribed respiratory therapy. Reasons include failure to maintain medication schedules and not filling or refilling prescriptions. Those lapses can affect patient health and quality of life.

According to the World Allergy Organization, “More than 35% of [asthma patients] fill less than half of the prescribed medications.” In addition, “Non-adherence to inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) is likely responsible for 24% asthma exacerbations [and] poor outcomes.”

With more cases of asthma and COPD being diagnosed daily, Lupin is using Adhero to boost the power of packaging and, hopefully, improve clinical outcomes and patients’ quality of life.

Kellogg’s ‘Inclusive’ Labels Lets More Parents Send Their Love

Kellogg’s ‘Inclusive’ Labels Lets More Parents Send Their Love
Kellogg's extends its popular writable wrapper for special needs. Click "View Gallery" to see images of the other packages.

Inclusivity is at the heart of two Rice Krispies Treats packages, one designed for children with autism and the other for blind and low-vision children. In each case, the packaging design lets parents include “Love Notes” in their kid’s lunchbox by applying a sticker to the treat’s writable wrapper.

According to a spokesperson for Kellogg, the brand’s owner, “All Rice Krispies Treats come with a writable wrapper where parents and other caregivers can send messages of love and support” by writing directly on the packaging. The company developed tactile “sensory stickers” and braille stickers to build on that concept, enabling parents of autistic and blind children to provide their own supportive notes.

The sensory stickers use textures to communicate non-verbally, and the low-vision stickers are braille-printed with eight different messages, including “Love You Lots” and “You’re the Best.” Both types of stickers are heart-shaped, to fit the white writable space on the front of the Rice Krispies Treats wrapper.

Kellogg launched the sensory-sticker packaging in Fall 2019. These stickers come in four designs that feature soothing colors and textures such as satin, fake fur, velour, and fleece. The sensory stickers come in packs of four.

A year prior, the company partnered with the National Federation of the Blind on the braille stickers. That limited-time packaging campaign also included re-recordable audio boxes for Rice Krispies Treats, which let parents send voice messages to their children.

“Our past campaigns for Rice Krispies Treats were designed to ensure all kids were able to experience messages of love and support during the back-to-school season. We focused on braille stickers and audio boxes in 2018 and then on sensory stickers in partnership with Autism Speaks in 2019,” the spokesperson explained. “At this time, we have the sensory stickers available for redemption using points on KelloggsFamilyRewards.com.”

Giving consumers the ability to add personal notes to otherwise “stock” packages is a popular idea, especially for snack products suitable for lunchboxes or backpacks. Separately, Frito-Lay has offered limited-edition writable snack packaging during the past two back-to-school seasons. The front of each Frito-Lay Variety Packs Snackable Notes bag features a talk bubble where parents can write a personal note to encourage their wee one.

5 branding and packaging trends for 2020

5 branding and packaging trends for 2020
For its organic dairy products, Maple Hill opted to use packaging that addresses sustainability. The recyclable container for its new line of single-serve shelf-stable (aseptic) milks is made mostly with paperboard from responsibly managed pulp trees.

With every new year comes a new opportunity to elevate your brand, thinking beyond cool designs and memorable slogans to connect with users in a way that shows you can be trusted. Successful brands in 2020 will be those that find creative ways to express their over-arching brand attributes—delivering clear, unified brand assets telling stories that have the power to change consumer behavior and, in some cases, start a revolution on store shelves.

I refer to it as breaking through your brand silo. When you consider the broader impact of your product—including the packaging it comes in and how it supports consumers in their aspirational goals to lead better lives and be good to the planet—you have the potential to change the playing field of an entire industry.

In my firm’s role helping companies elevate their brand to gain consumer attention and trust, being at the cutting-edge of what’s next in branding and packaging is key.

Here’s what we’re seeing as the top trends for 2020 and beyond:

1. Sustainable packaging

Leaders are already offering edible wrappers for individually wrapped foods, and more zero-waste packaging concepts are on the way as companies continue to promote packaging that’s both good for you and good for the environment.

Eco-friendly innovations to watch for include:

• edible plastic film fruit coverings;
• potato-based wrappings for ice cream bars, sandwiches, bagels and cookies;
• compostable wine bottles;
• seaweed-based packaging for coffee sachets; and
• water-soluble packaging for all types of products, including detergents, personal care items and food.

Maple Hill, a leading producer of grass-fed, organic dairy products, for example, opted to fill its new line of single-serve shelf-stable (aseptic) milks in a container that is not only 100% recyclable made mostly of raw paperboard from responsibly managed pulp trees, but equally important, stays true to the company’s core values while providing a feel-good choice for consumers (see image above).

2. Transparency with consumers

The notion of transparency will take a literal turn in 2020 as companies address growing consumer demand for honesty about product ingredients and how products are made.

Traditional packaging is being reinvented to embrace clear, to-the-point wording and when appropriate, see-through cut-outs that reveal what’s inside. By managing consumer expectations in the packaging itself, companies are removing the element of surprise. It has been shown that, when given a choice, consumers will choose transparent packaging over opaque packaging.

A trendy whole food protein bar took the approach of listing simple food ingredients in large font on its packaging, followed by ‘No B.S,’ enabling consumers to quickly identify its ingredients as healthy.

3. Sophistication

A creative flight to the safety and brand elements typically seen in the trusted worlds of finance, real estate and law will continue to enjoy a broader, more general appeal in the coming year.

It’s no surprise then that global color authority Pantone selected a rich deep blue as 2020 color of the year. Companies are increasingly using strong, uncluttered messaging in simple, yet sophisticated bold colors and big type to communicate trust and respect.

We’ll continue to see more one-word brand names—such as Casper (sleep products) or Chobani (yogurt)—anchored by straightforward slogans so consumers quickly understand product attributes at a glance.

A cottage cheese brand recently led an industry revival by introducing snack pack sizes and new flavors in sophisticated packaging, elevating a boring, declining food category back to the spotlight. Key to success was a unique one-word brand name, Muuna, in a bold, curvy logotype, and the use of wavy patterns and shapes throughout all brand collateral to convey the notion of creaminess.

4. Consistency

If you haven’t done so already, 2020 will be the year to refresh your brand story and ensure you’re conveying it in the most compelling way possible, across all brand assets, packaging and touchpoints. We’ll see new and innovative packaging structures that support consistent brand values across product lines—such as a disruptive trend on the horizon in the way leafy greens are packaged on grocery store shelves.

To promote a healthy, better-for-you brand message, we’ll see single-use harmful-to-the-planet blister plastic packaging replaced with newer, compostable containers that enable greens to stand up on store shelves.

The over-arching trend is that brand, packaging and industry goals will start to come together in one unified brand expression.

5. Tech-centric

Health conscious consumers love their smart devices, and increased use of technology is, in turn, putting pressure on companies to deliver “smart tech ready” packaging. The more economical it becomes to infuse radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors in water bottles, coffee mugs and other new-tech offerings, the more innovations we’re seeing.

The beverage industry is an early leader, where forward-thinking companies are introducing health drinks, tonics, and herb- or CBD-infused products that “speak” directly to devices, enabling users to automatically track their beverage consumption via health apps. Not only can they easily track their progress towards achieving health goals, but the packages can help them get there by sending alerts when it’s time for consumption.

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WestPack-2020  WestPack 2020: Ideas. Education. New Partners. Feb. 11-13