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3 food-packaging matters spring up in early 2019

3 food-packaging matters spring up in early 2019

Date code labeling, a new sustainable packaging material and continuing concern about chemicals in packaging were hot topics in the month of May 2019. Based on total number of page views from our global packaging community, the three best-read articles on last month all happened to be food-packaging related.

Our concise review starts at number three and moves up to a surprising winner (in my opinion) this month.

Best If Used By date code label

3. Best If Used By date code recommended for food labeling

Who has heard the phrase “When in doubt, throw it out”? A lot of American consumers, it seems. They’ve been tossing a lot of still-edible food because the date code on the package has passed. They figure, perhaps rightly so, that it’s not worth the chance on eating something that has expired and might make you sick.

But those codes mostly indicate the date the food will taste best by. They are more of a quality indicator than a food safety warning.

In April 2019, three U.S. agencies—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—finally acted to improve the date code labeling guidelines for food sold in the United States. All three agreed to recommend that food companies standardize on “Best If Used By” language for voluntary date-code labeling as part of a new strategy to fight food and packaging waste. Have you updated your codes yet?

NEXT: "Paper or plastic?"...again???


2. Paper or plastic? 6 sustainable foodservice packaging options for both

Another on-going dilemma consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies struggle with today, especially with the rising anti-plastic movement, is the age-old question: Paper or plastic? Packaging suppliers would be smart to make sure customers are given both options.

One foodservice packaging manufacturer, Novolex, is a case in point. The company’s portfolio encompasses recyclable and compostable options in paper- and plastic-based packaging. Take a look yourself by clicking on the headline above. A lot of your colleagues and competitors have already done so, which is why this article appears in the #2 spot for the month.

NEXT: BPA concern still high

Food cans no BPA

1. Most food cans no longer use BPA in their linings

This article about BPA and food can linings has consistently experienced high page views since it was initially posted in February 2018—almost a year and a half ago. But over the last several months, interest has peaked again. In February and March 2019, it was #3 in the best-read articles’ lists. In April 2019, it moved up to the #2 spot. Now it’s at #1. Where can it possibly go from here??? You’ll have to come back in about a month to find out!

Another comment from a reader, posted on June 1, shares some info about alternative materials and offers a suggestion:“There is also Bisphenol B, Z AF, AP, & S. All have same health issues and are able to be used and called BPA free. Move back to glass and get rid of plastic linings and deceptive marketing in food products.”

Because consumers are still concerned about chemicals in packaging that might migrate into their food (and thus into their bodies), food companies and their packaging departments need to be concerned too.

Can you match these packaged snack combos?

Can you match these packaged snack combos?
Our dynamic duo Snack Matching Game was a big hit at the recent EastPack 2019 show.

A single-ingredient snack is so yesterday. Many of today’s quick bites are just better when two products come together—especially when clever packaging options make it easy for food companies to create unique snack offerings by collaborating with other internal or external brands.

Learn about successful strategic partnerships, co-branding and dynamic food duos that are yielding some super snack combos in our fun interactive game, which debuted at EastPack 2019 in New York City mid-June. If you missed it in the Big Apple, here’s another chance to play with your food! Find which popular snacks have joined forces to delight today’s snackers by matching two products together.

6 packaging reasons SKUs are exploding

6 packaging reasons SKUs are exploding
Six key themes contribute to proliferation of stock-keeping units (SKUs), including convenience, premiumization and ecommerce.

According to a new survey of 250 consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies by L.E.K. Consulting, 75% of brand owners say they're going to spend significantly more on packaging—and one-third of them will increase spending by more than 10%. In fact, 90% of brand owners say packaging is critical to their brand's success as they seek to adapt to an increasingly competitive landscape and rapidly changing consumer tastes.

Other high-level takeaways:

Sustainability continues to grow. Around 85% say they've made at least one significant change to packaging substrate material, most frequently because it increased ease of recycling. Brand owners expect the value of packaging containing biodegradable, recycled or compostable material to grow by 30% to 40% in the next two years.

Convenience is top of mind. 57% of brand owners say they'll develop packaging that's easier to open, 51% say they'll develop more single-serve packages and 49% will step up placements in new distribution channels, like convenience stores.

Ecommerce expansion. As more and more consumers choose to shop online, brand owners are turning to a variety of strategies that involve packaging. 55% say they’ve entered new digital channels, 47% have implemented mobile on-demand ordering and 47% have increased investment in their websites. CPGs will need to make changes to packaging to protect against breakage, maintain freshness during delivery and keep a consistent look and feel across multiple channels.

Premium products will play a larger role. 42% of brand owners say they're planning on expanding their premium offerings and 35% are changing their promotional strategies—and packaging is usually central to the marketing of premium offerings.

 “CPG brand owners recognize consumers want more convenience, and companies are looking to packaging to help provide it,” says Thilo Henkes, Managing Director at L.E.K. Consulting and coauthor of the 2019 Brand Owner Packaging Study. “This will entail some major changes to packaging, and CPGs are responding and investing.”

“All indications are that brand owners consider ongoing investment in packaging to be critical to their brand’s success,” says Jeff Cloetingh, Managing Director at L.E.K. and report coauthor. “By conveying both valuable attributes and a potent brand message, packaging continues to have the unique capacity to make products stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Several exclusive questions about the report results were answered by Cloetingh for the Packaging Digest audience.

What was the biggest surprise?

Cloetingh: While it’s no surprise that brand owners are increasing the pace of new product introduction in the form of new stock-keeping units (SKUs), we were amazed by the reported magnitude of the trend. Brand owners say they plan to launch an average of 91 SKUs over the next two years, compared with only 64 two years ago—an increase of 42%.

When we take a step back and look at the six key themes that emerged from the study—convenience, premiumization, customization, healthy, green, e-commerce—it struck us that each of these key themes directly played a role in SKU proliferation.

The 10% spend increase: is that lift solely for value-added materials as incremental growth or are there other factors as well?

Cloetingh: The 10% spending increase is inclusive of all potential drivers of packaging spend, including

a) increasing number of packaging components (e.g., adding secondary carton);

b) shift towards more premium packaging components (e.g., upgraded decoration such as adding metalizing features to the container),

c) shift towards higher-value substrates (e.g., incorporating premium-priced recycled resin into the raw material formulation), and

d) like-for-like pricing increases.  


The increase into the C-store market is of interest—why was that channel singled out as “placement for new distribution”?

Cloetingh: Brand owners indicated the “on-the-go” consumer trend has been a major growth driver for their products. Increasing placement in “on-the-go” channels was reported to be the number three most relevant brand actions taken to benefit from this trend behind easy-open packaging functionality and single-serve packaging size innovations.

In addition to the channel, there are increasingly additional merchandising opportunities or placements within the channel that cater more towards the on-the-go consumer.

For example, foodservice channels (e.g., Starbucks’ in-line floor stands) and retail grocery/dollar/value channels (e.g., point-of-purchase sections of the store) are additional targets for brand owners seeking “placement” to drive growth through an “on-the-go” strategy. While C-stores are also an example of where consumers are looking for “on-the-go” products that are single-serve and easy to open, we interpret this as a combination of channel and placement within the store.

What advice do you have for brands?

Cloetingh: When packaging choices are made with full context of macro and micro consumer trends, packaging can be a critical tool to win on the shelf through differentiating the product, capturing the eye of the consumer, and driving value creation for the brand.

For more information, see L.E.K Consulting’s 2019 Brand Owner Packaging Study.

Visit the website at L.E.K. Consulting

Decadent Delici dessert packaging designed for Costco

Decadent Delici dessert packaging designed for Costco
Dessert sold as singles in Europe was adapted to U.S. club store sale in multipacks.

Premium desserts sold at Costco in heavyweight glass cups trayed and sleeved in 6-packs are presented in a decadently tasteful packaging design.

I happened across the website of a design agency that was unfamiliar to me and landed on a particular project that put my packaging and sweet-tooth senses on high alert. The product is Delici, an imported Belgian dessert, with packaging designed by More Branding expressly for the product’s distribution by Costco in the U.S. and Canada. I had to learn more and did, courtesy of Justin Johnson, principal, More Branding.

[January 2018 Update: Johnson reveals the next Delici product and unique packaging in a new feature, Sensational soufflé packaging reunites Delici with Costco]

How was the connection made with Delici founder Steven Himpe?

Johnson: Steven and I were introduced by Mike Horne of Sunwest Sales food brokers. Mike, Steven and I collaborated on packaging projects before Steven founded Delici. Eventually, Steven and I met in downtown San Diego as he began planning to create a new dessert company based in Belgium. We began working as a team to develop the company name and brand that we know today as Delici. Delici means “delights” in Latin.

All of Delici’s products require a spoon so we subtly tucked a spoon into the lower-case “d” of their name. From inception through today, the level of thought and detail into each item is evident and connects with the consumer.

What’s the basic product proposition?

Johnson: The chilled product is a beautifully layered and luxuriously presented single-serve dessert glass. The visual beauty of the dessert flavors drove the engineering and design of the package.

 The line of five products includes the latest, raspberry.

Please describe the packaging components.

Johnson:  The glass cups has been a huge factor in the success of this product. Real glass gives the product a high-end feel. They are reusable and it gives the package an unsuspected weightiness. Other components:
• A plastic lid seals each cup;
• 6-pack thermoformed plastic tray;
• Glossy, perfect tolerance/tension-tight product sleeve with heavy varnish.

One of the challenges was creating a sleeve with a heavy enough varnish to withstand frozen/chilled condensation.  No glue or plastic shrink film is used in the packaging.

What else can be stated about the cup?

Johnson: The glass is custom made for Costco Wholesale. Delici consumers have provided feedback that they love to reuse them for different situations: shot glasses, candlelight cups, homemade dessert / appetizer cup … Although glass is much heavier to ship than plastic, we opted to use glass since this translates well to the premium Delici recipes. You feel like you are purchasing something substantial.

 Heavyweight glass cups that were selected for Delici's premium positioning are reused by consumers.

What’s the target consumer and what design aspects play to that consumer?

Johnson: The target consumer is mainly female looking to either take a moment to treat herself privately or provide something unique to her family. The biggest success of the Delici product has been those purchasing desserts for private and catered events, such as weddings, recitals, birthdays, graduations, showers or holidays. We move a lot of product around events and holidays.

The product is beautiful presented and when set on a serving tray it looks as though a chocolatier or chef created them fresh. The event hosts look like rock stars with minimal effort.

How was the packaging adapted to U.S. markets?

Johnson: Delici started out selling individually labeled, single-serve dessert glasses locally in Belgium and expanded to 17 European countries. To make the product appealing to Costco buyers, we created a more clubstore appropriate 6-pack.

The paperboard sleeve is unwrapped in this die-line rendering.

What design or packaging aspect was the most challenging?

Johnson: The biggest challenge of the package was figuring out how it could work for Costco. If we sold the Delici 6-pack as a frozen item in a carton, they would get lost among the giant tubs of ice cream. The beauty of the layered dessert wouldn’t be on display, the product would surely fail. The deli section of Costco is designed for fresh handmade products, again—a carton wouldn’t fit with Costco’s deli items.

The real break-through came when Mike was going to get some groceries and spotted eggs in a plastic see-through container. It was the transparent solution we were looking for. The transparency would allow the beauty of the product to be on display, it would protect the desserts and it would fit with the other handmade products in the Costco deli section.

Any response from Costco to relay?

Johnson: This is a great story. Costco was hesitant to give the product a try as they weren’t sure how such a high-end dessert would fit into their merchandise mix. It would get lost in frozen and might get overshadowed by the meats and cheeses in the deli. They decided to give it a try and the product was a fast success right out of the gate.  

Today, they carry multiple Delici recipes throughout the year in all their U.S. and Canada locations. Costco loves the visibility of the product and the high-end photography that gives their consumers ideas on how to serve the product. The product recipes, the transparent package construction, visual design, typography and photography blend seamlessly to convey the premium quality of the item and connects with their members.

What is the SRP at Costco vs. Europe?

Johnson: Costco sells these glasses as a six-pack for $10.99. We don’t sell the 6-pack in Europe, but it is clear that Costco Wholesale has the best value in-market.

Are the products packaged in Europe and shipped stateside?

Johnson: Yes. The sturdy plastic trays and the exact fit of the corrugated displays allow us to densely stack them on pallets, creating some efficiencies in shipping. We were one of the first deli department products to create a seamless graphic display case where the graphic on one display case aligns with the graphic on the display case sitting next to it. It is a playful design with a great billboard-like effect.

What design tactic are you most proud of?

Johnson: The product recipes, the transparent package construction, visual design and photography blend seamlessly to convey the premium quality of the item and portray it in the best possible way. We get emails through our website almost daily from customers trying to figure out how they can get more of the product because it’s hard to keep it on the shelves.

Product photos by Joe Glyda of Glyda Photography.

Be sure to read our follow-up article with Delici designer Justin Johnson, 3 sizzling design trends in food and beverage packaging, published June 2017.

A new era in HPP begins as bulk processing commences

A new era in HPP begins as bulk processing commences
All attention is on the new system at Fruselva that opens up glass and metal packaging to HPP products in addition to plastic.

High-pressure processing takes a major step forward with the startup of the world’s first bulk processing system at Go Fruselva in Spain that ‘unpackages’ the technology to allow a range of packaging formats.

With the startup of a commercial facility for bulk throughput, the biggest constraints of high-pressure processing have been removed, enabling unprecedented fresh opportunities beyond rigid and flexible plastic packaging to include glass and metal packaging as well.

Packaging Digest reported the news on this when the technology from Hiperbaric was revealed a year ago (see HPP bulks up to advance beyond plastic packaging, published October 2017). The technology separates the processing from the packaging to make available formats beyond the typical plastic and other containers with flexible components such as lidded trays and more.

With bulk, glass and metal containers can be part of the HPP portfolio.

That flexibility in  format options with bulk HPP takes a quantum leap forward with the first installation at a Hiperbaric customer site, Go Fruselva in Spain, during an open-house unveiling on September 21 of the new Hiperbaric 525 Bulk system in La Selva del Camp (Tarragona). According to Hiperbaric data, the 525 has a 380mm/15-inch diameter and, as the name designates, a 525L/138.7 gallon capacity with throughputs in excess of 3,000kg/6,614lb of product per hour.

Also called simply Fuselva, the customer is a global contract food manufacturer and developer of HPP “cold press” food products. It specializes in fruit purees, vegetables, dairy products, smoothies, juices, nectars and fruit beverages as well as alternatives such as detox juices, nondairy, coconut water and protein beverages. Go Fruselva is the largest pure fruit and juice manufacturer using HPP in the Iberian Peninsula.

The company’s current packaging portfolio includes PET bottles, plastic stand-up pouches including Cheer Pack/Gualapack and glass bottles.

Employees and guests are thrilled to hold bottled juices made after the startup of the world’s first bulk HPP system at Fruselva in Spain in September.

The juice that was distributed was processed with the Hiperbaric Bulk 525 at Fruselva the day of the event then bottled and packed as well.

"Go Fruselva is very proud to host the first Hiperbaric Bulk installed in the world," said company founder Xavier Martínez. "Our collaboration with Hiperbaric, who is our supplier for all our HPP machines, allows us to offer our customer non-thermal processed, safe drinks with the organoleptic and nutritional characteristics of the fresh product and an extended shelf life.”

Hiperbaric CEO Andrés Hernando, said that "Hiperbaric Bulk technology has been developed within the framework of a European project H2020-SME Instrument. Also, the collaboration with Go Fruselva has been of great help to test this new revolutionary equipment in real conditions. The Hiperbaric Bulk will allow us to deliver HPP technology to more types of liquids, so that many healthy and quality products are available to a greater number of consumers around the world."

History and details

Roberto Peregrina, director, Hiperbaric USA, explains that Fruselva is at the forefront of HPP beverages in Spain.

“The company has always showed an interest in going beyond what current HPP capabilities are,” he tells Packaging Digest. “Therefore, Hiperbaric started discussion with them to install the first Bulk Pilot plant there for several reasons. One of them is that they are a local Spanish company, they also have the space for the equipment and the willingness to explore the bulk offerings for HPP.”

“In fact, Fruselva initiated at the beginning of 2014 its first 420 HPP in-pack system from Hiperbaric,” says Fruselva’s Adolf Milla. “After one year we installed the 525 in-pack system, and for more than one year we have been collaborating on the new 525 bulk system.”

Fruselva's rigid and flexible packaging portfolio as shown above for HPP just increased to other material formats with the bulk system.

Packaging Digest asked Milla what this capability means to the brand and its portfolio.

“The main difference will be decrease in product price, and subsequently the range of potential customers will be broader,” he responds.

While 525 Bulk is a full production system, it operates as a semi-continuous operation, i.e., between continuous and batch. That makes the throughput higher than Hiperbaric’s traditional in-pack 525.

It uses custom-manufactured bladders to contain the liquid to be processed.

“The bladder, which is disposable and intended to be changed on a 24-hour shift basis, is made of a proprietary mix of polymers,” Peregrina says.

The Hiperbaric Bulk 525 has only one bladder. “It is currently able to process 4,000 Liters per hour, but our target is to reach 5,000 Liter per hour as we are continuously improving the machine,” explains Peregrina.

The bulk system must be used in conjunction with an appropriate filling system that may be an ultra-clean or aseptic filling system to guarantee the shelf-life extension on the bulk system is not compromised, Peregrina points out.

When asked about return on investment, Peregrina also informs Packaging Digest that the total cost of ownership is cut by more than 50% compared to the in-pack system.

“The Bulk system is designed to process liquids, but we are exploring semi-liquid applications,” he adds.

As for what’s next, Peregrina discloses that the 525 is available for sale from Hiperbaric and that there are three machines already being built for an order.

“There are several companies interested worldwide and the next bulk system will be installed in the United States,” he says.

Lastly, Hiperbaric does not expect cannibalization between Bulk and in-pack machines as they have different purposes and advantages.


MinnPack 2018 (October 31 – November 1, Minneapolis) is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that brings you the latest in materials, automation, packaging and more. __________________________________________________________________________________

Artificial intelligence in packaging: CapQ vision inspection

Artificial intelligence in packaging: CapQ vision inspection
AI gives full-surround cap inspection a unique OEE performance-enhancing boost by reducing setup times, false rejections and scrap.

AI's unique OEE performance-enhancing, high-speed boost reduces setup times, false rejections and scrap for full-surround cap inspection.

There’s more to the CapQ Vision Inspection system from Acquire Automation than meets the eye.

Sure, it’s capable of assessing capped beverage and consumer good containers using 360° inspection to check and confirm cap height, cap skew and raised or missing cap as well as the integrity of the tamper-evident band. And it also confirms that the correct color cap is on the packaged product while simultaneously inspecting for fill level.

Also, the 100% inspection detects errors early for quicker correction, minimizing the number of rejects, and by monitoring the filling process, CapQ also helps manufacturers conform to the requirements of 21CFR129.80  

And there’s the boilerplate features of stainless steel Nema 4X/IP65 enclosure, and the fact that it fits over an existing conveyor along with a height adjustability that feature ensures quick and easy integration into existing production lines.

But what sets it further apart from other vision systems and in fact nearly all other packaging systems is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the CapQ inspection process. AI enables the CapQ system to ignore water droplets and plastic fragment shedding that can skew measurement results, leading to false rejects. This software advancement and the easy-to-use operator touch screen interface make the CapQ system a pioneering quality inspection device.

Andrew Eddleman, product manager, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions specific to this leading-edge information processing technology.

Why use artificial intelligence?

Eddleman: Acquire was challenged by the market to innovate its high-performing cap inspection platform by reducing the false rejection results typically found in traditional machine inspection technology for beverage plants. Acquire responded to this challenge be exploring non-traditional machine vision technology—AI.  The AI technology, when combined with Acquires’ Spectrum platform software, creates a new technology, False Rejection Suppression Technology.  This enables the user to train in examples of product previously false rejected by machine vision and now properly and accurately inspect them—increasing overall line Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), customer profits and scrap reduction.

What is the specific nature of AI?

Eddleman: We use AI technology to supplement our industry leading platforms and products. When AI is enabled, this allows for complicated data sets to be processed at high speeds (use cases above 1,000ppm). The usage of AI within our standard offerings reduces false rejection rates when compared to standard vision algorithms.

What’s the benefit for customers and operators?

Eddleman: There are three main benefits:

  • Uptime/Reliability /Overall Efficiency - Previous machine vision systems that might have failed due to product unpredictability or line changes can incorporate variability into the model. This leads to less false failures or false accepts and allows for more up time.
  • Faster setup time for new product variations even if the products presented are for the first time.
  • Faster updates to existing programs and recipes based on new line conditions.


What’s been the interest specific to the system’s AI capability?

Eddleman: The interest is in how this technology can handle deviations in product presentation or environmental items that typically cause high failure within traditional vision inspection solutions. Clients want to understand how this affects the bottom line and have been quite interested in the fast ROI of moving to an AI supplemented solution.

Also Acquire has always been a solution provider by combining intimate knowledge of the customers process and industry leading technology together. Our interest is in strengthening our position as technology leader by continuing to create new success stories at the same record pace in the packaging industry.  AI has been a part of this momentum for several years now and continues to solve vision applications where traditional machine vision may have limitations.

What’s a common question about AI that you’ve been asked?

Eddleman: Customer concerns especially within regulated industry is how to validate such a technology. This is addressed with the methods used in deployment. The system is programmed once before validation and the algorithm does not change after the system is installed. Our software is all under source-code control.

Another question is, what is AI capable of and how will it impact my inspection/quality program? Acquire has responded to this question by offering engineering evaluations either by using actual customer images, taking images, or creating a standard system for on-line evaluation at a customer’s plant.  From our years of experience these have been incredibly successful and added immediate proven value to the customer.

What further activity do you foresee for AI in your machinery or in packaging machinery in general?

Eddleman: We see an increased usage for AI technology to accomplish the following:

  • Removal of the uncertainty in manual inspection on applications that had previously not been possible;
  • Reduction of false rejection within manufacturers that currently experience a high false reduction rate (improvement of performance and efficiency);
  • Simplification of new product setup;
  • Increased flexibility in vision solutions to adapt to changing customer needs.

Anything else to point out?

Eddleman: This technology is ideal for defect detection, texture and material classification, assembly verification and deformed part location and character reading, including distorted print.

AI supplemented solutions learn by example—like that of a human. This means real-world conditions can be taught to the system. The cool part here is the system never forgets!  


Much food for thought for packaging will be found at PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019, where innovative ideas in containers and design, the latest machinery and automation solutions and free education at Centre Stage will be available. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________

Ecommerce/Supply Chain

Pillows or cushions? Portable on-demand ecommerce packaging systems do both

Pillows or cushions? Portable on-demand ecommerce packaging systems do both
Keypak's AirWave1 machine can produce cushioning from space-saving films and can be mounted above the packaging station to save production space.

Line of semi-automatic units use film rolls and can also produce an innovative new air-filled paper pillow pack set to debut at PackEx Toronto.

The increase in ecommerce is putting more demands on companies and on the amount and type of products and packages they ship direct-to-customer. For many companies, that means more flexibility and capability in their packaging and shipping operations.

With that in mind Keypak will introduce during PackEx Toronto June 4-6 to the Canadian market a line of three German-engineered air cushion machines that create protective void-fill on-demand from space-efficient film rolls. The semi-automatic machines are the AirWave1, AirWave2 and AirBoy Nano, which are shown below in that same L to R order.

Innovative paper pillows debut

Each can inflate a variety of film types and sizes including void-fill pillow and cushion films including standard materials as well as biodegradable plastic, ESD antistatic films and, the first time in North America, innovative recyclable pillows made of paper.

Keypak marketing manager Kerry Holmes says the paper film is laminated with a thin biodegradable film that allows the material to be inflated into cushions or pillows. Holmes expects to have samples of the world’s first paper air pillows available at the company's PackEx booth.

The top-of-the-line AirWave1 supplies up to four workstations with reliable protective packaging. Key features:

  • Programmable for different film types
  • Air and temperature adjustable
  • Lock function
  • Power-save-mode
  • CE and RoHS approved
  • Variable speed
  • 115 VAC power supply
  • Bluetooth control (optional on some machines for Android and IOS)
  • Sensor and other accessories are available separately

The machines are available with a full compliment of installation and dispensing options depending on a customer’s needs. An advantage of the products is that customers may purchase the machine outright, so that even smaller users can economically take advantage of this technology.

According to Holmes, the OEM that specializes in air pillow equipment has a strong presence in Europe and a presence in the United States.

Film rolls that are optimized for the machines are available from Keypak.

For more information on these semi-automatic packaging machines, click here.

For more information about the show, visit PackEx Toronto.

AI in packaging: machine vision-assisted palletizing and more

AI in packaging: machine vision-assisted palletizing and more
Booth's game-style contest for attendees showcased AI-embedded vision systems directing manual pallet loading.

ADLink Technology’s gamified booth at Pack Expo showed how artificial intelligence could be leveraged for optimized palletizing, IoT, metadata, WMS and ERP in replacing hand scanning.

The promise of gamification using artificial intelligence (AI) promoted as Interactive exhibit shows how packages and pallets can “talk” to each other with Edge IoT was an intriguing incentive to visit the booth of ADLINK Technology during last fall’s Pack Expo in Chicago.

A preshow release indicated the demo was to show how the company’s ADLink Edge supports vision-based Internet of Things use cases throughout the distribution warehouse with a picking, packing and palletization setup.

The setup involved an array of AI-enabled machine vision cameras mounted over the dual pallets that were to be loaded with boxes that the system processed as digitized corrugated shipping containers. A large monitor screen indicated to the operator, aka the game participant, if the box was on the proper pallet with a green or red indicator. All the gamer had to do was load a box onto a pallet and leave it in place if green and switch pallets if red.

Seeing it in action was an edutaining experience, both for observers and attendees trying to win a prize. But there’s serious technology behind the game-show-style thrills, which Daniel Collins, director ADLink IoT North America, explains.

What’s the origination of the company name?

Collins: Our name, ADLink, is based on our expertise in linking the analog to the digital, hence the name A-D-Link. With ADLink Edge, we’re taking something as analog as a corrugated box and digitizing it. We’re generating information about the size, shape, and location of that box in 3D space and time, as well as data about the speed and accuracy of the pallet loading process. For instance, we have some clients using machine vision for smart pallets, while others are using the solution for parts picking, quality inspection, collision avoidance and even robots.

I was impressed by the interactive demo, but why use AI for manual palletizing—and can it assist automated setups?

Collins: Most distribution warehouses today still use hand-held scanners. The portable scanner does two things: it verifies that the package is on the right pallet, and it logs which packages are on which pallets for inventory. Even with the hand scanners, palletizing is a slow, human-intensive and error-prone process. Palletizing can only go as fast as the human operators. Critically, if a package is mis-scanned or not scanned at all (a “no-scan”), that package is effectively lost. It simply no longer exists.

Hand scanners perform one task: they read anything and everything you put in front of them, including markings you don’t want to scan. Hand scanners are also not ergonomically helpful—limiting the number of boxes a pallet loader can carry and requiring the loader to bend or kneel for scanning.

AI solves all of these issues. Using an Edge IoT machine-vision system like ADLink Edge frees up pallet loaders’ hands to carry more boxes, increases scan accuracy and can capture metadata about each package. That’s akin to creating a digital twin, so even if a package is missing a label or doesn’t get scanned at all, the box can still be identified on the pallet.

The ADLink Edge system demoed at Pack Expo, like all ADLink solutions, is configured for full automation.

What are the benefits for the customer and operators?

Collins: The benefit of AI for the customer is cost-savings and customer satisfaction. AI saves companies money by speeding the pallet loading process and reducing product loss through increased scanning accuracy. For example, one client of ADLink is a major pork processor where every minute counts as pallets are loaded for cold storage. The client’s highly perishable product must be loaded as quickly as possible, and inventory must be logged correctly so that product is pulled and shipped based on its storage date to prevent spoilage.

For clients with a high mix of packages on pallets (every package on a pallet may be for a different recipient) or who are shipping expensive items globally, ADLink Edge reduces product loss by accurately logging each package and pallet. For these clients, a mis-scan or no-scan can result in weeks of waiting to find out if the right package was delivered to the right customer and replacement costs that’s more than double what they’re charging their customer.

The benefit of AI for the pallet loaders is speed and ease of use. They don’t have to carry a hand scanner or anything else, freeing their hands to load more packages more quickly.

What's the specific nature of the AI for this?

Collins: ADLink Edge Smart Pallet is an Edge IoT hardware and software solution for machine vision. We install sensors and cameras above the pallet, so pallet loaders don’t have to learn how to use any new gadgets or programs or do anything, but simply load the pallet. As far as they’re concerned, we’re not even there. Our sensors and cameras are essentially on the ceiling, so their standard operating procedure of loading a pallet does not change at all, and that's extremely exciting to them.

We also install a user interface, including lighting and sound, to give feedback to the pallet loaders. For instance, for one customer we installed red and green lights to highlight packages when they’re on the correct pallet and alert them when they’re on the wrong pallet.

On the backend, we can connect to literally anything. We integrate with any warehouse management system (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), conveyor system, robotics, or any other system a company may be using, and then we “train” the AI to be able to identify, scan, and log packages and labels to our client’s specifications. With our tools, just about anybody can train the machine-vision applications using a drag-and-drop type method. We want to give the actual end users, the subject matter experts, plant managers, and distribution warehouse managers, a voice in the process, and these tools give them that.

Next: AI/IoT combo and industry interest


Can you comment more about pairing IoT with AI?

Collins: What everyone thinks is trendy and hot about IoT is machine-to-machine connectivity, but, in this case, we're talking machine-to-machine and machine-to-human connectivity.  Just as the Internet is a system of computers and servers all talking to each other, IoT is devices talking to each other. It doesn’t necessarily mean cloud connectivity, unless that’s what the customer wants. IoT simply enables connectivity and communication between devices, things, and people.

Arguably, we're making boxes talk to systems and pallets and making all of it talk to humans. With Edge IoT, we're talking about lowering latency, communication time and bandwidth, which makes things a lot faster and a lot more responsive.

AI takes all that connection and communication to the next level by allowing it to have some form of intelligence to make decisions.

Injecting AI into the equation allows the pallet to tell the conveyor system to speed up or slow down depending on the types of packages they may be moving, or because the person who's loading the pallet is faster or slower than their peers. That's how you leverage both of these technologies together.

Where that starts can vary depending on the customer's need and use case for their specific situation. IoT can be and is used throughout the warehouse, in packaging machines, robotic sorting machines, conveyors, etc., that are connected and communicating.

What further AI activity do you expect in your installs and generally in packaging?

Collins: We see machine vision being used at every point of the process, throughout the entire distribution warehouse, and all the way back to the manufacturing. We already have clients using this same technology for a variety of different applications. Palletizing was just the overlooked “last mile” of the manufacturing and distribution process because people tend to think that process can’t be automated and/or that it’s too expensive. At the end of the day, this is just another machine-vision use-case.

In our minds, machine vision can solve all sorts of different use-cases that have never been thought of before, helping both humans and robots make better decisions. We're trying to make any and all equipment intelligent; vision is just another way of doing it.

So, we are taking all sorts of different sensors, applying logic, AI if necessary, and making things smarter and more capable of understanding how to optimize themselves. We're giving machines the ability to understand their health to trigger alerts about whether or not they require maintenance, to make decisions about whether to speed up or slow down to extend the life of equipment.

For our major pork processing client, for example, we’re giving intelligence to the chillers they have throughout the warehouse by installing a variety of sensors to monitor the warehouse as well as the chillers. With those sensors and AI, the chillers themselves are monitoring their own efficiency and making decisions like raising their temperature slightly to reduce the possibility of failure until the next scheduled maintenance.

What’s been the interest in AI?

Collins: Interest in the AI capabilities of ADLink Edge has been very high. We already had several customers before Pack Expo, and our “Gamification of AI” demo at Pack Expo was a huge hit for us. We drew a great crowd not only because of how we “game-ified” the pallet loading process for our demo, but also because everyone has the same issue with palletization: it’s either too slow or too inaccurate. Through the game-style demo, we were able to show people how fast and accurate the palletization process can be with a technology that’s very non-intrusive. They could see that we’re not changing anything about their actual pallet loading process. Since Pack Expo we’ve been actively engaged with over 40 different clients, many of whom are partnering on ADLink Digital Experiments, which is our approach to getting started with any of our solutions. Digital Experiments determine the lowest software and hardware costs that yield the highest return specific to a client’s particular situation, so they can be successful with their machine vision deployment.

What’s the most common question about the AI?

Collins: People ask how expensive it is and we often get questions about security.

AI is actually less expensive for this process than you might imagine. It has to be, because palletization is one of the leanest processes. So, we make it incredibly affordable—and it’s scalable. We design all of our solutions thinking two or three steps ahead, so a warehouse can install ADLink Edge now and easily go to full automation in the future with no need to rip-and-replace. It has a very long lifecycle as just one part of a fully automated distribution warehouse.

The other concern with security is usually centered on companies wary of their data being sent to the cloud. We specialize in the use of data at the edge. We can run machine vision AI at the pallet or even on the camera if we have to, and that eases a lot of concerns and fears since everything remains self-contained and secure at the customer site. We are not sending anything anywhere. Now, if the client wants us to send information or data to the cloud, we can certainly support that. But we are effectively selling a self-contained edge-based solution that does not require cloud connectivity. So, from a security perspective, that is a huge value-add.

What projects are you working on that our packaging audience would find of interest?

Collins: A couple interesting applications: we're currently working with a client for packaging automation of cold storage meat pallets (lamb processing facility) helping them to improve their pallet manifest inventory, reduce spoilage, and load pallets faster. We're also talking with a food manufacturer to help them determine the correct fill levels of each spice container (think cooking spices like basil, oregano, thyme, etc.) as they come down the filling line. 

For more information, visit ADLink Technology


A concentrated assembly of assorted packaging technology can be found PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019, where innovative ideas in containers and design, the latest machinery and automation solutions and free education at Centre Stage will be available. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________

Mid-range overwrapper offers automated versatility

Mid-range overwrapper offers automated versatility
The Compacta 5022 adapts easily to a wide range of package sizes.

The intermittent-motion BVM Compacta 5022 is a mid-range overwrapping machine in a fully automatic platform with auto-adjust operation that covers a wide range of applications thanks to its dynamic flexibility. The Compacta 5022 adapts easily to a wide range of package sizes and run speeds to seamlessly fit in to existing packaging operations, all in a full-feature, affordable system.

The overwrapper will be on display during PackEx Toronto June 4-6.

The machine's production sequence is a five-step process during which the products are…

1. Metered into the wrapper.

2. Measured and programmed for appropriate spacing in real time.

3. Passed into the inverting head where they're introduced into the film and wrapped.

4. Sealed end-to-end and on the side for a totally-sealed package.

5. Finally, they are moved into the shrink tunnel where they are subjected to an appropriate amount of heat and balanced airflow to ensure an optimal retail package.

“Today’s models have been modified and updated to accommodate changing industry standards,” says John MacDougall, general manager, Celplast Packaging Systems, a division of Crawford Packaging. “The key improvement is a focus on automation and ultimate versatility. This machine has been outfitted with leading software for a precise and truly-automatic shrinkwrap process. Another benefit is that automatic changeovers are made easy thanks to 100-recipe storage and motorized components that permit adjustable ceiling temperatures, ceiling height and conveyor speeds managed by Siemens controllers."

Key specifications:

  • Product height limit: 450mm
  • Sealing width: 500mm
  • Sealing height clearance: 220mm
  • Film width, center folded: 650/650mm
  • Production speed: 120 packs/min.

Special features include direct-drive servo motors to eliminate typical sprockets chains and idlers because the motor connects right to the conveyor. “This reduces wear-factors and helps for increased machine longevity,” MacDougall points out.

To further simplify things, no Teflon tape is required to run any polyolefin, polyethene or polyvinyl chloride films. There's also no need to change the sealing jaw since it accommodates all film types.

Options include print registration and unstable package assistance.

According to MacDougall, Celplast has installed more than 50 machines to date, with several done for Fortune 500 companies.

The machine will be featured in Booth #1103 during PackEx Toronto June 4-6 where Celplast Packaging Systems lays claim as one of the exhibition’s longest-running exhibitors.

Attendees will find the latest updated information about PackEx Toronto at the user-friendly Map Your Show site.

Hygienic sleeve protects beverage can tops

Hygienic sleeve protects beverage can tops
A patented thin sleeve protects can top and rim to ensure a sanitary surface for consumers' first taste.

Lightweight sleeve applied over the tops of beverage cans addresses hygiene concerns for unopened cans so that consumer can drink safely and with peace of mind.

The region of European north of Greece that includes Serbia and adjacent countries is historically a kind of incubator for inventors; the area counts among its distinguished inventor alumni personages such as physicist/chemist Mihajlo Pupin and the world-renowned Nikola Tesla.

“We have an inventive nature in our roots,” states inventor Tome Balalovski, who hails from the recently christened (as of February 2019) Republic of North Macedonia and brings a different market to the area’s inventive heritage: a packaging patent.

It’s for a “Protective foil of food products packed in a can bottle” for which Balalovski was granted patent documentation from Macedonian State Office of Industrial Property. He wanted the invention to be exposed to a wider audience, which meshes perfectly with Packaging Digest’s history of working with inventors in reporting on patented packaging ideas.

What is this about and what are the benefits?

Balalovski: It is an invention for the area of ​​the industry that carries out the production of drinks packed in an aluminum beverage can.

The benefits of this invention are full protection to every individually canned product, starting at the point of manufacture to point of use by the consumer.

You refer to this as a can bottle, but is this specifically intended to be used as a sleeve over standard aluminum beverage cans for liquids?

Balalovski: Yes, I refer to this as a can bottle, but it is specifically intended to be used as a sleeve over standard aluminum beverage cans for liquids, immediately after factory filling and closing, and before secondary packaging. The shape and size of the cans will not change. The sleeves can be made of different materials, specified in my patent document; specific examples include aluminum, nylon, aluminum-nylon, paper or a combination of these materials.

My preferred option is an aluminum foil/polyvinyl chloride foil heat-shrink capsule or heat-shrinkable film foil.

The foils can be quite thin, similar to the foil found on a wine bottle closure.

What specific portions of the can are protected—and is one sleeve applied per can?

Balalovski: With my invention, the cans are protected over the top opening and several centimeters below. Several centimeters below must be included because the consumer drink is touching that area with their lower lips. One sleeve is applied to each can is shown in the picture examples.

What makes it better than current alternatives?

Balalovski: There have not been good alternatives until my invention. There are aluminum foil lids, which are not sufficiently adequate, safe, and are insufficiently functional. Or there are toppers molded of polypropylene plastic that are relatively expensive to make versus foil. In addition, there is no product protection at the point where the consumer’s lower lip touches the can.

What sparked the idea?

Balalovski: It was sparked by my own observations, especially on negative, bad or insufficient appearance and coupled associated with my long-standing inventory experience. I thought, “People must no longer touch unprotected, dusty and dirty cans!”

For what can sizes is it suitable for? And for any particular types of drinks?

Balalovski: It is suitable for all sizes of single-serve drink/beverage cans, but specially cans in milliliter sizes of 250, 330, 340, 355, 375, 440 and 500. It is suitable for all types of canned drinks including juice, beer, coffee, soda and more.

Describe briefly how this runs on a beverage canning line.

Balalovski: On a beverage canning this can run for single or group line and can be a new or modified machine; it depends on the production line used by the factory.

Immediately after filling and closing the cans, a suitable machine descends/applies the premade protective sleeves to each can. This equipment will require a small amount of filling speeds, bearing in mind that such a process must be done. Food safety above all!

What is the approximate cost per can to implement hygienic sleeving?

Balalovski: With the exception of a modest investment in a hygienic sleever, the approximate material cost per can to implement this can be counted in just a few cents. Personally, I do not recommend that the brand increase the price of the canned products, the investment will pay for itself.

What’s the status?

Balalovski: The current status of my invention is granted patent only in North Macedonia and has been entered in the international patent organization.

What’s next?

Balalovski: Because my patent is strictly intended, directly linked to the factory production of beverages in cans, I am seeking such an operation, with which I would begin negotiations of licensing, i.e., selling my Intellectual property  patent copyrights.

Anything else to mention that’s important?

Balalovski: In the future, everyone can benefit from the use of my patent.

As manufacturers, the factories will increase the reputation, production and, of course, the financial benefits of their brands. Also, exporters, importers, transporters, distributors and markets will be very satisfied by the new type of cans. But the biggest benefit will be for billions of consumers, whom I am confident will be quite satisfied with the application of my innovation.

Also in this patent I have wonderful and perfect, but hidden, business strategies, which remain a part of negotiations with a future potential company in order to apply my patented invention.

Contact information: Tome Balalovski, patent author and owner [email protected] or [email protected]


Much food for thought for packaging will be found at PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019, where innovative ideas in containers and design, the latest machinery and automation solutions and free education at Centre Stage will be available. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________