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Food Safety

Missing Date Code Frustrates Dad

Photo by Packaging Digest Date-code-box-featured-web.jpg
More and more, consumers look at date codes as a safety check.

Have you ever cooked an entire family-size package of frozen food because you’re not quite sure how long the food would be safe to eat? Me neither.

But this husband and father of two felt that was the safest solution when his carton of chicken nuggets didn’t have a date code, as he tweeted in his #PackagingFail above.

Many consumers don’t realize that, while frustrating, a missing date code in this case is not a crime. Except for dairy and a few other products, foods and beverages are not required by law to have a date code. Food and beverage companies voluntarily add date codes to tell consumers when they feel their product loses quality and, if eaten, might produce a negative experience — that is, cause consumers to not want to buy the brand/product again.

Over the decades, companies have tried different ways of communicating this “freshness” date. Most recently, the consensus has been that the language “Best if Used by” is clearest for consumers.

But we all can agree that no date is pretty confusing.

“Follow the nose. It always knows.” Anyone remember that from the Fruit Loops commercial? It’s the method my mother taught me for determining if food was safe to eat or not. Sorry to say, Mom, that doesn’t work so well with frozen food, though.

Would you cook the whole box like Chris Parr did or would you put it back in the freezer and hope for the best?

I can offer a few other suggestions:

• Write the date that you opened it on the carton and put it back in the freezer. (Is that even too scary from a food safety point of view?)

• Return the package to the store where you bought it and get one that does have a date code.

• Throw out the entire contents — not the best option economically or from a sustainability perspective.

What would you do?

 

Advanced Recycling of Polystyrene in a Sustainable, Closed-Loop System

INEOS Styrolution Yogurt cup example of PP packaging
What the future holds for polystyrene, a “misunderstood” resin when it comes to recyclability.

What if you could take leftover chocolate cake and recover the flour from it in a pure, clean form? You could then take that flour and make a new cake, or you could make bread, pasta, or lemon bars. In fact, you could repeat this process over and over, utilizing the same supply of flour for all your baking needs — a circular economy of flour!

Innovative engineers are in fact, working right now on technologies very similar to the scenario above except using plastics. This technology is advanced recycling.

How advanced recycling works.

Advanced recycling works to depolymerize polymer chains by breaking them down into their chemical building blocks, and then performing separations to recover the target material. This precise and efficient process recovers monomers — the chemical building blocks of plastic — with purity that’s comparable with that of the original raw material as in the flour example.

It may be surprising to note that one of the best-suited plastics for advanced recycling is polystyrene. While polystyrene is often used for a wide variety of durable and single-use applications, it is sometimes referred to as a “challenging polymer” when concerning recyclability. Ineos Styrolution likes to think of it as, simply misunderstood. In fact, polystyrene’s simplistic polymer chain structure and low ceiling temperature, enable high recovery rates and low energy use during advanced recycling, making it an extremely well-suited target for this truly innovative technology.

The styrene monomer product recovered from advanced recycling isn’t restricted to a new life as polystyrene, either. Styrene monomer is the raw material used in a wide variety of styrenic specialty polymers. It’s often used in extremely durable applications such as automotive, household, and electronics. In this way, using advanced recycling, a simple foam coffee cup could be upcycled into both a part for computers as well as parts in the truck used to haul them reducing the fuel required for the shipment versus some alternative materials!

PS recycled into yogurt cups.

Ineos Styrolution is currently undertaking initiatives to develop advanced recycling partnerships and bring the technologies to a commercial scale. One such project aims to build a facility at the company’s operations in Channahon, IL, utilizing advanced recycling technology developed by their partner based in Portland, OR, Agilyx Technologies. Early-stage engineering for this project began in 2019.

Ineos Styrolution produced a tangible demonstration case for the K Fair in late 2019, by using 100% recycled polystyrene to produce yogurt cups with European OEM partner, Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller, which is based in Fischach, Germany. 100% recycled styrene monomer from advanced recycling partners in North America was polymerized into 100% recycled polystyrene plastic. That plastic was then extruded and thermoformed into yogurt cups! Polystyrene recycled in this manner is approved for use in both food and medical applications, due to the purity of the product derived from the advanced recycling process. This means advanced recycling enables a truly closed loop from cup to cup.

The future of polystyrene.

Ineos Styrolution views these ongoing advancements as the seeds to a thriving polystyrene circular economy. By demonstrating that advanced recycling delivers quality polystyrene product on a commercial scale, demand for recycled polystyrene- and therefore polystyrene waste- will only continue to increase. With that demand driving collection and sorting programs, INEOS Styrolution envisions a not-so-distant future in which a stop at the coffee shop yields a product in a foam container that keeps its contents hot (or cold!) for hours, while keeping the hand holding it cool. Moreover, when that beverage has been consumed, both the cup and its lid will be thrown into a recycling bin without being separated, since both those items will travel on to become new, and equally valuable styrenic materials to keep society moving forward, sustainably!

Cassie Bradley is INEOS Styrolution’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Commercial Manager, leading these initiatives for the company across North American. Cassie works with leaders in the emerging polystyrene recycling industry to create valuable partnerships and grow the Polystyrene Circular Economy supporting the company's advancements in styrenics. She holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently pursuing an MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Digital Printing

New Digital Printing Technologies Boost Packaging Benefits

Photo supplied by Colordyne Colordyne_Labels printing-featured-web.jpg
The new Colordyne 2800 Series AP – Retrofit adds full-color digital printing capabilities to existing equipment, using aqueous pigment inkjet technology that enhances water fastness, light fastness, and rub resistance.

Digital printing — which offers production flexibility, packaging personalization, and fast time to market — is becoming even more attractive to brand owners and packaging converters, thanks to a variety of equipment improvements.

Manufacturers of digital inkjet models and toner-based digital presses are making strides for applications ranging from on-demand color label printing to full-color overprinting directly on cartons. More types of media can be printed with the latest digital presses, and digitally embellishing packaging with special effects is also possible.

At the operational level, advancements include the ability to integrate digital presses into traditional pressrooms, with a digital front-end controlling the different press technologies (analog and digital) and supporting integrated workflows. Connectivity to management information systems (MIS) and cloud-based overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) analytics are available for some presses, as well.

In this exclusive Packaging Digest Q&A, six industry insiders reveal the range of equipment advancements occurring in digital printing, discuss how these apply to packaging, and share their thoughts on what to watch for in the future. The Q&A participants are:

• Yogev Barak, head of strategy and business management at HP Indigo

Mohit Bhushan, global director of product management for AstroNova Product Identification

• Katelyn Bohr, marketing director of Colordyne Technologies

• Bonny Chou, product manager, Commercial Labels, Epson America

• Dan Maurer, VP of digital product management at Heidelberg USA

• Sebastien Stabel, market segment manager, carton packaging, Xeikon (Flint Group Digital Solutions)

 

Photo supplied by HeidelbergHeidelberg_red-carrier-2-web.jpg

Heidelberg’s toner-based digital printing systems provide print quality that’s extremely close to that of the same file printed traditionally. This beer carrier was printed on the Versafire EP.

 

What recent advancements have you seen in digital printing for packaging applications and why?

Maurer: Digital printing for packaging has the unique challenge of needing to meet all the established quality and application expectations of traditional offset and flexo processes, but of course doing that in a very different printing process. In addition to achieving this requirement, packaging converters also expect digital presses to achieve the same uptime reliability as their traditional presses.

An example of the difference in requirements between commercial printing and packaging printing is that, in packaging, when a product is on the store shelf, the carton can be compared immediately to the carton next to it. The color and appearance need to be exactly the same, which is much less of a requirement in commercial printing. The casual observer may not appreciate the challenge of meeting these requirements with either digital inkjet or toner-based digital presses.

Luckily, thanks to 30-plus years of R&D technology advancements in digital color presses by several manufacturers, packaging applications in very short runs and personalized product designs can be manufactured using the latest digital presses.

Toner-based (whether liquid or dry) electrophotographic digital presses have been challenged by their inherently unstable printing process. What this means is that the development of the toner to the sheet is highly dependent upon the system’s parameters of voltage, exposure, and toner conditions, all of which are affected by changing machine conditions, contamination, and the environment. This challenge is compounded exponentially with increases in sheet size.

The benefit of toner technology is that substrate compatibility with everything from paperboard to metallized and synthetic materials is possible. Recent advancements in closed-loop control systems for color and registration, seen in our digital presses, have allowed toner-based presses to achieve amazing output consistency.

Perhaps different, but still challenging, inkjet has the benefit of being an inherently pretty stable process. It just shoots drops of ink, but it has the challenges of substrate compatibility (with food-safe aqueous ink) and keeping thousands of nozzles firing without clogging — and doing so with color-to-color registration and at speed. The technical hurdle for inkjet, like toner, is that this challenge increases exponentially with sheet size. But we have seen that B2 and B1 inkjet presses have been introduced that rival or even surpass offset performance.

[Editor’s note: B2 and B1 refer to the maximum sheet size that can be printed on a press or printer.]

Furthermore, in packaging applications, compatibility with downstream processes like coating, foiling, die-cutting, folder gluing, logistics, and filling need to be considered to exactly match traditional press performance.

Compatibility with coatings has been a challenge for both toner and inkjet but is now being conquered. Registration consistency for die-cutting was also previously challenging for digital presses but now is achieving offset-level performance. Another example would be rub resistance of the carton when it is being transported in containers for fulfillment, but toner and inkjet outputs have now also taken this into account.

 

Barak: Recent advancements we’ve seen in digital packaging span several areas.

More applications:

• New or improved press capabilities are allowing the use of more media types, such as substrates that are thinner or thicker, heat-sensitive, metallized, stretchable, transparent, and more.

• Certifying media and adhesives enable printing on compostable or recyclable packages. Digital presses can print labels that will not contaminate the container and allow recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other types of containers.

• New inks address attractive opportunities in brand protection, shrink sleeves.

• Digital capabilities ensure food and pharma packaging safety.

[Editor’s note: Digital printers are well suited to printing variable data, including information useful in tracking and tracing.]

• Today, there are more solutions for digital embellishment, both pre- and post-print.

   ◦ Pre-print — We introduced an in-line solution with Kurz for transferring foil to media and printing over the foil with our digital press to reach high-brilliance metallic effects.

    ◦ Post-print — The addition of a digital embellishment module to the ABG Digicon system will allow our digital press customers to digitally embellish labels with foil, spot varnish, tactile effects, and more.

Greater productivity and sustainability:

• For spot or custom colors, a new color system allows our digital presses to reach brand colors faster than ever before, with minimal waste, while keeping the color within tight tolerances.

• Software and hardware improvements help reduce media waste during production. This can occur, for example, when changing media type, switching between jobs, and calibrating the press.

• Presses can print more jobs daily, with better connectivity of the press to upstream workflow, management information systems (MIS), costing systems, and even all the way to the brands.

• Cloud-powered analytics enable increased press utilization and serviceability. New print production operating system capabilities, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) measurement, easy access to knowledge, and predictive press-care solutions that all contribute to better overall utilization of the press.

• New converting equipment (coating, lamination, pouch making, embellishment, and slitting) supports digital output, including fast set-up, less waste, more sustainability, smaller footprint, and lowered energy consumption.

Increased print quality and consistency:

• Systems print in high resolution (1,600 dots per inch) with frequency modulated (FM) stochastic screens.

[Editor’s note: Because FM stochastic screening uses such fine halftone dot sizes, the technology enables print quality rivaling that of photographic prints.] 

• New sensors and software keep colors within tight tolerances, enabling high color accuracy and consistency.

• Presses can generate reports for tracking and communicating print quality.

Converters are asking that the above will also be available for their existing fleet and not only for newly installed presses. To protect our customers’ investments, we package many of these new capabilities in “value packs” used to upgrade existing presses.

 

Bohr: Digital press manufactures are always listening to customers and working to build equipment that can help them run their business more efficiently and increase profits. We’ve seen a lot of advancement and new equipment around water-based pigment inkjet, also called aqueous pigment inkjet. Systems using this technology can offer greater flexibility to label converters, packaging printers, and brands.

We’ve also seen a large variety in the types of systems using water-based pigment inkjet. Label and packaging manufacturers, as well as label users, can now find roll-to-roll, sheet-fed, in-line, offline, and retrofit technology all using this technology.

 

Bhushan: Due to current market demands, print runs within the packaging industry keep getting shorter, causing all the players in the printing ecosystem to continually advance their products, ensuring they’re more suitable and cost-effective for short-run requirements.

Specifically, digital package printing using inkjet technology is enabling advancements in printing technologies, ink chemistry, material availability, and software tools.

 

Stabel: We’ve seen more and more uptake on serving customers with tight deadlines in small- to medium-run lengths and versioning.

Another critical factor is having the digital output ready for food safety. Food safety is hardly ever out of the news. Moreover, it is not only about the hygienic production, processing, and storage of food. There is more to food safety than avoiding bacterial contamination. Recently, mineral oils from liquid printing inks were discovered in recycled paperboard used for food packaging. If it had not done so already, the packaging industry now realizes that substances used in printing inks could contaminate food, even without direct contact.

Created by Packaging DigestXeikon-quote.jpg

 

With digital printing gaining acceptance in the packaging market, we aim to provide a better understanding of how dry-toner digital printing technology compares, as far as food safety is concerned. Packaging includes folding cartons, flexible packaging, and labels. This point is limited to indirect contact between printed matter and food, as few packaging applications require print on the inside, in direct contact with food.

Dry toner is one step ahead, as there are many aspects to food safety, and migration is a pivotal concern. Dry toner does have an intrinsic advantage over other digital technologies.

Further acceptance of digital printing for packaging applications will depend on specific developments to broaden the application area. Accurate color reproduction, color consistency, and lightfastness are equally important. Our dry toner has been developed and formulated specifically with lightfastness and food safety in mind. 

 

Chou: On-demand color-label printing at the point of production continues to spread, due to its affordability, the flexibility it brings, and its capability to improve the bottom line for businesses.

Recently, we released a series of color label printers — the first printers specifically designed as a color upgrade to thermal transfer. They are engineered for mission-critical industrial environments and deliver fast throughput at up to 5 inches per second. These printers produce stunning, photo-quality images at a comparable price to thermal-transfer printers and offer all the same connectivity options and work off the same command language that thermal-transfer printers use.

Photo supplied by EpsonEpson ColorWorks C6000P Color Inkjet Label Printer with Peel-and-Present front-web.jpg

The Epson ColorWorks C6000 Series of color inkjet label printers was designed as a color upgrade to monochrome thermal transfer printers. These new inkjet printers produce photo-quality images, printing both the color images and the variable data in one pass.

 

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

Stabel: In a word, flexibility. The digital side offers several technology options, all with specific attributes and features, making them more or less suitable for particular applications.

With ever-shorter product life cycles, a proliferation of stock-keeping units (SKUs), and a demand for increasingly eye-catching and sophisticated packaging to win customers and fight counterfeiting, digital production is arguably the best way forward to secure a profitable business. It is important to understand the intricacies of digital technologies to choose the right one for each application.

With ever-shorter print runs, there are productivity gains to be had from automated workflows, which is exactly where digital printing comes into its own. As each technology has its own merits, ideally you should combine several, or all of them, to make the most of their respective advantages and features. And the good news is: There are digital front-ends on the market that can control different press technologies, supporting customized and integrated workflows, thereby offering you a fully integrated production set-up.

Photo supplied by XeikonXeikon_Stouse_folding carton variety image-web.jpg

Trade printer Stouse uses a Xeikon 3500 Digital Press to print various type of folding cartons.

 

Bohr: Previously, we saw digital print users needing to choose between water-based dye inkjet and ultraviolet (UV) inkjet, depending on the application needs. The aqueous-pigment inkjet inks offer an agile combination of both high-resolution water-based inkjet and print durability, so users can produce a greater variety of applications with the same digital system. Plus, water-based pigment inkjet works with a greater number of substrates, making it more cost-effective and versatile than aqueous-dye inkjet.

Additionally, press manufacturers can use water-based pigment technology to build presses in a variety of formats and print widths, making it compatible with almost any packaging market — flexible, labels, folding cartons, corrugated, and more.

 

Bhushan: With recent developments, brand owners and commercial printers now have the flexibility to print short runs or have 24/7 production, eliminating unnecessary waste. Beyond that, users have more print capabilities and options than ever. For instance, with our introduction of the world’s first narrow-format, industrial-quality, water-based inkjet press, users can print high-resolution, water-fast, durable images and seamlessly print and pack.

 

Chou: Standard monochrome printers are limited in terms of ability to communicate information. For instance, with monochrome, how do you play up certain information you want to draw attention to? You can either make some text bigger or bold. But in terms of capturing attention, monochrome offers limited options.

On-demand color label printing offers the added power of color — the ability to make key information pop, to include color-code warnings in red, to highlight allergens in food applications, and to use product images to aid in identification. By adding color to a label, businesses can boost safety, reduce errors, better identify products, and add branding, which helps to improve brand perception and grow sales.

Our new series of color inkjet label printers produces more durable labels than thermal transfer, because of their pigment inks. With permanent printheads and automatic nozzle checking and cleaning capability, these printers are simple to operate and maintain. On-demand color benefits include low total cost of ownership (TCO) compared with two-step printing, and significant cost savings can be achieved by eliminating the need to order, manage, and store pre-printed labels.

 

Maurer: What is perhaps the most impressive of the latest technology advancements is their integration into digital presses at much lower cost levels, making the ROI [return on investment] for the packaging printer much more viable. Previously, even in the A3+ format size, to get a digital press with the color consistency, registration performance, and substrate range for packaging would require an investment of at least $500,000. This investment level has now dropped to as low as $150,000 or less.

Similarly, cost per sheet has dropped and will continue to do so to converge closer to offset costs. But packaging printers must also take into account the cost savings of digital printing, with faster pre-press processes, essentially no make-ready time, and very little waste sheets.

In comparing printed packaging output to traditional analog presses, we have shown with our toner-based products that it is nearly impossible to see any difference when comparing the output to the same file printed traditionally. This advancement allows us to consider ourselves what we call “an agnostic print-technology provider,” which means that a packaging converter can decide which technology of press to print on without making any trade-offs for output quality or application restrictions.

Created by Packaging DigestHeidelberg-quote.jpg

The benefit to the packaging converter is that the latest digital presses can integrate into the traditional pressroom environment, and real-time job production decisions can now be made on the fly, based on job run length and press availability. This represents a further production cost savings to the packaging converter, because more costly, short runs can now be moved from traditional analog presses to digital presses, allowing quantifiable improvements in OEE of the offset presses.

We are in the process of completing our analysis of this hybrid printing approach for folding cartons and will soon produce the report on potential increases in OEE from this new approach.

A final area of comparison of digital presses to traditional presses is in the use of multicolor six- and seven-color processes to simulate PMS colors. Traditional presses still often use PMS inks to process jobs, and it is required by many brand owners. But with advancements in both digital and traditional printing, packaging converters are seeing how closely PMS colors can be achieved within fractions of a Delta E, saving changeover time from job to job.

 

Barak: The advanced systems described in my answer to the first question go way beyond the standard equipment in the market, but for our company’s existing digital press solutions, they offer incremental value and performance.

 

Photo supplied by HPHP Indigo label compo-web.JPG

All of these labels were printed on HP Indigo digital presses. The company has modified its digital presses for compatibility with more media types, including heat-sensitive, metallized, and transparent materials.

 

What are the benefits of these advancements for brand owners?

Bohr: Brand owners, whether printing their own labels in-house or working with a print provider, will experience greater packaging versatility and cost savings with water-based pigment inkjet technology. Not only will pigment inkjet help expand the equipment options available to print providers and brand owners, but the end-label and packaging user can see lower costs with the expanded media options.

Also, brand owners printing labels in markets not previously suited for water-based inkjet technology have a new option for short-run and high-mix, low-volume printing.

Created by Packaging DigestColordyne-quote.jpg

 

Bhushan: The benefits of the advancements I mentioned are vast. Brand owners now have endless options when it comes to the technologies that best fit their specific application(s). From solutions offering wider formats, flexible packaging, variable data capabilities, superior durability, or high-speed throughput, there’s a system out there for virtually everyone. And if not, developers can find gaps in the market and engineer a product that fits whatever specific need a customer has.

This is what inspired the development of our unique, full-color overprinting solution, which prints directly on flat cartons, corrugated boxes, and many other diverse, uncoated materials with ink-receptive surfaces. Traditionally, inkjet printing has been very sensitive to the distance between nozzles and substrates, severely limiting the substrates that can be run with a printing solution. However, our overprinting system uses a unique, automatic height-calibration routine that senses the substrate thickness to adjust for accurate print height, enabling substrate changeovers in less than two minutes. Featuring extremely durable pigment inks and print width, it expands the short-run possibilities and has resulted in many successful customer installations globally.

Created by Packaging DigestAstroNova-quote.jpg

 

Maurer: The ability of digital press technologies to now match the same job printed on traditional press technologies represents some real-world, exciting opportunities for brand owners. With our digital presses integrated into folding-carton converters, brand owners have had the advantage of working collaboratively in real time with the packaging converter.

The advantage of digital press technology is that brand owners can decide to change a PMS color in their design and immediately see how that looks on the next sheet printed. If the brand owner wants to do some test marketing or sales promotions in short runs, they can easily do this on digital press platforms in which every single sheet or short runs off the digital press can have different colors.

Another benefit that brand owners are exploring is the incorporation of personalization into packaging designs. The market segments where this personalization is showing promise are cosmetics, pharma, and higher-end consumer products. In these cases, the packaging design can be either versioned for specific market requirements, including languages, cultural differences, or special events, or include variable data in both image and text forms, making each carton unique. Brand owners are finding this advantageous in fighting the constant problem of counterfeit product.

Another advantage to the brand manager is efficiency of press checks. With the digital press matching the output of the traditional press perfectly, what used to be an all-day event of press checking can now be done in a matter of minutes. One of our customers that uses our digital presses had a job with 40 different SKUs. Printing these on the digital press was accomplished on 40 sheets in minutes. The brand manager said, “It took longer for me driving over here in traffic than it took to do the press check. This is amazing!”

 

Stabel: Again, the word flexibility comes to mind. Brand owners need to be creative, nimble, and master collaborators. A well-designed, well-placed, high-quality package sets a brand apart from others. Digital printing offers the ability to be on target, and the possibility to be in market a few days after an idea strikes. 

Xeikon-quote2.jpg

Packaging itself becomes the marketing that attracts customers. Seventy-nine percent of brand owners say that packaging is a key marketing tool for their companies. Shoppers like attractive, uncomplicated stuff that helps them make decisions in the retail atmosphere. In the retail environment, the package is everything. Digital printing allows brand owners to focus on the brand. The branding of a product can be more important than the product itself. Two businesses can sell essentially the same product, and it’s the branding that makes one a premium product, while the other is viewed as a commodity.

Digital printing enables high quality, food-safety assurance, and fast turnaround without compromising creative integrity or brand identity.

 

Barak: Brands owners are asking for greater agility in terms of time to market, shorter runs, sustainability, higher quality, and consistency, plus more engaging packages (campaigns, more media types, embellishment, and personalization). Brands also want safer-to-use food and pharma packaging, as well as an ability to protect against counterfeiting and diversion.

Using our digital presses and the new capabilities we are rolling out, converters can address such brands’ needs better than ever.

For smaller or craft brands, digital equipment can make a huge difference. With converters using our digital printing equipment, small brands can afford high-quality packages, with fast turnaround, at any quantity without paying for conventional tooling.

Created by Packaging DigestHP-quote.jpg

 

Chou: Packaging is a vehicle for branding — including areas that previously were only for utility (for example, shipping labels). Some have insisted that shipping labels, due to their utilitarian function, would never need more than black and white, but color opens new possibilities. A shipping label is prime real estate for an ad. In most cases, the package being shipped is on its way to a customer who is fond of the business and likely has a purchase pattern. The empty white space on a shipping label can be used for a color logo or for an advertisement of another item the customer might like — the perfect opportunity to cross-sell.

On-demand printing also offers increased flexibility. Changes to label design can be made on the fly without waiting weeks for a new batch of pre-printed labels or scrapping existing printed inventory.

With on-demand printing, business owners gain the capability to affordably customize products in masses — they’re never tied into ordering large batches of labels to get a reasonable price. In today’s world, with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the economy, and the upcoming election, a company’s ability to adapt, adjust, and be flexible are more important than ever.

Created by Packaging DigestEpson-quote.jpg

 

What areas in digital printing for packaging still need work and why?

Maurer: Though much of the technology gap in achieving performance on digital presses that matches traditional presses has converged, there is still a long way to go before traditional offset and flexo technologies are not advantaged for longer production runs and diversity of applications. Production speed and cost per sheet is still heavily favored to traditional presses and will be for the next decade, at least. Achieving production speeds and quality levels required for packaging converters with digital presses still has a ways to go but promises to offer great improvements in the coming years. Packaging converters can expect to have a cost per sheet from a digital press to be three to eight times more expensive than printing it traditionally.

Also, even though digital presses are now much more robust than their predecessors, they still have a ways to go to achieve the real-world production uptime and reliability of traditional presses.

Another area of work required for digital presses is the range of applications, in terms of substrates and post-printing process capability for coatings and foiling that exactly match the appearance and durability of analog presses.

Finally, there is an adoption of multicolor printing process technology, replacing PMS inks, that needs to be accepted and trusted by both packaging-converter production departments and brand owners. This will happen with proven real-world jobs being produced digitally and proof-of-market-acceptance of the quality achieved.

 

Bohr: Technology continues to evolve in the digital space, and this is not stopping any time soon. Equipment manufacturers keep looking for new ways to serve customers and make digital print production simpler, quicker, and more affordable.

With this change, we as manufacturers need to find new and better ways to help educate the market and customers about the benefits of inkjet technology, as well as its limitations. We see that our most successful customers understand that inkjet can’t do everything, and it’s not always a good replacement for flexo jobs or other analog equipment. Instead, they excel by strategically transitioning work and finding new opportunities with customers. This is especially true for new brands and products that need labels and packaging, but in smaller, short-run quantities. So, for us, it’s about educating and supporting customers through their entire life cycle with our equipment.

 

Bhushan: In my opinion, digital printing is expected to mature with further advancements in both aqueous inks and printheads that allow printing on a wider variety of affordable materials.

There needs to be a reduction in cost per page, along with the reliability and robustness of printing solutions, so that comparisons with flexo printing appear more favorable. While manufacturers make this happen, there must also be increased awareness of possibilities enabled by digital printing in large consumer packaging companies. Although many companies are open to the idea, most of them are trying to investigate from a distance instead of running active pilot programs.

 

Chou: Thermal transfer is decades-old technology, so by now there is a variety of thermal media available on the market. Inkjet, being a newer, innovative technology, does not yet have a full spectrum of media choices, particularly lower-end media for shipping and warehouse labels.

Sustainability continues to be a dominating trend in the packaging industry. We are hoping to see more options for recyclable or compostable labels.

 

Stabel: We see digital as a complementary technology, so the goal is not so much trying to substitute conventional printing technologies by trying to do the same but offering a tool or business model that addresses market needs that are difficult to answer with those conventional techniques. Think short runs and optimized supply chains.

To help the converter’s business case, we continue working on better presses in terms of stability, quality, and productivity. Besides the overall technical features of an engine, we notice there is a clear need to help converters with their “digital transformation.” Questions to be addressed are: What is the business model? The application scope? And the operational and commercial ramp-up support needed to be successful?

 

Barak: Today, digital print focuses on short runs and multi-SKU jobs. Based on our market analysis, approximately 6% of pressure-sensitive label volume is printed digitally and approximately 45% at a run length lower than 1.5km.

In the areas of folding cartons and flexible packaging, less than 0.5% of the volume is printed digitally.

Digital print will expand over a few vectors:

1. Winning a growing share of short-run volume. Today, even in pressure-sensitive labels, only a third of the volume is printed digitally. The advancements addressed above (media range, sustainability, utilization, upstream, and converting) will increase digital print proliferation.

2. More “digitally born jobs” at any run length. The need for jobs with variable data (image, barcode, and/or security capabilities) is growing. Demand is related to our ability to introduce more creative solutions that will excite brands.

3. Higher productivity to switch longer runs to digital. Integrated workflow, digital print, and converting solutions will allow replacing conventional tools for runs between 3 to 10 kilometers in labels and between 3 to 7 square kilometers jobs in flexible packaging.

 

What’s next and when might we see further improvements in digital printing for packaging?

Bhushan: COVID-19 has resulted in numerous impacts on a variety of industries, and digital-printing solution providers are not an exception. For the most part, brand owners and manufacturers have realized that agility and flexibility are even more desirable than before, and short-run digital printing is a smart way to be more agile and flexible vs. conventional methods.

After economies start opening up, and companies begin to spend again, we can expect to see an increased pace of adoption in digital print technology operationally. Additionally, we can expect more robust and affordable digital printing solutions that would pair well with custom-engineered solutions. The demand for more complex engineered solutions is expected to grow as companies become more familiar with printing and try to integrate that into their production line.

Photo supplied by AstroNovaAstronova_TLB_PKG_DIGEST_5x5_061520-web.jpg

These packages were all printed on AstroNova’s TrojanLabel T3-OPX full-color overprinting system, which prints directly on flat cartons, corrugated boxes, and other uncoated materials with ink-receptive surfaces.

 

Chou: The pandemic has accelerated consumers’ adoption of ecommerce, resulting in a dependence on digital labeling for many applications, such as in supply chains, home deliveries, and healthcare.

As on-demand color printing continues to grow, labels and packaging will continue to be brought closer to the production line. The printers may be integrated with applicators or other third-party hardware, too. We also predict new, creative solutions being developed as on-demand printers are integrated with independent software vendor (ISV) and MIS software.

 

Barak: Some of the improvements are introduced as new capabilities and have been added to existing platforms. Some require a completely new platform.

We recently announced a new underlying technology for printing labels and packaging at 120 meters per minute with high quality and application versatility. This new digital printing platform will expand the “sweet spot” of digitally printed labels to runs between 3km and 10km.

For the folding carton market, we will introduce in 2020 two new digital printing solutions, a B2 digital press and a B1+ web-fed digital press. These will address the need for lower TCO; digital print in B1 format; high-definition resolution; thinner media range; higher-opacity white, in-line coating, and spot varnish; and more.

[Editor’s note: B2, B1+, and B1 refer to paper sizes as defined by the ISO 216 international standard.]

For the flexible packaging market, we will introduce in 2020 a new digital press and add new lamination and pouch-making tools to our Digital Pouch Factory eco-system. These solutions will allow flexible packaging converters to serve the growing need for short runs, fast time to market, and demand for sustainable pouches.

 

Stabel: One area is digital corrugated-packaging solutions. We recently announced a new digital-solutions platform for corrugated-packaging converters. One of the cornerstones of this platform is a post-print, single-pass printing press. This press uses certified food-safe water-based inks on coated and uncoated corrugated sheets up to 1.6 meters wide x 2.8 m long (5'3" wide x 9'2" long) at up to 150 linear m/min (492 ft/min). It is an ideal solution for a corrugated-box market with decreasing lot sizes, shorter lead times, and ever-increasing demand for high-quality packaging.

Our new platform will deliver higher print quality than flexography and enable printing of both short and long runs with all the benefits of a digital print-on-demand solution, including reduced waste. With a much smaller, more environment-friendly footprint, the platform can also customize and version.

[Editor’s note: Versioning refers to creating different versions of the same package with, for example, personalized information.]

It is no secret that we are seeing rapid changes in the behavioral patterns of consumers, brands, and retailers. The exponential growth of ecommerce and the increasing pressure on sustainability are underlying forces that drive creative innovation in the digitization of packaging to higher levels of productivity. Ever-rising consumer expectations for instant, unique, and entertaining products continue to set the bar higher within the supply chain for decreased lead times and even faster delivery. Companies need to review their business models and markets.

Migrating from corrugated post-print to digital corrugated printing is the optimal way for forward-thinking businesses to set themselves up for future success. Our solution provides a single-pass digital press for the corrugated sector, food-safe patented ink technology, and an open architecture for third-party integration.  

 

Maurer: What has been achieved by digital press manufacturers, including our company, has been amazing. And like all things in our digital world, the advancements grow at an exponential pace.

We will see, over the next five to 10 years, a further convergence in the cost for high quality, production speeds, range of applications, substrate compatibility, extension of PMS colors and color gamut, and compatibility with post-printing processes from digital press technologies. It is a very exciting time for packaging converters that are exploring the new advantages of integrating digital presses into their traditional pressrooms.

 

Bohr: We will see improvements today, tomorrow, and each day after. This was a big year for new printing presses and technology advancements, and no one is slowing down. Going into the second half of 2020 and early 2021, I would expect to see these new presses getting in the facilities of talented packaging printers. They will then push us to improve, based on their needs and the needs of their customers.

 

What Companies are Hiring Packaging Engineers Today?

Packaging engineers who are looking for a job have plenty of opportunities.

Earlier this spring, as furloughs and layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic hit, even packaging professionals felt the sting (see “COVID-19 ‘Disruption’ in Packaging Jobs Worsens”). That could explain why our article from three summers ago, “10 hottest careers in the consumer packaging industry,” has vaulted into the top five best-read articles of 2020 so far.

When it comes to the current market for packaging jobs, there’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: It’s an uncertain economy and, with so many people looking for work, competition for jobs is fierce.

Now the good news: A search for open “packaging engineer” positions returns remarkable results, as of July 15, 2020.

• On Glassdoor, more than 25,000 jobs for packaging engineer were posted in the last 30 days.

• A search on Monster pulls up 9,280 options from the last month.

• LinkedIn delivers 873 results in the same time frame.

• And Indeed lists 827 jobs for packaging engineer for just the last 14 days.

From these four sources, we’ve highlighted various openings around the country, within different markets, and with a range of salary levels.

Smart and Reusable Ecommerce Box Gets Supercharged

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It’s said that all publicity is good, but earlier this year during The Consumer Electronics Show, a small company received what was unquestionably outstanding publicity when its creation was officially named by CES 2020 as the “product with the greatest potential to change the world.”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The recipient for such an accolade? The BOX, an ecommerce-optimized, fully technology-enabled reusable container from manufacturer LivingPackets. It’s also happens to be an atypically large, yet extraordinary example of smart packaging.

The company has now upgraded what was already an impressive distribution container that Packaging Digest reported on in early March (see Next-Gen Ecommerce Packaging is Smart, Customizable, and Reusable) with even more useful technology. Let’s first review the features of the first-generation container…

  • The plastic box is durable enough for 1,000 trips after which it can be reconditioned and recycled;
  • The dynamic, data-carrying electronic-ink labels operates on low power — drawing only enough power to allow changes in data rather than to maintain it;
  • It houses smart technology that includes integrated sensors to continuously measure temperature, humidity and shocks.
  • All data can be accessed at any time via the built-in Internet connection and smartphone app.
  • A configurable interior is customizable for every shipment size and eliminates the need for one-way plastic protective wraps and packing material.

The Box is individually customizable internally to secure the specific contents.

The Box in various positions.

Newly introduced Version 2.0 offers these additional features:

  • New sensors to measure pressure, motion, weight and light;
  • Internal camera allows the ecommerce shipper and its customers to check on the delivery that, in combination with other sensors,  opens up a number of new possibilities , the company claims;
  • Larger 7.8-inch Electronic Ink (E Ink) display with Gorilla Glass is able to mimic almost any existing shipping label and is both human- and machine-readable. This makes The Box compatible with all existing logistics solutions in warehouses and fulfillment centers and allows for an even more convenient experience;
  • Speaker and a microphone that can be activated by the receiver to communicate with the mail carrier;
  • Integrated locking system with TSA interface secures every shipment that goes beyond detecting opening attempts to prevent unauthorized attempts through an electromechanical lock;
  • Front pop-out handle is ergonomically designed so users can easily carry it.

Co-founder and CEO Alexander Cotte again responds to Packaging Digest’s questions in this Q&A. 

What’s the targeted customer and market? 
Cotte: We are still following our plan and work with selected e-commerce partners in Germany and France to bring The Box to market in both countries this year. From there, our Boxes will find their way to other companies and people for use with their deliveries.

We are currently in the final stages with our launch partners and building our circulation system. The number of businesses, carriers, and partners across many industries is growing each week that would like to use The Box.

What products/volumes are especially suitable for this in terms of a business case justification?  
Cotte: Because The Box can accommodate by size 80% of all ecommerce shipments today, it’s a really good fit for most online businesses that sell items with a volume of up to 32 Liters (or 8.45 gallons or 1.1 cu ft).
When it comes to products and volume we are working with very different setups: We have a lot of companies who sell high-volume in tens or hundreds of thousands of boxes per day who would like to use The Box. And we also have companies, for example pharmaceutical makers or luxury brands, that ship far less packages, but that are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of euros. For them the extended monitoring and usage of sensors makes a lot of sense.

Can you provide an update regarding the commercial status?
Cotte: We can still mention Cdiscount and Orange that we announced publicly for our first market pilots. We will communicate the next tests and pilot programs after the launch in the near future.
Unfortunately through Corona we saw some delay for the announcement communication with selected partners. But once we are ready to announce them, we are happy to let you know.

Healthcare Packaging

A Polymer Solution to Potential Shortage of Glass Vials for COVID-19 Vaccines

Image courtesy of Polyplastics topas-polyplastics-650.jpg

 

Polyplastics USA reports a surge of interest in its Topas-branded cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Topas COC is a long-established alternative to borosilicate glass for the fabrication of medical syringes and containers and is also routinely used to manufacture disposable diagnostic containers.

 

Polyplastics said that it can’t comment on current applications because of non-disclosure agreements. However, it is being used in COVID-19 testing applications, and developments are ongoing for its use in new vaccines and therapies, according to Timothy Kneale, Polyplastics’ President – Topas Americas.

“With a range of new tests and therapies under development, many companies find it important to use the purest, most inert products for their developments,” said Kneale. “We are pleased to be helpful in bringing as rapid an end to the pandemic as possible.” The interest in TOPAS COC comes amid a concern in the pharmaceutical industry of a shortage of glass vials for COVID-19 vaccines, according to Polyplastics.

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Topas COC features extremely low leachables and extractables. Image courtesy Polyplastics.

Topas COC could help alleviate a potential shortage of borosilicate glass used to make vaccine vials, explained Kneale. While inexpensive borosilicate glass meets today’s industry needs, some emerging drugs and therapies are incompatible with glass. In particular, Topas COC could fill a vital role as more biotech-derived active ingredients emerge, he added.

Kneale noted that the material’s extremely low leachables and extractables, along with its non-polar, low reactivity surface and broad global regulatory compliance make it ideal for diagnostic disposables and for packaging of vaccines and therapeutic agents. The material provides ultra-high purity and its inert nature prevents interference with reactions and analyses. Other attributes include its optical performance (91% clarity), UV transparency, and low birefringence.

The design freedom available with injection moldable COC enables lightweight, wearable drug-delivery solutions, portable diagnostic devices, and more.

Frito-Lay Invests $200M in New Manufacturing Lines

Image courtesy of Flickr user anne-cathrine_nyberg 5911821117_4fc6048a90_b.jpg

Snack manufacturer Frito-Lay is preparing to kick off a $200 million expansion project at its Perry, GA plant to add several new production lines, Georgia Gov. Brian P. Kemp announced in a release Wednesday. The investment is expected to create 120 new jobs.

 

“For more than 30 years, the Frito-Lay Perry site has been a proud member of the Houston County community and a key contributor to the Georgia economy,” said Callum Bisset, senior site director, Perry, Frito-Lay North America, in a statement. “As the largest Frito-Lay manufacturing facility in the US, our Perry site employees more than 1,000 dedicated employees. We appreciate the support and vision of state and local officials.”

During the project, Frito-Lay will add a new manufacturing line for Frito-Lay tortilla chip products, a second line for Baked Cheetos Puffs, and create space for a future manufacturing line and a warehouse building. 

“Frito-Lay is one of the most recognizable US brands, and we are proud that this corporate partner continues to find success in Perry, GA,” Gov. Kemp said. 

Flexible Packaging

Nova Chemicals’ Biaxially Oriented PE Film Technology Achieves Milestone in Recyclability

Nova Chemicals' HD-BOPE packaging

Recycling multi-material barrier film packaging has been challenging producers of this type of packaging in spite of the tremendous benefits in shelf stability and longevity that barrier films bring to food packaging. Nova Chemicals Corp. believes it has a solution. On June 30, the company headquartered in Calgary announced the development of high-density resin technology for the biaxially oriented polyethylene (BOPE) market. HD-BOPE is a transformative technology that enables the manufacture of all-polyethylene, recyclable multi-layer film structures with significantly improved physical performance versus blown film, said Nova Chemicals. The technology is seen as ideal for use in food packaging, heavy duty sacks, e-commerce, and other demanding applications.

Nova Chemicals' HD-BOPE packaging
HD-BOPE resins are designed for use in the print web and can then be laminated to a sealant film made with lower-density polyethylene.

The development of this technology marks a major advance in the pursuit of a circular economy for plastics, according to Nova Chemicals. HD-BOPE can enable film manufacturers to realize fully recyclable PE mono-material structures without sacrificing stiffness or print clarity. Mono-material film structures are critical to achieving brand owner commitments to make all plastic packaging 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable.

“Brand owners and consumers are looking for easy-to-recycle packaging that prevents contamination and extends the shelf life of their products,” said Alan Schrob, Consumer and Industrial Films Group Manager in Nova Chemicals’ polyethylene business. “Our HD-BOPE technology provides an additional building block for converters to make recyclable multi-layer films that perform as well as traditional mixed-material structures.”

Biaxially oriented films are stretched in both the machine and transverse direction, resulting in films that have enhanced toughness, barrier performance, and optics. Film structures that use the technology are commonly laminates; HD-BOPE resins are designed for use in the print web and can then be laminated to a sealant film made with lower-density polyethylene. The finished film also has high stiffness, which enables down-gauging and improved processability in converting steps versus blown film alternatives. Its low tear properties support easy-open packaging. Similar to films made from other biaxially-oriented technologies, BOPE films demonstrate excellent thickness uniformity and film flatness for high yield rates, explained Nova.

Nova Chemicals has been working with Brückner Maschinenbau, a global stretching line manufacturer, to accelerate the development and commercialization of the technology. “We have been very pleased with the performance of Nova Chemicals’ products on our equipment and are getting positive feedback from the converters who are making film with it, as well,” said Sebastian Ruhland, Senior Sales Manager, Brückner Maschinenbau. “We believe this technology will open completely new possibilities to provide PE films for 100% mono-material packaging films as an answer to the recyclability challenges we’re facing.”

Packaging Design

The Future of Single-Use Packaging in a Post-Pandemic World

Person with recycle symbol shirt recycling plastics

Back in the summer of 2019, plastic packaging—particularly single use—was taking a beating and it looked like the future was bleak. Social media and viral videos made plastics the villain, singularly responsible for polluting the planet. Some plastics professionals were even pondering if they should jump to a different career path before it all came crashing down.

In a way, it was reminiscent of the era leading up to the Tylenol tampering in 1982, where the consumer battle cry of the time was “over packaging.”  For those of us who were around at the time, we know that a few months later, tamper-evident devices were mandated for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Many consumers did an about face and started complaining “why weren’t these devices on the packages to begin with?”

In the first quarter of this year we were thrust into a health crisis that the world has not experienced since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 100 years ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted life for virtually every single human being on the planet. All of a sudden, we quickly needed soap, sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and sprays to combat the virus. There was a huge demand for these essential commodities and workers were called upon to support the manufacturing efforts of suppliers who were overwhelmed with a surge in demand.

Once again, we have seen a remarkable “opinion” turnaround. Even the most vocal anti-plastic critic was now relying on a soap or sanitizer pumped or poured from a plastic container. Grocery stores were telling customers their reusable bags were no longer welcome, and disposable gloves were flying off the shelves. Suddenly disposable was good; reusable was bad. The demand is expected to continue well into next year as the approaching winter will likely bring with it an upward flu spike and potential second wave of COVID-19.

However, this is not the time to do a victory lap. What we need to be doing with this lull in the plastics assault is push ahead with solutions for how to create a sustainable future. We have been presented with a unique opportunity (and the gift of time) to create solutions that impact the environment in a more positive fashion.

Multi-use containers are on-trend.

Firms are already looking for sustainable solutions which call for multiple-use containers. As the world pivots towards a circular economy, we should support efforts to innovate towards a solution where we can reduce waste and improve hygiene at the same time.

For example, single-use packaging can evolve towards lightweight cartridges used in conjunction with durable soap and sanitizer dispensers. The lighter package, which may not have ideal aesthetics, could be hidden inside a shroud or housing so that it is not visually jarring. The design of the dispenser itself can be optimized for minimal human contact, or even touchless, to help improve hygiene and sanitation.

COVID-19 has shown that demand for clean bottled water and healthy juices and beverages remain at an all-time high as stores limit the quantity that can be purchased by each customer. These have predominantly been single-use containers, but more brands are trying to push increased use of recycled content plastic to address consumer concerns. Also, there are different technologies being developed to use plastic recycled from non-mechanical processes, such as chemical recycling. The success of these efforts will have a huge bearing on use of single use plastics.

Juices and beverages will require additional shelf life attributes if these packages are further light weighted. There has been a push to develop technologies where use of barrier materials is in sync with approved recycling protocols and quality metrics. Many resin companies are working hard to find solutions to these problems.

What we have experienced is that every crisis creates a novel set of opportunities and we, as plastics professionals, need to capitalize on them. No other category of material has such a wide array of properties that can be customized to meet the needs of a global community. Our collective objective should be to proceed down this path with creativity and determination if we want to ensure that we don’t squander this opportunity.

Author: Sumit Mukherjee is the chief technology officer of PTI. He has 25 years of experience in package design, materials characterization, process simulation and modeling, and finite element analysis (FEA) for package performance prediction.Sumit Mukherjee

About PTI

PTI is recognized worldwide as a leading source for preform and package design, package development, rapid prototyping, pre-production prototyping, and material evaluation engineering for the plastic packaging industry. For more information: www.pti-usa.com.

Image: Farknot Architect/Adobe Stock

Mid-Market Manufacturers Rush to Smart Tech During Pandemic

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Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, BDO was finishing up a survey of mid-size manufacturers, looking at how they were coming along with the implementation of Industry 4.0 technology. The 2020 Middle Market Industry 4.0 Benchmarking Survey resulted from BDO’s work with Rabin Research Company. The survey quizzed 100 C-level executives of manufacturers with annual revenues between $250M and $3B.

The  report reveals that mid-market manufacturers are beginning to invest deeply in smart manufacturing technology. “Industry 4.0 tools used to belong to the largest manufacturers. That’s changed in the last three years,” Eskander Yavar, head of the Manufacturing practice at BDO, told Design News. “At first, the med-size manufacturers were interested mostly in education. Then they moved to use-cases, gaining some accessibility with the technology. Now the pandemic has encouraged them to adopt technology as they pivot their manufacturing to PPE. That was the great headline from COVID-19. They jumped in with the technology.”

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The report from BDO show that mid-market manufacturers are increasing their investment in smart manufacturing, spurred on my the pandemic and the recession. (Image source: BDO)

The Technology Is Easier and Less Expensive

The tipping points for smart manufacturing technology among mid-market manufacturers included price reductions and easy-to-use technology. “The key drivers are the price and ease-of-use,” said Eskander. “IoT devices are accessible, and computing is widespread and shared. That’s huge. If we were still stuck in a world where computing wasn’t widely used, we wouldn’t see the expansion in the middle markets.”

Also, you no longer need a team of programmers on hand to run the technology. “You don’t need a coder to do the changes any longer,” said Eskander. “Whether it’s MES in the ERP using the machine data or any of the wrappers like analytics. You can choose a platform and the technology runs with it. In the past you were either an Oracle or Microsoft user. Now the technology providers make it agnostic.”

The Core Results of the Survey

Early Adopters’ Advantages: Manufacturers who have embraced Industry 4.0 solutions first will have a competitive advantage compared to laggards, and the oncoming recession will widen the gap. 

Laying the Groundwork for Recovery: With a recession on the horizon, manufacturers will have to do more with less. Automation and analytics will help them achieve cost efficiencies beyond those of a traditional cost-cutting agenda. 

Catalyzing Long-Term Transformation: Diversifying revenues was cited as manufacturers’ top long-term Industry 4.0 objective. However, for “nonessential manufacturers,” COVID-19 has fast-tracked the need to revamp revenue streams.

Supply Chain Optimization: Mitigating supply chain disruptions are among manufacturers top priorities amid COVID-19 and after two years of ongoing trade policy turbulence.

The report noted that Industry 4.0 technologies can help manufacturers increase supply chain visibility and more proactively identify risk areas to mitigate disruptions, prevent reputational damage and limit legal liabilities. 

Catching Up on the Technology

The report concludes that “early adopters are better positioned to weather today’s storms, while laggards face a particularly steep uphill battle.” BDO noted that the manufacturers that have put off innovation will find themselves revamping their priorities if they make it to the other side of the current slump. Long-term success for manufacturers hinges not just on developing an Industry 4.0 strategy, but also providing excellence in execution.

Manufacturers seem to be aware of the need to ramp up. The report reveals that at the start of 2020, one-third of manufacturers were implementing Industry 4.0 strategies, up from just 5% in 2019.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.