Packaging Digest is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Articles from 2014 In September

‘Creative Destruction’ is transforming packaging

‘Creative Destruction’ is transforming packaging
In its next generation, packaging is measured by its ability to deliver business success.

The Packaging 2.0 revolution is happening right now. Are you ready? How can your company use packaging as a strategic weapon?

Alexander Pope stated that order is Heaven’s first law. What he did not add was that disorder is its accompaniment. From heavenly bodies to the natural world, both order and disorder are ever present and inseparable. The second law of thermodynamics posits that all thermal systems oscillate between equilibrium and degeneration. This phenomenon, broadly referred to as entropy, has extensive applications, including the economic and industrial sectors. Order and disorder form the very warp and woof of all evolution.

It was Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who vivified the significance of entropy in the business world. He advocated the view that business cycles are an integral part of the process of economic development. He coined the term “Creative Destruction” to characterize the making and remaking of markets when the economy was acted upon by a phalanx of forces. Some of these forces, he contended were: innovations, labor efficiencies, access to capital, new technologies, mismatch of supply and demand, and fresh market possibilities. He further explained that creative destruction occurs in cycles; and at each turn leaves behind a roster of winners and losers, while redefining markets and the businesses that compose them.

Let’s look at a few examples of creative destruction.

Federal Express created the overnight delivery industry and dominated it for decades. But when that market was becoming commoditized by low-cost competitors, FedEx was forced to reinvent itself. Strategically repositioning itself as a supply chain services company, FedEx redefined the market. With a booming global economy, it justly reasoned for the need for timely inbound and outbound logistics. Then it reset its core and compass to solving the transportation and distribution challenges of companies. FedEx swiftly trained its people and transformed their competencies. It forged closer relationships with companies and understood their tiered supply chain needs. To signal the shift, the company’s value proposition became one of assuring synchronized deliveries and supply chain efficiencies to corporations. It was no longer an overnight parcel delivery company, but an enabler of global commerce. It exploited chaos, reinvented itself and broadening its business value.

Kodak was an iconic American company synonymous with photography. But long entrenched in film manufacture, it did not see the shift to digital photography, one that required no film. Worse, this shift was provoked by Hewlett-Packard, an unlikely competitor from an entirely different industry. Soon followed by Apple and others, Kodak was ambushed by the digital revolution. Saddled with a legacy infrastructure that was no longer usable, it was forced to shutter factories, sell business units and bury its very core in a bid to merely re-adapt. The changing market dynamics, one of digital convergence, ignited by a series of disruptive innovations, left Kodak virtually irrelevant as a company.

But the iconic exemplar of creative destruction was Apple. Its story needs no retelling; it’s the stuff of culture and legend. Apple unified the worlds of computers, internet, phone, photography and music by bringing them all together in a single device. It established a Digital Platform that set the standard for how we connect, communicate and collaborate. In the creation of iPod and iTunes, it challenged the traditional music industry. With the iPhone, it trampled the world of telecommunications. And with the iPad it raised the standard for comfort and convenience. The meteoric rise of Apple to digital hegemony can be attributed to a set of interlocking principles that drive creative destruction.

The packaging convergence

The packaging industry is under creative destruction. It is being assaulted by six forces that are challenging the status-quo and changing the face of this industry. The convergence of these forces will drive the next evolution. Let us examine these forces:

1. Global Supply Chains: The porous movement of goods and services has unleashed a slew of attendant challenges. Theft, counterfeiting, brand tampering and spurious merchandise have become rampant in many industries. The economic impact of these illegal activities is staggering, not to mention the remediation costs suffering companies incur. In the pharmaceutical industry, fake prescriptions, phantom pharmacies and false drugs have become the new normal. Packaging has a new responsibility—to fight these economic pandemics proactively. It must make choices a priori with respect to form, shape, design and protection measures.

2. Mass Customization:It’s the era of hyper-segmentation and endless choice. But the relationship of customer choice to commercial profit can be elusive. The golden mean between volume and variety cannot always be struck without hunting down hidden costs. More choice can translate to complexity in fulfillment, inadvertent cannibalization, confusion of customers, and contention for resources. And from a packaging perspective, it can mean myriad variations, longer design cycles and rising innovation costs.

3. Short Product Life Cycles:Companies are bringing products to markets faster than ever. Line extensions and the next generation of products follow the previous versions in speedier tow. This acceleration will demand tighter organizational collaboration, less room for error and a well-orchestrated supply chain—from concept to customer. Time-to-market is solidifying as a corporate function. But the implication for packaging is to appreciate various functional needs and fully support the business.

4. Evolution of Branding:Will the day arrive when a grubby bag of cement from Central Illinois wins a branding contest against a sleek shampoo bottle in mid-town Manhattan? Industrial branding has indeed arrived. Following the success of consumer electronic goods, companies are seeking to create visceral products. They are asking: Why not have delight begin at the drawing board? The future role of packaging will be to redefine encasement as enchantment.

5. Sustainability:Ideally they should encompass an entire business, but sustainability initiatives tend to be disjointed in the absence of a cohesive action plan. A credible initiative involves senior management as sponsors, but tactical managers to navigate the various constraints in the company. From product design to manufacturing, packaging to transportation, and from suppliers to co-packers, everyone has to be involved. Yet, packaging will play an increasing role with respect to materials, sourcing, designs and disposal.

6. Information Transparency:The cars of yesterday were 80% metal and 20% controls. Contrast that with today’s automobile that is nearly all electronics with advanced software. Passenger safety, vehicle condition, location and emergency alerts are all tied together as unified communication. The car is now a command center, an information network. The same shift is occurring to the box, a metaphor for packaging. The smart box of the future will become an information system. It will unite product details, compliance information, degradation warning, theft alerts, traceability and brand authentication.

Packaging is a convergent industry composed of multiple feeder industries. From metals to glass, plastics to paper, wood to polymers, foam to filler materials, the packaging industry undergirds the entire economy of physical products. The stakeholders in this vast ecosystem are raw material suppliers, converters, co-packers, re-packers and eventual customers. Creative destruction of packaging will echo across many of these industries.

Packaging 2.0—Platform for business enablement

From high school physics, we know that when a body is acted upon by numerous forces, it seeks to resolve their impact and create a resultant force or a new vector. The resultant vector of the six forces on this industry is the emergence of Packaging 2.0, the next generation of packaging.

What are the attributes of Packaging 2.0? It is a unified platform for delivering value; it’s a clear system to support entire firms; it’s a full business function governed by targets and measures.

Consider the global business environment of today. Every company faces a core set of challenges: revenue pressure, eroding profit margins, increasing competition, decreasing customer loyalty and shrinking innovation lifecycles. In this demanding operating milieu, companies have no choice but to ruthlessly redline packaging for all its possible contribution. And that means seeking fresh answers to business success via packaging.

From concept to customer, design to delivery, and from education to innovation, how can companies use packaging as a strategic weapon? It’s only by mapping packaging to squarely aim for the following business targets:

• Create market opportunities bylocating and leveraging profitable product and service niches.

• Protect the supply chain bydesigning for easy delivery and protection against theft while using sustainable materials.

• Exploit the customer’s ecosystem byunderstanding customers’ customers and identifying where preemptive innovation can open new business.

• Collaborate better with the rest of the company byunderstanding the issues and success predicates of other functions.

• Improve branding bytelling a visceral story of the product, company and the connective theme.

• Improve sustainability bymaking optimal material choices that respect the business constraints as well.

• Improve information visibility by appreciating and aligning with full business cycles.

• Innovate efficiently bybuilding an innovation roster that maps product offerings to changing market needs.

The packaging profession has to reconfigure itself to the “platformation” of the industry. The threat of irrelevance awaits those firms and professionals who cannot see the “Digital Revolution of Packaging.”

Adapting to the shift

How can professionals ready themselves to the remaking of the industry? I believe there are three fundamental steps:

1. Embrace full business unity.Eliminate functional separatism.The purpose of packaging is to enable business, support customers and strengthen the bottom line. Packaging can no longer operate in a vacuum or as a microcosm of scattered design activities. It must function as a business discipline tied to the success of the firm. Let that principle propel your operating environment. Whether the firm is a brand owner, raw material supplier, converter, co-packer or any other value-adding aggregator in the industry chain, packaging is starkly business.

2. Educate, educate, educate. All packaging professionals, engineers and designers should draw a new cognitive baseline. They must learn to appreciate the dynamics of the marketplace, the demands of the supply chain and the dictates of the business itself. Merely staying schooled in design techniques will no longer suffice. The technology of packaging must now mesh with the business of packaging—in people’s minds first. It’s impossible to clap in today’s business with one hand.

What can empower this shift? Consider cross pollination across the organization. What if every Friday packaging professionals spend 45 minutes in a different department understanding its issues, challenges, and aspirations? An organized initiative for business immersion will unearth problems, improve processes and illuminate black space. It will establish common ground and correlational literacy.

3. Establish explicit value maps. The full legitimacy of packaging cannot begin until the function is openly mapped to the success quotients of the firm. Begin by asking questions: How can we use packaging as a weapon to improve various facets of the business? Where can our current product lines be expanded? What design changes can open emerging markets? What can be improved in transportation and delivery? What inefficiencies can be eliminated? What can be replaced? Where can we produce more for less? Where can we protect our brands and our customers’ brands better? Only with a comprehensive set of business questions can a firm unleash the full power of packaging.

Throughout history, with every industrial evolution, there was a Darwinian shakeout that left only the fittest. When railroads were first laid out, only those local merchants that saw it as a vehicle to business expansion flourished; the rest fell victim to their own myopia. When refrigeration and cooling technologies were invented, the food industry was changed forever. But only the winners perceived preservation and postponement as possibilities; the rest were riveted in a heated battle with the status-quo.

Packaging is not packaging anymore; it is business enablement. The shift is best summarized in the immortal words of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”:“Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!”

Dan Balan is a global leader in corporate transformation. A renowned expert in supply chains and breakthrough innovations, he is a paradigm shifter for the packaging industry. He is the creator of the Packaging360Leadership Program available through This article was partially excerpted from the keynote speech he delivered at the Global Food and Beverage Packaging Summit in Chicago in July 2014. He is the head of Fastraqq Inc. Chicago and can be reached at [email protected].

‘Creative Destruction’ is transforming packaging: Gallery

In its next generation, packaging is measured by its ability to deliver business success.

The Packaging 2.0 revolution is happening right now. Are you ready? How can your company use packaging as a strategic weapon?

The packaging industry is under creative destruction. It is being assaulted by six forces that are challenging the status-quo and changing the face of this industry. The convergence of these forces will drive the next evolution.

Click the link below to read the full article.

From remote machine monitoring to the Industrial Internet: Powering packaging performance into the future: Gallery

Today, many packaging machines can be remotely monitored for performance and/or accessed for troubleshooting.

Current remote monitoring systems allow operators and managers to react immediately to changes on the plant floor. But what if this connectivity could enable packaging engineers to do so much more?

There is plenty of talk these days about the Internet of Things and wearable tech. We see this everywhere we go—everything from wristbands that monitor our step counts and heart rates, to Internet-enabled watches, to Google Glass. The approaching ubiquity of these devices is seen in many circles as a breakthrough. While the consumer fascination with these capabilities is relatively new, what is often lost in the conversation is this: Packaging companies have been building networks that connect machines for years—most often referred to as the “Industrial Internet”—and machinery manufacturers have increasingly been enabling this connectivity across the machines they build.

Click link below to read the full article.

Pasta packaging perfected in two directions

Pasta packaging perfected in two directions
CEO Peter Robertson holds a foodservice-optimized 8oz bag of frozen pasta packaged on the vf/f/s system that’s part of an integrated new processing and packaging system at RP’s Pasta.

With both horizontal and vertical f/f/s systems, RP’s Pasta proves that you don’t have to be a major company to automate and manufacture innovatively packaged products.

Peter Robertson is a kind of Renaissance man, having worked as a stage carpenter for dance companies like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, as a chef in New York City and in engineering at Hershey. In a career path with more twists than fusilli pasta, Robertson has found his calling as CEO of RP’s Pasta Co., Madison, WI.

Don’t let his title fool you: It was apparent during my mid-summer visit that Robertson, who is more at home in the plant than in the office, remains a hands-on manager overseeing the company’s three packaging lines.

Two of those lines are located in a newer, isolated part of the building dedicated to making and packaging gluten-free pasta. It’s a market on a fast-growth curve: In a report published July 2014, MarketsandMarkets forecasts gluten-free products to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.2% 2014 to 2019, with North America the largest and fastest-growing market.

It’s also a rising tide that’s lifting RP’s sales and raising its production capability. Here, in a facility in a neighborhood within site of the state’s capital building, Robertson has packed a generous amount of machinery into a tight space, doing so in two dimensions in the form of vertical and horizontal form/fill/seal systems that are about a restaurant table’s distance apart. The vertical f/f/s bagger, which employs modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), is the newer of the two systems.  It is part of a new integrated processing and packaging line. The line’s concept originated with a unique, branded product in an operator-friendly, retail-ready package—despite the fact that Robertson’s initial market focus is on foodservice.

Like many breakthrough ideas, it started with a problem.

“Trying to find space in the frozen retail section is a challenge,” Robertson explains. “Where you don’t have a challenge is going into a restaurant and giving them the answer to their problems.”

His solution: A single-serve 8-oz pouch that is as attractive as any branded and bagged retail product.

“Universities, restaurants and healthcare facilities are essentially mandated now to have gluten-free offerings in order not to say ‘no’ to 10% of their customers who want gluten-free products,” he says. “What operators want is a precooked product, so we offer them a fully cooked, individually quick-frozen, top-of-the-line pasta product that they just finish in a sauté bin. We cut out their labor and eliminated their potential for cross-contamination [of gluten].

“I wanted it to look professional and with all the information that restaurants need and I wanted the restaurants to know my brand. We have the Nutrition Facts and ingredient listings for each portion because that’s where restaurants are heading as they are required to have nutritional analysis on their dishes. This way we’re more than up-to-date, we’re ahead of them. This packaged product is fantastic and provides operators with labor savings, portion control and zero product waste. At the National Restaurant Association show [in May 2014] the reaction from those operators to our products was ‘this is a no-brainer, we have to have it.’”

Not only is RP’s positioned ahead of the foodservice curve, it’s prepared for retail around the bend: He expects that the products will gain brand recognition with restaurants and from there eventually get traction at retail.

Vertical growth

Robertson’s vision for product and package was realized in 2014 with the investment in the processing and packaging line. Processing starts with an automated extruder that deposits the pasta onto a conveyor where it is transported into a continuous rotary blancher/cooker. From there, the pasta goes through a chilled water tumbler and into a cryogenic liquid nitrogen freezer that freezes the product solid within 30 seconds “so that it maintains all of its fresh-cooked integrity for, during and after packaging,” adds Robertson.

A Telesonic Packaging Corp. Model VQF-430 vertical f/f/s system was installed in parallel with the freezer. It’s a literal 90-degree change in orientation from the horizontal f/f/s systems Robertson has used for years including an older, workhorse Multivac system in the original area of the plant that he bought used and has had rebuilt twice. He likes the fact that the vertical volume output is higher than his horizontal systems. The flexpacks also represent a major change from printed labels applied to trays to using preprinted bag film.

The bag is made of a 2.5-mil three-layer polypropylene/polyethylene/PP film, flexo-printed in six colors by Managed Packaging. The structure permits sealing of inside and outside layers and allows enough rigidity to yield a firm gusset and squared-up, stand-up bag, according to Robertson.

The bagger is the packaging centerpiece at the end a new, highly-automated production setup customized for the restaurant portion of the foodservice market. Product conveys from the freezer on the processing line to a bucket elevator that lifts the IQF pasta to a 14-head Telesonic computerized netweigher. 

Capable of speeds up to 80 bags per minute, the machine can produce 8-oz bags at a rate of 40 per minute, though typically it is run at around 24 per minute. The bags are discharged onto an angled takeaway conveyor that carries them through a stainless-steel metal detector, also from Telesonic.

A contract packager Robertson had contacted that used vertical f/f/s packaging suggested he consider Telesonic machinery.

“I looked at Telesonic machinery and what it was able to offer for the cost and, hands down, this was the best way to gain entry into this market,” says Robertson. “While its capabilities are extremely good, what I like best is the machine’s simplicity that also relates to accessibility and serviceability. Changeovers are done quickly and a change of film is very simple. And, for the most part, it uses off-the-shelf parts.”

Telesonic options that RP’s selected included gas flush (not used for the IQF products), a gusset-making device and quick-change parts.

“With this upgrade and with this packaging, we went from a mom-and-pop shop to a real manufacturer with a product that that you would see in a grocery store,” Robertson says. “It’s very professional looking and just beautiful—and the whole operation runs beautifully, too.”

He also points out that his quad-seal bags “with four really nice panels” are easily packed 12 manually into a box to produce a nice, uniform case.

RP’s Pasta is manufacturing the products on-demand for orders and expects to be running three to five days a week soon.  Products include gluten-free IQF macaroni, fusilli, shells, penne and ziti.

Robertson discloses that they have interest from retailers and foodservice operators such as Delaware North, The Kennedy Space Center, Shenandoah National Park and Hilton Worldwide.

Horizontal orientation

The other of the two newer systems is a Model RS320 horizontal tray thermoformer from VC999 Packaging Systems Inc. installed about three years ago. During our visit, RP’s manufactured and packaged fusilli pasta. The thermoformer is capable of 24 packages per minute, though RP’s operates it at around 15 per minute.

Near the infeed portion of the 5,260mm/17.25 ft-long thermoformer, dough is made using a two-stage extruder wherein one hopper mixes the dough and the second extrudes it through brass dies and into a tub. The operator, who also runs the packaging machine, manually weighs and then loads the pasta in 9-oz portions into trays on the two-up machine. Robertson is looking to automate that part of the operation, starting with a preweigh system.

The semi-rigid trays are thermoformed using black-pigmented rollstock from PurePlast. The forming material comprises 12-mil polyvinyl chloride laminated with a 2-mil ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) oxygen barrier film that maintains the modified-atmosphere packaging for extended shelf life, Robertson points out.

The trays index through the machine from the infeed section into a modified atmosphere chamber where they are gas-flushed 2x2 at a time using a nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas blend and heat sealed with a clear EVOH-barrier film. RP’s codes the products for a 10 to 12 week refrigerated shelf life.

Trays continue beneath the cutting assembly, which cross-cuts and makes machine-direction cuts to separate the trays. Trays are released to a short conveyor that carries them through a Loma Systems metal detector and onto a pack-off table from where they are manually transferred to the labeling system that forms the cross-bar of the T-shaped layout.

“This will get automated at some point, but one step at a time,” observes Robertson of the transfer to the pack-off table. You can expect that with the growing demand that RP’s is experiencing, those steps will come sooner rather than later.

See also the companion article on the company's unique labeling system: Pasta maker installs a custom, 3-applicator labeler

Additional suppliers:

Managed Packaging, 262-367-6600262-367-6600

MarketsandMarkets, 888-600-6441

PurePlast Inc., 800-410-1025

Getting a feel for multi-sensory packaging: Gallery

Japanese mega-brand Kirin uses an interrupted surface pattern on a two-piece steel can for its Kirin Fire Cafe Au Lait product. A series of facets are rolled into the can body during forming. The facets help strengthen the side walls and top load strength of the can so that it can be thin-walled; they refract store lights to attract shoppers and provide a unique hand-feel for consumers during consumption directly from the can.

Brands today are tapping into the personalization of packaging to reach the masses one consumer at a time. But standing apart from the it’s-all-about-me package decoration crowd, tactility is an underused multi-sensory element that draws shoppers in, often with visual cues first, and then closes the deal with what may be the most personal of the all the senses—touch.

Tactility in packaging today takes on many forms and performs wonderfully in myriad leading and supporting roles.

Click here to read the full article.

New bag printer eliminates product rejections for Krispy Kreme

New bag printer eliminates product rejections for Krispy Kreme
Stacks of bags index from the entry conveyor to the lift table, which rises to the pick off position of the vacuum feeder.

An easy-to-upgrade direct printer system lets this bakery add ingredients to doughnut mix bags on demand.

Krispy Kreme’s U.S. plant in Winston-Salem, NC, packages doughnut mix in 50-lb valve-type multiwall kraft bags measuring 19-7/8 x 22-1/8 inches. They fill 7,000 to 8,000 bags per day, and were printing the ingredient statements on the filled bags using a nine-head inline inkjet system. The batch identification, date and bar code were printed on the side of the bag with a large-character inline inkjet printer. Since this plant supplies 12 overseas locations, it must also print ingredient statements in multiple languages. Graphics such as the kosher symbol and Krispy Kreme logo are sometimes added.

Ingredient statements must be accurate and readable. Achieving consistent print on the irregular surface of a filled bag with online inkjet is difficult at best. For Krispy Kreme, aligning nine printheads to produce complete ingredient statements and product information was troublesome and unreliable.

Also complicating results, the software was not suited for printing in a variety of languages, including non-Latin script and characters, such as Arabic and Korea. The result was time consuming set-ups, poor print quality and rejected shipments at overseas locations.

Fast, easy changeovers

With these ongoing problems, ads from Iconotech promoting its printing systems for replacing labels and/or pre-printed bags alerted Krispy Kreme to the existence of a different approach. Iconotech’s printing technology is a direct contact, plateless printing process that uses black and white line art to create print layouts in software supplied with each printer.

One key to the process is the print stencil, a disposable, low-cost print medium composed of a Mylar film mounted onto a nonwoven fiber backing. The film provides a large 11 x 32-inch print field for placing text, graphics and bar codes anywhere in the layout. Print layouts are output from the software to a thermal imager that burns through the Mylar film. This exposes the fiber backing so ink can pass onto the face sheet of the bag or box. This provides high-resolution print for bar codes, text in any type or size, and graphics.

Creating stencils is simple and changeovers are fast and easy. Print stencils are generated for each print run, take one minute to produce and yield up to 5,000 prints.

The overall design from layout to print stencil to feeder allows product to be printed in the flat prior to filling, thus assuring the highest quality print possible on the irregular surface inherent to multiwall kraft bags.

Easy upgrades, too

Iconotech’s printers all share the same basic print module. But Krispy Kreme had to choose the right feeding option for its package and throughput requirements. Hand feed, shuttle feed, strip feed, vacuum feed and nearly continuous automatic vacuum feeders are all available. Opting to make the change to Iconotech one step at a time, Krispy Kreme chose to start with a hand-fed printer, the Optimizer HF. The advantage of this system is that it allows both upstream and downstream automation to be added as throughput demands increase.

A short five months later, Krispy Kreme wanted to upgrade to automatic feeding to handle its increasing volume. The plant added the KR-U feeding system, which combines a staging conveyor, vacuum feeder and transfer belts sufficiently powerful enough to handle valve and gusset type multiwall kraft bags, die cuts and regular-slotted containers (RSC cases). This equipment was designed for easy integration with the Optimizer HF printer that Krispy Kreme was already using, allowing the company to become the first installation for Iconotech’s Optimizer KR-U.

The KR-U provides a nearly continuous in-feed process to the printer from one side-entry point. A single operator can place 10-inch tall stacks of about 60 valve bags on the 10-ft staging conveyor. Media is then indexed over to the loading lift table. The lift table rises to the pick-off position where the vacuum feeder picks off bags one at a time from the top and moves each to the transfer table for delivery to the printer bed. Feed mechanisms inside the printer bed drive the bag through the nip point where it is contacted between the print cylinder and impression roller, creating prints at speeds up to 50 pieces per minute. The printer accepts bag sizes from 12 x 18 to 36 x 36 inches.

When empty, the lift table drops down to receive the next stack. Total reload cycle is five seconds. The 10-ft conveyor holds three stacks of bags, one in the lift table and two waiting.

As Krispy Kreme expects its production to increase and looks to attain maximum throughput, the addition of a restacker and return conveyor would complete the system. This would allow for printed bags to be recaptured in a restacker in bundles of 25 bags after exiting the printer. They would be brought back around to the operator on a return conveyor for additional printing on the other side of the bag or re-palletizing.

With the implementation of the Optimizer KR-U, Krispy Kreme has met customer expectations on print quality, eliminated the product rejections suffered by the international sales department and met increased production with plenty of capacity still available.

This article was supplied by Iconotech and edited by Lisa McTigue Pierce, executive editor.

5 emerging packaging design trends for 2014: Photo Gallery

1. Food for Health: Target’s wellness foods brand Simply Balanced uses a vibrant teal as the dominant color, with appealing photos of ingredients or the products inside. Nutritional information is prominently displayed on the front of the package rather than the back or side.

The package is a consumer’s first and last impression of a product. That’s why differentiation is so important. We’ve identified five important, emergent trends in the food and beverage industry that savvy brands are injecting into their packaging to appeal to consumers.

How to specify the right HMI

How to specify the right HMI
Operator interface terminal (OIT) installed on packaging machine: A basic operator interface terminal is a good fit for simple machines with limited operator interface and connectivity requirements.

Of the three basic types of HMIs to choose from, here’s how to select the best one to meet your packaging machine application requirements.

Whether you are specifying, designing, buying or selling packaging machines, the selection of the human machine interface (HMI) can have a big impact on both current and future equipment operation, compatibility and maintainability. The HMI affects not only your packaging machines, but also other connected equipment.

There are advantages and drawbacks of each of the three basic choices of HMIs: PC-based, embedded and operator interface terminal (OIT). Major factors driving selection include how end users run their business, the complexity of the packaging machine, and the connected equipment and process control system.

The packaging machine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) may have support and maintenance foremost in mind, and the end user may need to improve business intelligence and long-term equipment stability. Both are interested in security, compatibility and competitive pricing.

HMI types

There are a variety of HMIs available in the market today. The table (see Figure 4) compares each of the three HMI types based on a variety of characteristics, features and limitations. The sections below discuss these comparisons in detail, and give application examples to show where each fits best.

1. Operator interface terminal: An OIT has simple graphics, often just text and numbers, and a few touchscreen operator input points (see Figure 1). Graphics can be programmed, but only in a limited manner. For example, a four-line display will have at most four lines of characters, although each line can be customized. Similarly, the touchscreen points will be fixed to a certain amount and function, although each can be programmed.

An OIT will have just one or two basic communication protocols, so communications to controllers such as PLCs and drives is limited to those devices supporting these protocols. Remote access is either not provided, or limited to basic functions, such as transmitting a few data points via an Ethernet port using a built-in web server. These data points then become remotely accessible via a web browser. Local data logging is sometimes available, although memory will be limited, and plug-in memory expansion devices such as USB drives are generally not provided.

Most OITs can be programmed either directly at the unit or with free PC-based software. An OIT is low cost, simple to program and easy to maintain—making it suitable for a variety of small systems. But, OITs are generally purpose-built and may not be able to be modified or changed by the end user.

2. Embedded: An embedded HMI (see Figure 2) uses an embedded operating system, typically Windows Embedded 7, 8 or 8.1 variant versions of Standard or Embedded Compact 2013.

Embedded HMIs using Windows Standard versions will generally have a hard drive, a solid state drive, an attached DVD and/or USB ports. These types of devices can be upgraded and patched. 

Embedded HMIs using Embedded Compact versions cannot be upgraded without replacing the entire unit, and the processing power of these devices is usually limited as compared to Windows Standard versions.

The HMI software that runs on both of these types of embedded HMIs is purchased from a software supplier (like InduSoft) with a runtime license for its HMI software. The embedded HMI application is usually programmed on a separate development PC, and the compiled machine application is downloaded to the target HMI device.

However, some application development can be performed on the Embedded Standard machines, which makes changes or customization at a customer site quite easy and straightforward. The HMI development software license must be procured from the software supplier along with each runtime license per machine, a cost that can be spread among multiple embedded HMIs.  

Because the application is fully programmable and customizable, an embedded HMI offers unlimited combinations of graphics and touchscreen operator interface points that can be presented on a number of separate screens. Most embedded HMIs include Ethernet and serial ports and/or proprietary protocol ports (Modbus Plus, for example), fully programmable or addressable to support a variety of protocols.

Additional embedded HMI viewing options—screens—can be thin clients (an interface using Internet Explorer), a Secure Viewer (such as InduSoft’s secure thin client) or mobile access on a smart untethered handheld device via wireless or 4G cellular networks using a variety of operating systems. These extensive connectivity options are paired with web server capability to provide high-speed two-way remote access.

An embedded HMI is a good fit for applications requiring more functionality and features than available with an OIT, along with the potential to be later added to a larger process or production network. They can also be upgraded for future compatibility by choosing the correct initial operating system and hardware options for the device.

3. PC-based:For complex or large systems, a top-of-the-line PC-based HMI provides the best connectivity, remote access, graphics and flexibility (see Figure 3). However, the line between using a PC-based HMI or an embedded HMI with Embedded Standard version may be quite blurred. A PC-based HMI application is usually developed on a separate PC, and the target runtime platform is also a PC, with considerably more resources than an embedded device.

For most packaging machine applications, the target PC will be industrially rated, making it quite expensive. The target PC will generally have a powerful CPU (central processing unit), extensive on-board memory and large local data storage capability—providing best-in-class graphics, operator interface options and connectivity.

A PC-based HMI may or may not have a keyboard and dedicated video display, as it could instead have many thin clients attached to it for operator interface. It might also be used for other higher end functions such as historizing production data using a built-in SQL Server (pronounced "sequel" and stands for Structured Query Language), and/or managing other production processes besides the local machine, making it into a full-fledged SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) platform and justifying its higher cost.

Planning for obsolescence

While the software lifecycle for PC operating systems like Windows is typically five years, machine lifecycle is 15 years or more, with a variety of packaging equipment exceeding 35 years of life. In addition to equipment life, cost and complexity of equipment should also be considered.

With PC-based and embedded systems, obsolescence of operating systems is a concern within about five to 10 years of installation respectively. While the OIT may have 15 years or more of life, it will likely need to be replaced or upgraded before the mechanical equipment has made its last package.

Even after support ceases for an embedded or a PC-based HMI operating system, the unit can continue to be used. However, there will be no more security patches provided for the operating system, potentially weakening security of the device. If changes are desired to any of the three types of HMIs after support for the original operating system ceases, an older PC with the discontinued operating system must be available to run the HMI programming software, or the device must be upgraded to something more current.

As an alternative for embedded and PC-based HMIs, a new embedded or PC target with the latest operating system can be purchased. But, embedded and PC-based HMI software suppliers vary widely in their ability to migrate their applications from one platform to the next, an important consideration, as application development is often a significant expense.

Some suppliers make it easy to port an application from a discontinued operating system to a new one, while others make it a time-consuming task requiring extensive application reprogramming. For example, InduSoft applications are completely backward compatible, and applications that have been running on old operating systems using an old version of InduSoft Web Studio will run on any current version and operating system.

Purchasers should therefore perform a close examination of the supplier’s past support in terms of porting applications. If the supplier can port applications from a 90s-vintage Windows operating system to today’s current standard, chances are they will be able to provide this same type of application portability in the future.

The cost and complexity of the equipment often drives the HMI selection. An OIT may be perfectly adequate for a simple bulk bag filler, as well as other items of equipment with limited required local operator interface, connectivity and flexibility.

As system complexity increases, embedded and PC-based HMIs have an advantage due to improved screen resolution, number of screens available, tag count, expansion options and connectivity.

Most HMIs will require connections to other devices, in some cases extensively.

Secure connections

OITs have limited connectivity and often use proprietary industrial protocols, making them highly secure. Communication from the OIT to its associated controller is generally easy to set up and trouble free, but connectivity to upper level computing platforms is either not available or strictly limited.

Embedded and PC-based HMIs will have Ethernet ports and use open protocols, providing connectivity to almost any platform, but also increasing security risks. These risks can be mitigated by purchasing the right software, programming the application with security in mind, and maintaining the operating system and the applications as patches and upgrades are provided by suppliers.

Plant standards for hardware and connectivity can drive HMI selection. For example, a plant may have standardized on the EtherNet/IP protocol, and require each of their HMIs to have appropriate built-in communication capabilities.

In addition to meeting current requirements, future connectivity needs must also be considered, particularly to higher level computing systems. For applications ranging from simple production tracking to business intelligence functions pulling together and analyzing data to improve business operations, you’ll need connectivity to external computing platforms, such as ERP systems and historians.

Users should therefore consider the need to collect, analyze and report data in a usable format when specifying HMIs. What will be done with large amounts of raw data once it’s collected? If the data needs to be filtered and visualized in a way that provides timely business analysis and decisions, consider software featuring business intelligence templates. These templates allow the creation of key performance indicators (KPIs) and other software dashboards with simple software configuration rather than custom coding.

Many end users are demanding their machine builders/OEM suppliers use remote access to provide quick and low-cost service and support within the warranty period, and sometimes afterwards via maintenance agreements. In addition to troubleshooting problems as they occur, these services can include remote diagnostics and preventive maintenance.

OITs typically don’t provide much in the way of remote access, at most making a few data points available. Even this limited functionality often requires custom programming to interpret the data output from the OIT and convert it to a format amenable to remote access.

Embedded and PC-based HMIs will have a built-in Ethernet port and web server, providing remote access via any browser. This allows remote access not only from a PC, but also from tablets and smartphones. 

Although all modern embedded and PC-based HMIs provide remote access, the quality varies widely. Remote access from a PC is simple, as the remote PC simply duplicates the local embedded and PC-based HMI screens. Security is provided by using operating system functions and features, and by programming the HMI to give varying levels of access to each user based on log-in credentials.

But remote access via tablets and particularly smartphones is another matter, and HMI suppliers differ widely in their ability provide this information that can be easily viewed on a smaller screen.

In the worst case, the HMI supplier simply makes the local screens available on a remote smartphone, requiring the users to compress, pan and expand to locate and interact with the area of interest.

Some HMI suppliers go much further, providing built-in tools for creating operator interface screens especially for tablets and smartphones. If the HMI software supports the HTML5 standard, then it can be used to easily develop screens for any tablet or smartphone supporting the standard.

In terms of security, the HMI can often be used to shield controllers from the outside world, while still providing local and remote access to the data contained within these devices. This is done by routing all communications to the controllers, drives and other connectable plant floor devices through the HMI.

The right HMI will have extensive security features built-in—much more than any plant floor device—allowing developers and users to configure a highly secure system. The HMI will, in turn, be securely connected to a variety of platforms, such as an ERP system, a historian and remote access tools. This security is particularly important when using more advanced HMI features, such as the ability for remote users to acknowledge alarms and make changes to setpoints.

Improving the operator experience

While remote access is important, the heart of any HMI is its local operator interface capabilities, an area where embedded and PC-based HMIs shine.

Graphics and the operator experience with HMIs have been continuously improving for years. Even the OIT, with its somewhat limited and fixed graphic feature set, has made strides in terms of display capabilities, in some cases offering limited programmability of its basic graphical elements such as gauges, dials and buttons.

If your equipment requires little in the way of graphics and data display, an OIT can fit the bill.  However, if your application requires extensive graphics and operator input, or if flexibility is important, an embedded or a PC-based HMI should be specified.

The wide age range of manufacturing personnel offers a span of experience and perspective.  Workers who have grown up in the digital age expect HMI interfaces with intuitive screen content and interaction, specifically multi-touch commands to quickly access content. Studies have shown multi-touch provides three times faster screen interaction than single touch—not surprising in view of how users easily interact with tablets and smartphones.

The manufacturing environment and its suppliers are more conservative and expect longer operating lives than the two-year cell phone contract, so the transition to multi-touch will be a gradual process. However, many embedded and PC-based HMIs have this capability now, and multi-touch should spread rapidly now that support for it is included with the latest version of Windows.

Ease of use can be programmed into all HMIs from an OIT to PC-based HMIs, but embedded and PC-based HMIs can provide a more powerful graphical user experience, allowing operators to understand and act on information quickly. This improves productivity, reduces downtime and helps avoid incidents.

If an intuitive and interactive HMI, communicating with a variety of equipment and collecting significant amounts of searchable and specialized data is required, an embedded or a PC-based HMI may be required. The OIT may not meet be able to meet these requirements, although it will always have its place in simple applications where cost is a primary concern.

In a nutshell

Cost and size of the application are big drivers when selecting the type of HMI. For small applications, where operator interface requirements are fixed and limited, and where communications are only required to the associated controller—an OIT, with its long life, low cost and small size, is often sufficient.

As the application size increases along with the amount of controller I/O and process complexity, operator experience requirements increase—and the embedded HMI becomes the better fit. Compared to an OIT, it has improved connectivity, remote access, graphics and flexibility. This option is also less expensive than a PC-based HMI, has a smaller footprint and uses an operating system with about double the life expectancy of a PC.

A PC-based HMI is the logical choice for large applications with connections to multiple systems via many different protocols. It will provide extensive remote access, advanced operator interaction and maximum flexibility—albeit at a high cost with a limited life span.

Most packaging plants will end up with all three types of HMIs. And careful upfront planning will ensure that the right HMI type and brand is specified for each item of equipment and application area.

Richard Clark, engineer at InduSoft, has extensive and in-depth technical expertise encompassing both IT and control systems engineering. He has also been a professional technical writer for more than 15 years.

How to specify the right HMI: Gallery

Operator interface terminal (OIT) installed on packaging machine: A basic operator interface terminal is a good fit for simple machines with limited operator interface and connectivity requirements.

Whether you are specifying, designing, buying or selling packaging machines, the selection of the human machine interface (HMI) can have a big impact on both current and future equipment operation, compatibility and maintainability. The HMI affects not only your packaging machines, but also other connected equipment.

There are advantages and drawbacks of each of the three basic choices of HMIs: PC-based, embedded and operator interface terminal (OIT). Major factors driving selection include how end users run their business, the complexity of the packaging machine, and the connected equipment and process control system.

The packaging machine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) may have support and maintenance foremost in mind, and the end user may need to improve business intelligence and long-term equipment stability. Both are interested in security, compatibility and competitive pricing.

4 riveting open innovation ideas target packaging

4 riveting open innovation ideas target packaging

Available packaging technologies from throughout the world found at the innovation portal at Innoget include a new beverage packaging concept from Merck and a method to make printed films more recyclable.

If you are interested in technical developments, especially globally, the website at is a helpful resource that connects packaging innovation providers and seekers. Our late September visit uncovered these packaging innovations that are currently active.

1. Novel single-serve beverage line concept and technology

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is seeking partners who are interested in acquiring a technology that relates to a novel, hot single-serve beverage line concept and the corresponding Intellectual Property to have such beverages prepared in a convenient way.

Fast-track partnering arrangement includes a signing fee of 250,000 Euros and royalties; deal includes a related trademark that has been registered for the EU for various domain names including .de, .fr and .com among others. 

For more information, click here.

2. Packaging Lift for use inside jars and containers promotes convenience, reuse

The Lift Innovation raises and scrapes viscous contents inside rigid tubes, tubs, jars and flexible bags to keep the product at the top level of a container. The Lift Innovation also accepts and dispenses contents inside prepackaged refills to make the system sustainable.

It is claimed to offer sanitary, mess-free, one-hand dispensing that doesn’t require squeezing or a bottom dial or a twist mechanism.

For more information on this innovation from the U.S., click here.

3. Eco-friendly way to removing printed ink from plastic film to improve recycling

The University of Alicante has developed a new process for the elimination of printed ink from plastic films used in flexible packaging without using any kind of organic solvent. As a result, a pure, high-quality ink-free product is obtained, for recycling in a wide variety of applications. The technology has been tested successfully in different plastic materials and is viable for solvent- and water-based inks. Companies for a licensing agreement and technical cooperation are sought.

For more, click here.

4. Active packaging that releases natural additives to protect the foodstuff

Active packaging in the form of labels or strips that absorb, eliminate or regulate compounds unfavorably affecting a product’s shelf life. It is offered as an alternative to inserted sachets for scavengers or emitters.

The active strips or labels, which are permeable on one side, can be incorporated or adhered onto the inside of the container.

For more on this innovation, click here.