Industry 5.0: the Packaging Paradigm Shift

Companies must adapt to changes by investing in research and development, plus training employees to work alongside advanced technology. © zapp2photo– stock.adobe.com

The Technology Empowering Today’s Workforce

By Jorge Izquierdo, Vice President Market Development at PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies

The packaging industry is experiencing a pivotal evolution, transitioning from automation and efficiency toward customization and deep data analysis. This transition underscores technological advancements and reflects a broader change and consumer expectations. As we delve into the implications of this shift, it becomes clear that the ever-evolving technology is not just an incremental step but a significant leap toward a more sustainable and efficient approach to industrial production and that the workforce plays an important role in this process.

However, acute skills shortages are hampering the U.S. manufacturing industry. Almost three-quarters (72.1%) of manufacturers stated their primary challenge is attracting and retaining a quality workforce, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 3.1 million jobs in maintenance and repair occupations added by 2031. Technology offers a means to improve the situation.

The Digital Foundation

The groundwork for this transformation is integrating digital technologies into manufacturing processes. Adopting the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and big data analytics changed the packaging industry, enhancing efficiency, reducing waste and enabling the mass customization of products.

These technologies facilitate the creation of smart factories, where machines and systems communicate, analyze, and use data to make decentralized decisions. At the same time, IoT devices have enabled real-time tracking of packages, improving supply chain transparency and efficiency.

Transitioning To Human-centric Solutions

There exists a shift in focus from technology-centric to human-centric solutions. This shift emphasizes the integration of human intelligence with advanced technologies, aiming to create more personalized and resilient manufacturing systems. In the packaging industry, this transition is characterized by several key themes:

Customization and Personalization: While the concept of mass customization is not new, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are taking this further by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics to offer more differentiated packaging solutions. This caters to the growing consumer demand for unique products and enhances brand identity and customer engagement.

During a recent Top to Top Summit bringing packaging leaders from OEMs and CPG companies together to discuss key industry trends hosted by PMMI, key themes around the potential of AI emerged. During the Summit, the potential of AI to navigate and make sense of complex data landscapes suggests a growing trend toward more intelligent, data-driven decision-making processes in the industry. AI has a central role to play in reducing human bottlenecks caused by quickly leveraging large volumes of data and a shortage of data scientists and industrial engineers.

Collaborative Robots (Cobots): Cobots are designed to work alongside humans. In the packaging industry, cobots can be used for tasks that require flexibility and adaptability, such as custom packaging designs or handling fragile items. According to the Robots and Cobots: An Automated Future report produced by PMMI, cobot usage is expected to grow from approximately 41% of survey respondents to 81% over a five-year period.

Digital Twins and Simulation: The use of digital twins – virtual replicas of physical systems – to simulate and optimize packaging processes is on the rise. This technology enables the testing of new packaging designs and materials in a virtual environment, reducing the need for physical prototypes and accelerating the development of sustainable packaging solutions.

On the operational side, secure remote access to equipment for maintenance purposes and the use of digital twins for planning, training, and predictive maintenance emerged as key themes during the PMMI Summit. These technologies enable companies to overcome geographical and skill-related barriers, allowing experts to provide input and troubleshooting remotely.

Implications for the Packaging Industry

The transition to a more human-centric approach presents both opportunities and challenges for the packaging industry. On one hand, it offers the potential for more sustainable, efficient, and differentiated packaging solutions. On the other hand, it requires significant investment in new technologies and skills development. Companies must adapt to these changes by investing in research and development plus training employees to work alongside advanced technologies.

As discussed at the PMMI Summit, a critical link exists between leveraging technology and addressing workforce challenges such as skill gaps and staff shortages.

Discussions emphasized the importance of using technology for operational efficiency and as a strategic tool to complement and enhance the workforce, taking advantage of the people already in place. Training needs to be provided to prepare workers for new technology, alongside utilizing new technology for training and guidance. Companies should turn to applications that resonate with a new workforce to improve hiring and retention, such as YouTube and video training.

Automation, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, and artificial intelligence were identified as pivotal in managing workforce limitations. These technologies can assist in predictive and prescriptive maintenance, making processes more efficient and reducing the reliance on highly specialized staff by providing guidance and training through innovative methods.

The packaging industry is undergoing more than just a technological upgrade; it represents a fundamental shift in how we think about production and technology. By embracing the new human-centric paradigm, the packaging industry can lead the way in developing innovative, sustainable, and customer-focused solutions that meet the challenges of the 21st century. This transition is not without its challenges, but with the right investment in technology and skills, the packaging industry can navigate this transformation successfully and emerge stronger, more resilient than ever before.

Explore Human-centric Solutions at PACK EXPO International

Packagers looking to explore the latest technology and human-centric operational solutions should plan to attend PACK EXPO International (Nov. 3–6, 2024, McCormick Place, Chicago) where innovative, sustainable, and customer-centric packaging innovations will be a major focus. Ranking as the biggest packaging and processing event on the planet in 2024, the show will present 2,500 exhibitors spread across more than 1.2 million net square feet of floor space and foster idea-sharing among 40+ vertical industries.

Highlights include free educational sessions, a myriad of networking opportunities, and solutions to address automation, production efficiency, sustainability, flexibility, and e-commerce needs, as well as other hot topics and trends. For more information, visit packexpointernational.com.

About the Author

Jorge Izquierdo is vice president of market development for PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. He oversees PMMI’s market development plans, research and programs for strengthening the competitiveness of North American suppliers of packaging and processing equipment. Learn more at www.pmmi.org.

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