Protecting the Integrity of Brands
How the Industry Can Keep Up With the Pace of Packaging Innovation
By Nash Lawson, global product line director at Industrial Physics
The global packaging industry is currently experiencing a significant level of transformation, and the integration of technologies, such as automation, can support the industry in meeting key quality and safety objectives.
To capture the first-hand experiences and attitudes of those operating within the industry, we commissioned an international survey of packaging professionals within consumer goods, food and beverage, and the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
The research revealed the strong, sector-wide appetite for packaging innovation, with almost all (96%) packaging decision-makers agreeing that it is important for companies to explore new packaging developments. It was highlighted that high demand for packaging innovation from those within the industry is motivated by ensuring the quality (70%) and safety (61%) of packaging. However, the research also illustrated the pressure that packaging professionals are facing to overcome challenges around testing and standards in the race to innovate and outpace competitors for market share.
So, how can innovation be achieved without compromising quality?
Has innovation outpaced testing standards?
The international surge in innovation across the packaging industry presents opportunities for manufacturers. However, there are challenges to address to ensure the quality and safety of new packaging products.
One of the most notable areas of innovation across industries has been the introduction of new materials. The research conducted revealed that packaging professionals are concerned that material development has outpaced testing standards to the degree that they do not have current, relevant testing standards in place for the materials they are using. Given that consumer safety is at the core of the industry, this could pose a substantial threat. If the expertise and criteria to test and inspect new packaging materials is not available, then it becomes difficult to ensure that quality and safety objectives are met.
However, the perception that the current testing methods are not applicable today is not solely about the methods adopted. Ultimately, the problem lies with the new materials that are being introduced to create new types of packaging. Broadly, the testing equipment used across the packaging industry is still applicable for inspection today. However, the challenge lies in gathering a robust data set that can guarantee the reliability of quality and safety in new types of packaging.
Testing new materials
The biggest difference, today, is the behavior of materials during the testing process, and how to interpret that. Nearly half (49%) of packaging professionals said that the ability to meet safety and testing standards is one of the biggest issues they face when it comes to new materials.
Materials composed of a mix of recycled and virgin materials continue to grow in popularity due to their sustainable credentials. However, the level of processing that the recycled material has undergone will result in the material behaving differently under test conditions. This is because of the varying molecular composition at each processing step which makes standardization difficult to establish, and characterization of the material becomes ever more complex.
To allow for data variations and ensure that appropriate standards are implemented, thorough testing of new materials is crucial. Following this method, a broad range of factors are assessed throughout the materials’ entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. This way, accurate determinations about behavior and potential risks can be identified and addressed prior to market introduction. This proactive approach can prevent long-term production delays, recalls and expensive quality control issues – factors that any packaging manufacturer would be eager to avoid.
Improving quality control
In response to the international surge in packaging innovation and material development, there is a growing appetite among manufacturers for new technologies and production processes that can help to accommodate this and increase overall efficiencies to keep costs under control. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed said that enhancing productivity on their production line was one of the key drivers for exploring new packaging mediums. One area that is proving a popular opportunity across packaging industries is automation in testing solutions.
By introducing automation to testing processes, manufacturers stand to increase efficiency, accuracy and long-term cost management without compromising the safety and quality standards of the packaging products tested. Integrating automated solutions supports overall cost effectiveness by improving consistency and precision in testing processes, a critical factor in assessing the suitability of materials for packaging. With automated systems providing real-time monitoring, rapid data acquisition, and superior data accuracy, anomalies and deviations in material performance can be identified early on, minimizing wasted products and potential defects.
Integrating automated testing systems with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), visual systems and tracking systems, has the potential to transform the packaging landscape. These technologies can provide a regime of consistent, repetitive testing, which produces a large data set for manufacturers to analyze and learn from. The robust traceability and remote monitoring capabilities also offer comprehensive oversight, further reinforcing the integrity and safety of packaging materials.
Driving productivity and cost-effectiveness
Further to enhancing safety and quality control within the packaging manufacturing process, automation can also be leveraged to drive productivity and increase overall cost-effectiveness.
Equipment is available to support these objectives too. For example, we have developed a measurement system that conducts non-destructive, double seam inspection for food and beverage fillers and metal cans. The measurement system is fully automated, combining the internal X-ray seam measurements and the external measurements into one robust unit, providing faster inspection results, and reduced labor costs. As a result, adopters of this type of system can reduce spoilage, and save costs in the longer term.
Professionals operating in today’s packaging landscape face a variety of challenges in line with the high level of innovation unfolding. To address concerns around standards and testing, packaging manufacturers must evaluate the methods available to collect the data required and set benchmarks for new materials being introduced.
According to our research, over a third of packaging professionals believe that in the next five years, some of the best developments in packaging innovation will come from packaging testing processes and equipment. Automation presents significant opportunity for both ensuring quality and safety, but also to increase productivity while keeping costs under control in the long run — allowing manufacturers to stay competitive.
About the Author
Nash Lawson is the global product line director at Industrial Physics, a packaging, product, and material test and inspection leader. In 2023, Industrial Physics surveyed 284 individuals from around the world who work for manufacturers and have a role that involves the packaging process. The full report can be found online: Unpacking Innovation in 2023: Obstacles and Opportunities in Packaging Manufacturing. For more information, please visit http://www.industrialphysics.com/.