The Automation Intersection

The future of automation starts with what’s been here all along – the human workforce. Image courtesy of Bosch Rexroth.

Where We’ve Come from and Where We’re Going in CPG Production

By Sean Spees, CPG Market Segment Leader for Bosch Rexroth

At a recent innovation roundtable with some of the biggest names in the industry, one thing was abundantly clear: every company is navigating this new era of manufacturing in their own way. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and end-users are evaluating existing processes and comparing them to potential alternatives with key concepts like return on investment (ROI) and efficiency in mind.

It’s a constant consideration, as competition is strong and consumer trends change seemingly by the minute. So, what will the future of automation look like within CPG this year with new technology being developed every day? It’s hard to paint with a broad brush, but there are a couple of key pillars that OEMs need to incorporate when stepping forth into 2024.

Comprehensive training

The future of automation starts with what’s been here all along – the human workforce. Few companies are fully automated and as such, maintaining a healthy labor force should be a top priority. However, a wave of older employees is retiring and taking with them innate knowledge of maintaining and troubleshooting traditional processes.

As a younger generation enters the workforce, they’ll need to juggle operating both older and newer technologies. Certainly, they’ll be more adept at adopting application-based solutions for newer processes, but they should be educated on how to service traditional components that companies may not be willing to upgrade. As such, it’s incumbent on manufacturers and end-users to traverse that transition of traditional versus innovative technology with the operator at the center of any decision. Comprehensive training must be elemental of any company culture.

A key tactic in helping that transition is the use of open solutions. No company is going to make drastic changes overnight and because of that, there’s an increased need for components and processes that can be easily integrated to an existing system and help bridge to Industry 4.0.

Flexibility

Along those lines, flexibility is a buzz word we’re hearing a lot from customers. They want to adapt their production to meet the shifting needs of consumers. E-commerce along with retail chain stores continue to place shifting specifications relating to case packing and palletizing applications.  Solutions must continue to meet these demands, communicate easily with one another and the operator, regardless of how old.

Companies that can harness available resources to address these needs deftly and efficiently will continue to be successful in the marketplace.

Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is another resource that will help with that and continue to play a major role in the future of automation. Solutions have moved beyond just sensors on a line that tell operators how much a motor is vibrating. Digital twin is increasingly becoming more important as issues can be identified by taking a physical asset, creating a digital format and retrieving critical data.

OEMs and end-users need to be proactive in addressing known pain points within their processes, and strategic about tracking real-time data to effectively head-off any production issues and plan for regularly scheduled maintenance. An interesting component to that is remote assistance. Internet of Things (IoT) gateways are allowing suppliers to interface in real-time with manufacturers to address issues and reduce productivity loss. This tactic can also drastically shrink the need for technicians to visit a facility and address issues in-person. This saves manufacturers money and can help extend the life of their processes.

Efficiency

Despite the promise of new and innovative technology like those mentioned above, many OEMs and end-users are still holding tight to tried-and-true tenets of operations: “This is what we know” or “We’ve always done it this way.” They understandably defend generations of outdated technology that has kept business “running” and wary to change that standard operating procedure (SOP).

Here’s a thought, though: if you’re the head of one of those companies, what would have to happen for you to change? How would the market have to shift; what would your competitors need to do to that would cause you to consider adopting a different process or solution?

Ultimately, effective automation in the CPG sector comes down to efficiency – are the solutions in place satisfying the customer’s needs while helping a company remain profitable? For many, there’s an established standard of doing that, and it’s worked well. But there’s also a growing ecosystem of solutions that should consistently force manufacturers and end-users to re-evaluate their factory line and subsequently empower them to better respond to the shifting needs within the industry.

About the Author

Sean Spees is the CPG Market Segment Leader for Bosch Rexroth, which provides comprehensive automation solutions for CPG OEMs and end-users.

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