Three Ways Digital Transformation Optimizes Packaging Operations

The digital transformation of packaging systems can help CPGs improve production output, address skill set shortages, empower a stretched workforce and reduce resource use. Image courtesy of Emerson.

Smart technology is a single solution, that addresses many challenges

By Amit Patel, Global Director of Digital Transformation at Emerson

Many consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) are facing a confluence of pressures against tight margins and rising raw material costs. Customer demand and an appetite for variety continues to grow, while the knowledge and skill a retiring workforce took decades to cultivate is vanishing more quickly than it’s being replenished. These pressures come at a time when sustainability is more critical than ever, and companies are developing ambitious net-zero initiatives.

While these complex challenges require smart strategy, there’s a solution that can serve them all: digital transformation. By building intelligence that automates and optimizes packaging processes into packaging systems, CPGs can improve production output, address skill set shortages, empower a stretched workforce and reduce resource use.

While no two factories approach digital transformation the same way, digitalizing pneumatic systems is an effective starting point that offers a quick return on investment (ROI) for most companies. Through compressed air monitoring, companies can usually reduce compressed air consumption by 20% to 30% and unplanned downtime by 20% while improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) by at least 5% to 10%.

Operators can quickly receive critical, real-time process information from the dashboard for Emerson’s AVENTICS Series AF2 airflow sensor and make fast decisions that can improve OEE. Image courtesy of Emerson.

Improving sustainability

Typically, factories dedicate about 30% of their total energy use to generating compressed air. Unfortunately, up to a third of it is consumed by leaks and process inefficiencies that use more air than they need.

Many factories check for leaks periodically, so leaks often grow — and waste a lot of energy — before they’re addressed. By monitoring compressed air in real time, operators can quickly receive information that helps them detect and address leaks much earlier and significantly reduce energy use and related carbon emissions.

So where does that information come from? Smart sensors measure pressure, temperature, humidity, moisture and more to help operators see what’s happening in their compressed air circuit. Once sensors create data, an edge device aggregates the data streams and pushes it to software that contextualizes and presents it on a dashboard. Viewing the dashboard, operators can understand trends, diagnostics and statistics that can help them make informed decisions. Depending on where sensors have been placed, analysis can describe compressed air behavior for a given line, factory or an entire plant.

In addition to compressed air, CPGs can monitor other utilities, including water, gases and electricity, to gain information that helps further reduce environmental impact.

By continuously monitoring compressed airflow in pneumatic systems real time, Emerson’s AVENTICSTM Series AF2 airflow sensor can help CPGs identify leaks earlier and reduce energy use. Image courtesy of Emerson.

Empowering personnel

Companies are looking for ways to improve productivity by empowering their staff and workforce with the right tools and technologies, regardless of skill level. By automating time-consuming, manual processes, digital transformation can help optimize staff performance and equip them with information to quickly master their jobs.

On average, 76% of businesses manually test for compressed air leaks. This includes checking every tube to make sure it’s connected properly or hiring an expensive third-party service to do so. These periodic processes can cost an average of $46,000 per machine, and leaks can persist between audits.

Using compressed air monitoring, operators can clearly see data and insights from all compressed air data streams in real time in one screen. When issues arise, software can send maintenance staff detailed diagnostic alerts that can tell them what to check and do.

By equipping staff with the knowledge needed to address potential issues in near-real time, compressed air monitoring can help CPGs shift to a predictive maintenance model, increase staff availability and reduce unplanned downtime.

Increasing production

When facilities make machines more efficient, operational processes naturally follow. The more optimized the equipment on the floor is, the better the OEE value, making it possible to achieve a more optimized production process.

Digital transformation provides an effective way for CPGs to improve OEE. When deciding which machines or lines to digitally transform first, it’s important to look for the greatest opportunity for improvement. This goes beyond looking at the largest machines with the fastest or highest amount of throughput. Instead, it’s critical to look for equipment susceptible to leaks. Which machine is moving so fast it’s vibrating? Vibration can cause failure at joints and tubes. Is there pre-owned equipment with an unknown repair history? If areas haven’t been properly repaired, leaks can occur.

Aside from leaks, another way CPGs can improve OEE is by balancing pneumatic devices, like actuators. Pneumatic devices have an optimal ratio of pressure to airflow. When this ratio is balanced, processes run effectively and efficiently. If devices receive too much air, energy is wasted. Too little air, and processes don’t run effectively and product quality issues can occur. Balancing pneumatic devices is an efficient way to optimize machines down to the device level.

Calculating savings

Up to 30% of the compressed air a factory uses goes to waste due to leaks and inefficient processes. By digitally transforming the pneumatic systems of their packaging lines and optimizing compressed air use, most CPGs can save a significant amount of energy.

See potential savings using this quick calculation:

Yearly or monthly energy costs = A

A x 30% = B (costs related to compressed air generation)

B x 30% = C (costs of compressed air waste)

C x 25% = D (yearly or monthly potential savings)

Midsized CPGs typically spend around $1 million on energy costs a year. Using this formula, they have the potential to save $22,500 a year.

$1,000,000 x 30% = $300,000

$300,000 x 30% = $90,000

$90,000 x 25% = $22,500

Realizing greater possibility through digital transformation

While digital transformation can help CPGs overcome difficult challenges using technology, it’s so much more than that. Digital transformation is about empowering the workforce with the right sets of tools and data that optimizes practices and improves production as a whole.

Companies can start this journey by partnering with an automation supplier with the proven expertise and comprehensive portfolio of devices, sensors, hardware and software to develop a solution based on a company’s needs and goals. That way, CPGs can start with one area of opportunity, prove ROI and scale accordingly.

Today’s CPGs must produce more with less in a more sustainable way. Overcoming this seeming impossibility requires smart technology that provides the visibility and insights CPGs need to optimize the machines, processes and labor power they already have. This elevated level of operations not only eases today’s pressures but opens the door to even greater possibilities.

About the Author

Amit Patel has been with Emerson since 2017 and is the director for digital transformation (DX). He focuses on executing intelligent hardware and software solutions across the Fluid Control & Pneumatics business. Amit is an electrical engineer, and holds a Six Sigma Black Belt for Process Improvement using statistical methodologies. Learn more at (www.emerson.com)

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