4 Reasons to Add IoT Automations to Packaging Systems

Automation solutions can help packaging plants achieve their goals, whether that means improving productivity or sustainability. This article outlines four potential benefits of automated IoT technology. 

Today, as packaging plant leaders face obstacles and a competitive landscape, they investigate technological solutions that help them maintain productivity. Often, that means looking at options for using an automated packaging system that could save time and reduce error rates. Some smart packaging solutions can also help companies get closer to longer-term goals, such as those related to sustainability.

Many packaging automation solutions use the internet of things (IoT) to work. The connected technologies under the IoT umbrella are increasingly widespread within and outside the packaging industry. As they become more accessible, it’s easier for decision-makers to see what products exist, how those options could fit into a company’s budget, and why many businesses find it so useful to rely on automated IoT tech in packaging plants.

1. IoT Automation Removes the Need for Manual Data Collection

One of the most compelling reasons to invest in an automated packaging system that uses the internet of things is to collect current data about operations. Not every business or application is a good fit for the IoT. However, if companies could benefit from getting real-time data, that’s a strong sign that the IoT would help.

Using a smart packaging setup that continually collects data lets managers eliminate the guesswork about what’s happening in a factory at any given time. Then, it’s possible to respond to issues faster and know almost immediately what’s causing them.

Statistics indicate IoT spending will reach $1.2 trillion in 2022. One of the reasons this kind of technology is so popular is that company leaders know it can unlock new insights into customers and their preferences. Automated data collection can occur with little or no human oversight. Besides showing what’s happening within a packaging facility, it can give valuable insights into customer preferences.

Perhaps a specific product a company sells requires a specialized package and a certain machine used to process it. If the overall usage rate of that equipment spikes during a given month, that likely means the associated product is selling at a faster pace than usual.

That’s just one example of how IoT automation could aid in collecting useful statistics that aren’t necessarily directly linked to packaging.

2. IoT Automation Can Support Other Emerging Technologies

Decision-makers in the packaging industry and elsewhere often pursue IoT solutions along with similarly high-tech possibilities. They may use machine-vision technology to inspect products before they go into containers for shipping. A packaging plant may also invest in virtual reality (VR) platforms to train new hires and well-established employees alike.

Making the most of any automation plan requires following a thoughtful process to improve the likelihood of getting the best results. That starts by reviewing current factory data to determine where weaknesses or shortcomings exist. Which processes take the most time and have the highest error rates? Those are areas for which the IoT or other technologies may be particularly valuable.

It’s also necessary to perform a feasibility assessment that includes a business framework for implementing a new solution. It’s in this phase that people might confirm that bottlenecks exist on a packaging line. They can then look deeper to see what’s causing those obstacles and how to realistically resolve them.

One of the convenient things about IoT automation is the way it can trigger consecutive events to maintain a productive flow within a facility. Many warehouses use autonomous mobile robots (AMR) to cut down on the walking employees have to do.

A company might benefit from both the IoT and AMRs by making the robot communicate with a packaging assembly line that has connected technology built into it. In that case, the mobile robot would know when parcels are ready for retrieval and could wait at the end of the line to collect them. That’s just one of the many potential use cases. Others will start becoming apparent once packaging facility leaders start thinking in-depth about their needs and challenges.

3. An IoT-Powered Automated Packaging System Can Reduce Equipment Downtime

Downtime in a packaging plant or other industrial facility can quickly become costly. However, implementing a strategy to reduce any outages is a practical way to shorten any production stoppages.

A good starting point is to identify the types of spare parts a machine needs and the importance of each one. For example, minimum critical parts typically have longer lead times and can’t be purchased through the usual channels. Those characteristics make it highly advisable to keep some spares at all times.

Additionally, many smart packaging platforms have embedded IoT sensors that detect symptoms of impending breakdowns. A key aspect is that they typically pick up on issues days or even weeks before humans notice something might be wrong. This predictive approach can save companies 30-40% over reactive maintenance costs.

People at some companies that use IoT automation to support maintenance indicate they see significant improvements in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Plus, machines only get serviced precisely when required. That often makes it easier to fit the maintenance into overall production lines. Then, managers can make better choices about when to have the upkeep performed to bring minimal disruptions.

An automated packaging system may also use the IoT to track whether human error played a role in equipment malfunction. It could monitor whether employees follow the proper steps to prevent unwanted consequences. Then, the IoT data could give managers leverage when planning to intervene to provide the respective person or people with coaching.

4. Smart Packaging Systems Can Align With Sustainability Goals and Reporting

Many of today’s consumers specifically look for packaging that keeps the planet’s future in mind. A 2022 study found that 86% of people under 45 were willing to pay more to get sustainable packaging. Similarly, 74% of those polled were interested in buying refillable packaging.

Many of those sustainable-minded people would likely appreciate it if the same companies that provided such options also had a clear commitment to the environment within their operations.

How Does the IoT Put Sustainability in Reach?

There’s an emerging trend towards companies in many industries needing to file reports that show they’re getting steadily closer to their stated sustainability target or at least not going in the wrong direction. It’s easier to determine that with help from IoT automation.

In one example, employees at global Tetra Pak facilities had to spend days gathering the data to create a monthly report. However, the brand made a substantial investment in IoT technology from Microsoft as part of its strategy to improve the organization’s sustainability. However, factory leaders can now get information from across facilities in near-real-time, giving them the information needed for faster, more confident decision-making.

A smart packaging system with connectivity features can also help packaging plants target waste reduction. Statistics reveal that packaging accounts for 40% of plastic waste worldwide. Many companies are reducing the plastic they use and even pursuing other materials that are more eco-friendly. However, that’s only one way to pursue sustainability.

Another viable option is to apply the IoT to proactively cut energy use at packaging plants. That’s the approach taken at Berry Global, a worldwide leader in plastic packaging. Leaders there have set a goal to reduce energy consumption by 4% across all its facilities. They installed a system that reads water, gas, and electricity meters remotely. Facility managers then get real-time and accurate readings about energy usage and which factors make it fluctuate.

If leaders add tracking capabilities to individual machines, the associated data could shape decisions about when to replace aging equipment. Perhaps a machine that’s older than others in the packaging line uses 40% more energy than newer equipment. If both machines are used equally, this data provided by IoT devices gives actionable data that can get the executive buy-in needed to expand the budget for upgrades.

An Automated Packaging System Can Help Companies Evolve

Most successful company leaders understand the importance of keeping their equipment, processes, and staff training protocols up-to-date. That focus on currency reduces the chances of a company falling behind its competitors or otherwise becoming irrelevant.

Adopting an automated packaging system is not the only option available. However, as these examples show, the flexibility it offers can help business leaders tackle a wide variety of common goals and address weak points.

Image Credit: by Phiraphon Srithakae; Pexels; Thank you!

This article was written by Emily Newton from ReadWrite and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.