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We spoke to several professionals in the sector to get their views on an increasingly integrated and interconnected process.

Each product and sector has specific features according to the process, but they all retain several similarities. Considering packaging throughout the entire value chain, from the conditioning and packaging process, to logistics, presentation and delivery is essential. In this regard, the director of Repaq Packaging Consulting, Montse Castillo, states that “the impact of packaging on the process is significant, as its ‘machinability’ may determine the productivity and efficiency of the process and impact on wastage“.

Montse Castillo, the director of Repaq Packaging Consulting

For the General Director of IMCO Process & Packaging, Lluís Chueca, “good packaging must guarantee the preservation of the product in perfect condition, and fulfilling this objective is directly related to the process“.

 Lluís Chueca, director general de IMCO Process & Packaging
Lluís Chueca, General Director of IMCO Process & Packaging

Luciano Aguilar S.A. is a family company founded in 1876 that operates in several sectors of the food industry, manufacturing packing and packaging machinery. Its General Director, Carlos Aguilar, believes that, “we cannot qualify the process as a similar action before packaging, but as a very different operation for each product before being packed, and so it therefore essential that whoever carries out the packaging understands the characteristics of the process“.

All in all, the process is essential, as a correctly processed product in terms of shape and quality will be more resistant and less fragile and will mean less complex packaging. However, how is the process evolving under the influence of industry 4.0 and digitalisation?

 Carlos Aguilar, director general de Luciano Aguilar S.A.
Carlos Aguilar, General Director of Luciano Aguilar S.A.

Automation and integral processes

The market is increasingly changing and faster, and this reality is pushing the industry to develop agile and flexible solutions to adapt to the changes. For Castillo, “automation of the process is increasingly more than just a trend, it is a reality, although its overall development depends on many factors, including the adaptation of materials, the synchronisation of all stages and the standardisation of processes, just to name the most significant“.

Aguilar summarises it as follows: “the current trend is to consolidate the components carrying out the process on production lines that are interconnected with different signals to pass from one machine to another and to vary the speed according to needs. Similarly, sensors and software detect the degree of realisation of the process so that it can adjust to the desired characteristics and to obtain the maximum quality of the products. Once this process is fine-tuned at the main centre, similar lines in the company’s other factories thousands of kilometres away can be installed, and the same processes can be carried out with the same features as the original“.

The spokesperson for Luciano Aguilar S.A. adds that the process and the subsequent packaging in many cases may be connected integrally in a single line. Concerning the question of what benefits an integral line provides over other work methods with individual units, Aguilar mentions a higher level of performance, replicability of the process, less need for labour, safety and hygiene of the product. “Only in very traditionally made products will individual production be maintained“, he concludes.

 Imagen cedida por Luciano Aguilar S.A. Marcelissen Knifepeeling line.
Image courtesy of Luciano Aguilar S.A. Marcelissen Knifepeeling line.

Industry 4.0, essential in the new process

The digitalisation and automation of the packaging process have a great ally in industry 4.0 thanks to advances in robotics, Big Data and 3D. However, IMCO’s General Director, Lluís Chueca, believes that the concepts of Industry 4.0 and digitalisation are omnipresent and constitute a trend; however, companies continue to be reluctant to share data. Chueca believes that “the model of industry 4.0 requires adaptation when implementing it, which involves a cost in time and money, and many of the implicit costs in industry 4.0 are already being applied in some companies, however we believe that some time must pass for costs and adaptation times to decrease to apply it in full“.

For his part, Carlos Aguilar explains that the majority of the large lines currently installed have elements of Industry 4.0, especially regarding all of the elements of control, data and software of the line itself. In contrast, regarding two-way information with external systems, Industry 4.0 is less present, although elements are being installed to connect to ERP systems and to ensure that the head of the line is connected 24 hours a day. On-line connection with the line supplier is frequent to be able to intervene in the event of an incident and to provide a solution or diagnosis without having to be present.

Both Aguilar and Chueca concur in highlighting the food and pharmaceutical sectors as the most advanced when implementing processes with integral units. Due to its large production volume, the food industry allows great development in automation, while in the pharmaceutical sector security and traceability are of great importance. As a practical case in the food sector, Luciano Aguilar S.A. have assembled several installations in the processing of different types of salad, controlling all stages from the raw material to its cutting, washing, eliminating of defects, weighing, packing and packaging, all without manual intervention, as operators simply control and adjust the process. For her part, Montse Castillo also adds e-commerce as one of the most advanced sectors in innovations in processing.

A current trend in many processing and packaging lines is the installation of machinery or elements that perform an inspection and selection function whereby damaged or foreign products are eliminated, and can even classify acceptable products by size or colour, for example. This is carried out through weighing and metal detectors, X-rays, vision, laser, IR or UV cameras.

Integration and sustainability, pending challenges

For the manager of Repaq Packaging, the integration of new tools offered by Industry 4.0 is one of the pending challenges of the sector to achieve the final goal of the process, which in Castillo’s words involves improving efficiency, productivity and security.

Aguilar and Chueca point to the sustainability of the processes and packaging as one of the pending issues due to the fact that the market demands evermore ecological and environmentally-friendly products, and this trend requires the industry to use new materials. Chueca highlights the circular view of the entire process, as for him this must be taken into account from obtaining the raw material to the process itself, as well as recycling and including manufactured products and other elements involved in production.

Processing is undergoing a transformation in which Industry 4.0 will be able to offer increasingly precise and specific tools to optimise a process that is becoming more and more integrated. This paradigm shift includes technical and expert staff profiles in operations, engineering, production, marketing and general management in the taking of a range of decisions. We will be waiting for all of you at the next edition of Hispack (24-27 May 2022) to offer you a platform and meeting point where you can debate processing and discover the latest developments and most advanced technology.

Imagen cedida por Luciano Aguilar S.A. TOMRA5B-greenbeans.

Cristina Benavides, Hispack 2022 contributor