The development of technology within supply chains has accelerated significantly in the last year. The pandemic presented businesses of all industries with challenges regarding inventory, transportation and health and safety standards that have been difficult to overcome. As a result, supply chains have started looking into automating a number of traditionally manual processes.
Automated technology in supply chains exists in a number of forms, but one that has been top of mind for logistics industry innovators is packaging automation. Companies who relied heavily on labor to complete mundane and repetitive tasks associated with packaging felt an especially heavy strain when Covid-19 forced most companies to cut back on in-person labor. It was a turning point for packaging automation as it went from being a possibility to a necessity to keep up with other industry leaders. Packaging operations are adopting new forms of automation as a way to reduce labor costs while creating a safer work environment and improving their efficiency and cost of goods.
The term “secondary packaging” refers to the packaging on the exterior of a product which has the biggest need for automation. Applying this layer to products is usually continuous and repetitive. Companies looking to cut back on labor are finding that secondary packaging is significantly slowing their operations down. A report on secondary packaging trends by PMMI revealed that 85% of manufacturers are looking to expand their current portfolio of automated solutions when it comes to their secondary packaging process.
How Packaging Automation Works
In general, packaging automation does a traditionally manual and repetitive task at a faster pace and eliminates the risk of human error. While the initial implementation of the technology can be costly, it pays for itself with the number of benefits it brings to logistics operations.
One of the most efficient examples of packaging automation is a long-travel cartesian robot with custom end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) and advanced sensing capabilities. These robots can replace a variety of packaging machines and perform manual tasks like feeding carton and tray making machines and separating nested cardboard containers for use on conveyor lines. Cartesian robots can even handle palletizing and de-palletizing orders.
A long-travel cartesian transfer robot. | Photo Credit: Bell Everman
By using a single long-travel cartesian transfer robot like the one pictured above, logistics professionals can tend multiple packaging machines without needing to rearrange them for the convenience of the robot.
What the Future Holds for Packaging Automation in Supply Chains
It’s clear that packaging automation has gone from being a want to a need for logistics operations looking to move forward and jump any hurdles caused by the pandemic on the way. As innovations like the cartesian robot become readily available, you can expect automation to have a hand in packaging the products you pick off of store shelves every day!