By Shell Polymers on Nov 23, 2020
Instead of hosting their week-long event in Las Vegas, Nevada, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) pivoted its signature event to a 100% virtual format to share keynotes and technical presentations with attendees in a safe, remote environment.
The sessions unpacked the latest innovations in packaging materials and equipment and plastic packaging information, across industries and applications.
Three Insights Our Team Of Experts Gleaned From PACK EXPO Connects:
1. Sustainability Goals Have Not Taken A Backseat
It’s no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year. COVID-19 alone has caused major economic disruptions. The year also brought its fair share of natural disasters and shifts in consumer expectations that packaging companies have had to maneuver.
With all this taking place, it’s easy to assume that sustainability goals have fallen by the wayside, making room for COVID-related hygiene initiatives and the need for single-use plastic products. But, based on what was presented in many sessions at PACK EXPO, sustainability is still a primary focus of company leadership.
There were a variety of sessions throughout the week that focused on sustainability as it pertains to packaging, including:
- Packaging as an Ally: Sustainable Considerations In The Evolving Normal
- Navigating the Challenging Path to More Sustainable Packaging
- Meeting Today's Sustainability Initiatives with Recyclable Film Innovation1
While sustainability initiatives may look slightly different than they did at the beginning of the year, they are still a high priority for companies. In one panel discussion, some company leaders even reported sustainability being given more attention in the current landscape.
While sustainability initiatives may look slightly different than anticipated at the beginning of the year, they are still a high priority for companies
In this sector, innovating sustainable packaging alternatives is an ever-evolving process. From reusable packaging to new recycling processes (like pyrolysis), companies are hard at work tackling sustainability.
2. Advanced Technology is Key to Navigating a Post-COVID World
Even before COVID-19, advanced polymer technology were growing in popularity. According to Shell’s global survey, 80% of manufacturing companies are already using at least one Industry 4.0 technology. That percentage will only continue to grow as companies adopt more advanced technologies in their facilities.
As manufacturers are progressing through a post-COVID environment, automation and other advanced technologies will be key to navigating new health regulations such as reduced capacities while keeping up with competitive demand.
There were a variety of presentations on some of the latest developments in automation innovation. In keeping with the consumer trend towards value and multi packs, automation is becoming increasingly more advanced to manage packing multiple SKUs and more intricate packaging.
For example, in Wednesday’s keynote on the use of robotics in packaging applications, Editor Emeritus of PMMI’s Packaging World magazine shared videos of a popular pet food producer’s multi-lane automation system that sorts and packs four different flavors of pet food into a single box.
Manufacturers Experimenting with New Technology
As the demand for variety increases, more industries will be following suit and investing in advanced, multi-lane equipment to automate the packaging process of multiple SKUs. Manufacturers will also have to pair advanced automation with innovative packaging that clearly conveys the contents of variety packs.
“Currently, only 1% of all manufacturers, both large and small, are utilizing some form of AI or machine learning in their operations.”PMMI
According to PMMI, “Currently, only 1% of all manufacturers, both large and small, are utilizing some form of AI or machine learning in their operations.” The reason for this is that it’s a complex technology, with the potential to enhance multiple areas of operations, so companies are taking their time to fully understand it.3
Some examples of how this advanced technology could benefit the packaging industry is leveraging AI and machine learning to “teach” robotic arms how to grip harder to handle items, such as a tomato, without breaking it. This would allow it to work in operations outside of just cans, bottles, or more durable packages.
Related Reading: Leveraging Modern Production Technology to Build a Better Plant
3. Packaging Plays a Major Role in the Growth of Many Industries
In addition to implementing cutting-edge technology, food and beverage producers need to use the latest plastic packaging information to rethink packaging to align it with consumer trends and expectations. Packaging designers are starting to incorporate features like film sleeves, tamper-evident rings, and vacuum-sealed packaging, especially as hygiene signals are put on display.
According to 2020 research by the Food Industry Associate (FMI), 81% of shoppers say that transparency is either important or extremely important to them both online and in store. The National Confectioners Association backs up this research in their PACK EXPO Connects presentation when they shared how front-of-pack (FOP) labeling is adding value in the confectionery industry by providing more transparency into nutritional value and ingredients.
“81% of shoppers say that transparency is either important or extremely important to them both online and in store.”Food Industry Associate
While FOP labeling is an important aspect of consumer transparency, packaging design plays an equally critical role. Packaging designers are finding ways to give shoppers a more holistic view of products by implementing transparent windows that allow consumers to see the contents.
The opportunity to learn from our packaging industry colleagues at PACK EXPO, all from the safety of our home offices, was worthwhile As the conference landscape picks back up, we’re looking forward to joining more presentations and providing more insights into how these trends and innovations are impacting the plastics industry.
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