Industrial Automation has Become Imperative Rather than Tendency in Packaging and Processing


The demands of the market have forced the industry to optimize and automate its production processes to respond to demand. The use of these technologies offers greater efficiencies, but also generates new challenges to attend to. Here are some trends in its application.

More profitability, productivity, flexibility, higher quality and even more employee satisfaction are some of the advantages granted by the application of automation in industrial printing, packaging and logistics processes. From activities as simple as screwing and linking, to more complex ones such as palletizing, assembly and end-of-line, the use of technologies of this type has allowed companies to transform and adapt to current market demands.

However, these tools also bring with them some challenges that industries must address. In response to the concerns shared by Packaging, Universal Robots pointed out that according to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), it is projected that, if the adoption of automation is at the midpoint of a variety of scenarios, about 15% of the global workforce, that is, about 400 million workers, will be displaced by 2030.

“There are also another 8-9% of employees who will work in categories that still do not exist today. There will be an important reconversion of workers”” adds the company, which states that the pandemic accelerated the implementation of automation, and currently about 70% of its applications are concentrated in the categories of pick & place, assembly and material handling.

For Felipe Martínez, Industry Segment Manager Food & Packaging of Festo Colombia, when some years ago it was said that automation was a trend, nowadays he refers to it as an “imperative” and from being a luxury it has become an essential element for all types of companies, from the largest to those with fewer resources and technical and operational capabilities.

“Day by day the demands of the markets have forced us to seek the optimization of productive activities, taking advantage of performance without neglecting costs and quality, a scenario where automation takes strength and becomes an ally for each of the companies and the processes,” says Martínez.


What trends are on the rise?

For Universal Robots, there are a few factors that will drive packaging technology and logistics in the coming years. The company says that it is crucial to pay attention to three key automation trends.


“The world is moving too fast to link investments and resources in a capacity that may no longer be needed due to significant changes in the market, technology, regulations and global events. Flexibility in packaging machinery ranges from the ability to handle different sizes and types of products, to reconfiguring a packaging line using modular units that can be used quickly and efficiently to perform different jobs. The ability to link modular units with conveyor belts or using cobots – the robotic technology developed by Universal Robots – and AMR (autonomous mobile robots) is one of the various ways to achieve truly flexible working environments.”

Vision systems

“Automated packaging systems with technologically advanced controls are a very attractive prospect. The value of automation is recognized on a global scale by operational managers and finance chiefs, and continues to be part of the plans of most packaging companies. Automation solves many problems for organizations, such as the availability of good personnel, personnel expenses, 24/7 operation, productivity, accuracy and deterioration.

Automation and associated robotic and vision equipment were once the exclusive domain of major companies, particularly car manufacturers. However, as the supply of equipment, including modular units, advances, these key types of equipment are increasingly within the reach of smaller companies. It is a trend to follow, because opportunities will arise for organizations of all sizes throughout the packaging sector.”


Environmental responsibility

“The green agenda has been gaining prominence for many years and is being further driven by extreme weather events that bear witness to global warming. It could be said that the world has been on the verge of an energy crisis for decades, but now it focuses more on the disruption of energy supply through political events and conflicts. Environmental responsibility is a priority for companies due to consumer attitudes, regulation, reputation and reduced resources””

Felipe Martínez complements what was said by Universal Robots and comments that another of the automation trends is intralogistics, which seeks to have a secondary packaging process hand in hand with a palletizing organization process to then perform the arrangement and dispatch.

He affirms that companies are looking to have points within their plant, in which they can receive all the product of the different lines, organize it according to the need or presentation and then pass it to the distribution centers for the respective dispatch.

“Being able to reach this point means being able to develop flexible and fast machines that can receive different product references and organize them in the right way,” emphasizes the director.

Other trends in this field, in its concept, consist in the development of collaborative robots that allow interaction and support in repetitive processes to the operator, but where they and the user can share the same space without the need for protective guards, and digitization to have production information, times and stops transparently in each of the machines.

According to Martínez, automation impacts industries in several aspects, but focuses on two: in the field of production and in the human component.

“When talking about production, the automation process implies a strong process standardization exercise, eliminating human error from the equation, generating an increase in productivity, and guaranteeing the quality of the product and the process. In the human component, which is where the most advantages can be found, it is the means to ‘de-rob’ the operators, eight hours for a person performing repetitive tasks can cause physical ailments, complicated ergonomic situations and even affectations from the mental point of view,” he says.

“Practically all processes can be automated or are capable of doing so, it may be the entire production chain as in the case of the food or pharmaceutical segments, or a part of its process such as the paper or mining segments. In countries like Colombia there is a strong challenge in being able to start automating the end-of-line, secondary packaging, boxed, palletized and narrowed issues, which are the processes with the most potential today. I could say that any process that does not involve an artisanal process as its great differentiator or value generator is susceptible to automation,” concludes the Industry Segment Manager Food & Packaging of Festo Colombia.


Artificial intelligence enhances the attributes

Calixto Moreno, Sales manager for the consumer area at ABB Mexico in the Robotics division, comments that the automation of tasks in the logistics industry, in particular those related to packaging, order picking and palletizing at the end of the line, has been enhanced thanks to the development of processes based on the use of artificial intelligence and deep learning, a subset of machine learning that favors the modeling of procedural guidelines in much more specialized technological equipment.

This facilitates the handling of products that was not possible before and expands the range of automation and integration of operational processes, an advantage especially for the logistics areas, since it allows integrating the entire chain from the moment the customer requests a product through e-commerce platforms and centralizes the information on a computer, which automatically manages the entire order without human intervention throughout its entire journey, improving its experience and making the whole faster and more efficient.

In line with what was said by Calixto Moreno, Universal Robots states that in recent years, cobots powered by artificial intelligence are becoming an important component of Industry 4.0, and this has led to their application in key processes that are more susceptible to automation by this means to which manufacturers should pay attention:

  • Supervision: “This capability makes it possible for a cobot with artificial intelligence, for example, to detect changing workspace conditions and monitor and optimize workspace operations.”
  • Vision: “With vision systems powered by artificial intelligence, cobots can recognize the presence and orientation of parts; perform inspection and dynamic selection and placement tasks, as well as read the results of test equipment and make decisions accordingly.”
  • Adaptation: “By using this trait, a cobot can adjust the orientation of the task as the machines move; adjust the force control needed to pick up parts from a stack; detect and evade collisions and respond to errors with retry strategies.”
  • Learning: “A cobot can predict and diagnose failure conditions; identify patterns in ongoing operations and apply the acquired knowledge to drive better performance.”

On the other hand, automation has been democratized to the point that almost any company, regardless of the region, can access it, says Leswin Canales, commercial manager for South America at Blue Print Automation. In fact, some people used to mistakenly think that only in Europe and the United States they had such a reach, especially because they believed that in regions such as Latin America it was not necessary due to low labor costs.

However, realizing that automation is not only focused on labor issues, but also on productivity improvements and process flow, its implementation has increased in recent years, with good results.

The pandemic motivated the application of new working methods in this field, says Canales, such as the use of augmented reality technologies that, with special vision systems, such as Google Glass, allows operators and technicians to access machines and equipment remotely, accelerating the transfer and adoption of new knowledge by personnel who are in other places, making these technologies available for their benefit.

As you can see, automation has a high incidence on productivity with multiple benefits for workers and companies, boosting their company growth and creating new jobs and product lines.