Ever since the steam engine revolutionised manufacturing, how we make the things we need has continually evolved – from linear manufacturing to the introduction of robots and most recently to the way we use data and automation in cyber-physical processes to make manufacturing smarter. Many high-tech industries already use this type of intelligence in their operations, and in line with its growing affordability, it has started to be adopted more widely. How are these developments of Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory affecting the food, beverage, home and personal care packaging industry? And what can we expect to see in the factories of the future?


In the past, the goal of most manufacturers was to achieve high volume performance with high efficiency, paying attention to a kind of product standardisation. When change was required, switching the set-up to meet the new needs generated long periods of downtime or could even result in another piece of equipment being added to the line. While this increased flexibility, it came at the cost of efficiency. Today’s challenge is to combine high flexibility with efficiency and versatility in order to meet consumers’ demands for greater personalisation, which are often driven by changing purchasing habits such as marketing campaigns and e-commerce.
In addition to being able to produce an increasing number of product types to meet this demand for personalisation, the modern manufacturer also has to produce a variety of stock keeping units, such as rainbow packs, promotional packaging or smaller cases. Traditionally repacking has been the answer to this need. This is often outsourced to contract packaging companies at different locations, leaving manufacturers with only an approximate idea of the process and the costs. In fact, industry experts estimate that around 5-10% of beverage products that leave a production plant are repacked at a later date, while the figure for home and personal care products is 30-50%. Figures like this clearly show that flexibility has reached its limit and that agility is required in less predictable environments, when volume is low and variability requirements

Another approach that is gaining ground is to use more flexible solutions that combine, for example, one dedicated line for a standard stock keeping unit and a second line with high flexibility for mixed flavours, rainbow pallets and mixed packing. By having two lines, one for standard products and one for personalisation, a manufacturer can meet the need for customisation but without compromising on quantity for mainstream products. However, while introducing smaller pieces of equipment increases flexibility, it also increases complexity – and the challenges that accompany it.

E-commerce has been a driving force in the need for flexible packaging sizes. Internet retailers want single containers that they can repackage in their own cartons. This enables them to decrease costs while offering consumers the product formats they want. However, the challenge for producers is to create a stable pallet with individual containers that can be shipped to the big e-commerce retailers.

This has led to the development of so-called intralogistics and dematerialised connections that allow manufacturers to produce a single container, store it in the warehouse and then return it to the production floor for final packing or personalisation. For big brand owners, this is a way to create rainbow packs or promotional items in a timely and cost-efficient way.

The trend for bigger production plants has so far been to build high-speed, high-efficiency lines. However, once the product leaves the lines, the pallets are often dismantled and then repacked in promotional packs – often by hand! With little visibility around how this takes place, there is a real need for an easier way to repack into mixed packs or personalised packs.

Benjamin Delesalle, Key Market Director, Home, Personal & Health Care, Gebo Cermex


In addition to digitising the production line, Industry 4.0 solutions are making it possible to digitise the entire value chain and make use of connectivity for production on demand.
Manufacturers can now connect upstream to supply of materials and ingredients and downstream to logistics. The line knows when it is short of ingredients or if a spare part is showing signs of wear and tear. Likewise, the downstream logistics and distribution chain can be managed in real time. The introduction of this type of connectivity and data will enable value chains to be optimised and restructured to make it easier, faster and more efficient to get products to consumers. When consumer needs change, the line is ready to adjust.

The real deal

The advent of data produced by the line also enables other developments, such as serialisation and traceability. This technological advance can be used to protect against counterfeit products and guarantee safety in liquid packaging. For example, traceability technology is increasingly in demand by manufacturers working with aseptic production of sensitive products. Systems of this kind provide global end-to-end documentation of food safety and compliance, a must-have for businesses operating in this environment with ever-increasing legislative demands.


The value of data

The data generated by the line can also be used to monitor line values – such as resource consumption values. How does electricity consumption compare for different production runs? Is water being used efficiently or can this be improved? Through data, a manufacturer’s sustainability profile can be scrutinised and improvements revealed. With costs of natural resources rising and consumers demanding more sustainable solutions, the use of data can be part of the equation and leveraged for competitiveness.
By monitoring equipment performance indicators, product flows and accumulations, as well as consumption values on an ongoing basis using line data, manufacturers can reduce losses, reach production objectives and set priorities for future business goals.


Investing in new equipment is a big decision for any manufacturer. With virtual reality and 3D simulation tools, packaging producers and brand owners can now simulate and test the line before they decide on the right set-up for their needs. In addition, these simulation tools enable them to keep their operating costs to a minimum.
By virtually building the packaging line and checking all details before exporting the virtual model into a simulation tool to see how it behaves, many scenarios can be checked and monitored. For example, virtual commissioning allows a 3D model to perform a large part of the debugging processes ahead of installation.
This type of technology is expected to change the way manufacturers install and commission new equipment.

The robots have arrived
Motion technology, robots and cobots are becoming increasingly popular at factories around the world. Automatic adjustment and feeding systems can now collect, load, pick, stack, wrap, move and grip as efficiently as their human counterparts. For operators, this frees them up for more value-adding tasks and reduces the risk of musculoskeletal issues that are caused by repetitive manual work. The introduction of robot technology has also been shown to increase replicability and precision, as well as speed up production. Furthermore, when used in automatic changeovers, it requires no manual intervention, which also improves safety and reduces the storage need for cranes and other equipment.
On the line itself, the latest technological developments have enabled machine intelligence to be built into equipment in the form of features such as autoregulation. This lets the machine correct itself independently of human regulation when data show that its production values are out of range.

Immediate and interactive repairs
If repairs are needed or bugs are discovered on the smart line, producers will turn to software updates and not tools to fix any issues. And if more complex maintenance is needed, augmented reality solutions, sensors and connected cameras make it possible for the machine to be repaired remotely using an interactive tool that links the operator to the equipment manufacturer.
For producers and brand owners, this type of smart line will be easier to monitor and operate.
The embedded intelligence in the equipment enables it to predict performance and make operators’ decision-making easier. This will translate into better efficiency and minimal downtime.


Equipment is now developed with built-in intelligence to maintain and control the process. When the process falls out of the specified values, the machine automatically detects this and adjusts itself. This creates a smoother process and a much higher level of consistency, which translates into product quality and greater asset intensity.

Damien Fournier, Category Director CSD, Sidel

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