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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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What Drives the Success of Automated Packaging Processes?

Optimizing supply chain operations has never been more important. Disruptions are frequent, efficiency demands are rising and businesses are struggling to hire and retain workers. Unsurprisingly, automated packaging solutions have seen a bump in adoption amid these trends.

Packaging automation comes in many forms, from conveyor systems to robotic truck-loading arms. As varied as it can be, its benefits and pitfalls remain the same in most contexts. Understanding these is key to implementing this technology effectively.

Benefits of Automated Packaging Solutions

The advantages of automated packaging solutions have become increasingly clear as supply chain stressors have risen. Efficiency is the most obvious of these benefits. Robots can often work faster than humans. Even if they can’t, they let you handle higher throughput despite ongoing labor shortages that all but 25% of logistics organizations deal with.

Packaging automation can also enhance warehouse safety. Employees are less likely to develop repetitive strain injuries when robots reduce their physical workload. Those lightened loads also help workers improve their focus, leading to fewer mistakes and higher productivity. Over time, those improvements can result in cost savings, too.

It’s clear why 55% of consumer packaged goods leaders say packaging and processing will gain more from automation than any other process in the industry. These advantages address many logistics companies’ most pressing concerns. As a result, automation could reshape the packaging industry for the better.

Keys to Automated Packaging Success

Automated packaging processes are often more challenging to derive value from than they may seem. You must recognize what sets successful automation initiatives apart before investing in this technology. While specifics vary between companies, these five keys are often the secret to packaging automation success.

Repeatability

First, robotic workflows must be repeatable. As efficient as robots are, they struggle to adapt to new scenarios. They need predictable, repetitive workflows to achieve their full potential.

Material handling is often a great automation use case because moving things from point A to point B is straightforward. Even something as simple as a conveyor belt can automate it effectively. However, that won’t apply if your inventory changes frequently or you don’t have a consistent system for where to store which products.

Some newer robots address this issue. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are more adaptive than conventional options and can handle less predictable workflows. Still, cobots account for just 34.9% of overall robot adoption, so they’re not as widely available and still aren’t as flexible as people.

Reliability

You must ensure reliability in your upstream processes to enable effective downstream automation. Automated packaging processes often can’t account for earlier mistakes or irregularities, leading to a ripple effect of errors. You can prevent that by paying more attention to your upstream workflows.

You can ensure this reliability in several ways. Adding lagging to conveyor systems will prevent belt slipping and improve alignment so packages reach robots in uniform time and place. Similarly, you could have human workers align boxes the same way so robots don’t have to adjust when sealing or stacking them.

As simple as these steps are, they make things easier for your automation solutions. Consequently, robots will be able to work faster and make fewer mistakes for a faster ROI.

Maintenance

Proactive maintenance is another important part of packaging automation success. Like any other machine, robots will wear and tear over time. Failing to account for these issues will result in costly downtime.

Don’t wait until your automated packing solutions break to fix them. Preventive maintenance may mean more planned downtime, but each stop will take less time and cost less than a larger repair. This leads to overall higher availability and lower costs.

Facilities with higher budgets can go further and use predictive maintenance, which relies on real-time data to predict future failures. This method offers the optimal balance between planned downtime and long-term cost efficiency, but it’s expensive and easy to get wrong. Start small with these projects and tailor predictive models carefully to minimize false positives and spread out the costs.

Training

Another easy-to-miss key to success in automation is thorough employee training. This may seem counterintuitive because many organizations see robots and humans as one-to-one replacements. However, that’s not the most effective way to view them, and automation is inherently disruptive, so it requires adaptation.

Resistance to change and a lack of relevant skills are two of the five most common barriers to scaling automation. Both are a matter of preparing the workforce. Robots and workers will struggle to reach their full potential when people don’t understand how to use these tools or know how they’ll impact their jobs.

Start by communicating automation goals with all employees, emphasizing how it should assist and not replace them. From there, you should familiarize your workers with your robotics solution. That includes teaching them why certain actions help or hinder automation and how to perform any new roles effectively.

Ongoing Optimization

Any automated packaging process needs ongoing improvement. No technology or workflow shift will be perfect upon implementation. Regular review and tweaking are necessary to make the most of this technology.

Before automating anything, set specific goals and determine relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) to track them. Set benchmarks with these KPIs before automating and continue to monitor them after implementation. Record any incidents of things going wrong, including which solutions fixed the issue.

Reviewing your progress with these KPIs and incident reports will make it easier to see where your automation can improve. Track the same metrics after each adjustment to gauge its effectiveness. These measurements will help expand your automation more effectively in the future.

Get More Out of Your Automated Packaging Solutions

Packaging automation can transform the logistics industry. However, it’s not as easy to capitalize on that potential as it may seem. Failing to account for robots’ weaknesses will make it hard to achieve a positive ROI.

Attention to these five considerations will help you get more out of automated packaging solutions. When you do that, you can ensure your ongoing success in an ever-evolving industry.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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