Mind-blowing Packaging Tech

Martin Habekost
February 22, 2018
By Martin Habekost
The world’s largest packaging trade show ran in May 2017 with a record 2,865 companies and countless innovations.
The world’s largest packaging trade show ran in May 2017 with a record 2,865 companies and countless innovations.
Interpack 2017 took place from May 4 to 10, 2017, at the Düsseldorf, Germany, fairgrounds, familiar to so many of Canada’s commercial printers as the home of the quadrennial drupa trade show. Interpack has a repeat cycle of every three years instead of drupa’s every four years. In the year 2020, both trade shows will take place in the same year, Interpack in May and drupa at the end of June.

Anyone who has been to a drupa trade show knows the sheer size of the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf. Interpack is in no way smaller. All 18 halls were filled with exhibitors and their products. On top of the 18 regular halls, there were also two special exhibits put up in tents, resulting basically in 20 halls and all were in relation to packaging. Although I set foot in every hall, it is impossible to give a complete overview of the trade show.

Interpack had 170,500 visitors to the trade show and approximately 75 percent came from abroad and three-quarters of them were decision-makers. Visitors came from a total of 168 countries. The official survey conducted with visitors at the show gave a 98 percent scoring of satisfied and very satisfied. This is a new record for Interpack in regards to the number of visitors and the satisfaction the visitors felt with attending the show.

From the dizzying array of exhibitors and products, a few topics stood out at the show, including: Industry 4.0 and digitalization, traceability of products, sustainability, and customization.

What is industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is about the connectivity of machines among each other, in the whole production line and also back to the manufacturer of the machine(s). Industry 4.0 is also about the full automation of a production process. The human operator is used only to stop the machine if the need arises. Industry 4.0 is about the Internet of Things (IoT), the smart factory and cloud computing. Through the connection of machines, work pieces and systems intelligent networks are created. These networks exist through the entire value chain and these networks can control each other autonomously. Come to think of it, that sounds a bit ominous, but this is a discussion for a different time.

The question for today remains, how does the packaging industry benefit from Industry 4.0? Industry 4.0 will lead to faster, more accurate production of any type of packaging. The number of defective items that won’t make it to the customer will be reduced even more. Systems will be able to self-diagnose and initiate any maintenance that needs to be done. Intelligent systems will allow for more accurate scheduling of production, so clients can be more informed in regards to arrival time of their order. The smart networks in Industry 4.0 will also go beyond a single factory. As I mentioned earlier, these networks will be across the entire value chain, breaking down the barrier of the closed factory.

Traceability of products
The traceability of products was also a big topic at the show. The digital integration of production lines together with marking equipment (laser-etching, ink-jetting batch number, serial number, unique ID numbers), allows for the creation of very traceable products. Quite a number of companies showed very visible ID codes, especially in the pharmaceutical sector, while others showcased ways of giving unique IDs to every single package that came off a production line that were not very visible or only readable with a special reading device. One could ask oneself, why is this all necessary?

The answer is simple. More and more products are getting counterfeited these days and it gets harder and harder to differentiate between the original and the counterfeit product. Being able to produce not only unique batch numbers and lot numbers, but also unique ID numbers for each package produces a new level of product security. Since such a large number of unique ID numbers are created, big data and cloud computing capacities come into play to manage these vast amounts of data.

At the moment, most of these unique ID numbers cannot be verified by the end consumer, but development is being done, so that the consumer can also test a product for it’s validity. Different avenues are currently being tested. Again big data and cloud computing come into play, when the customer will be able to verify a product for being genuine. Maybe this can be done through a phone app, but it remains to be seen what the future will bring.

Sustainability
After my first visit to Interpack in 2011, I wrote in PrintAction about the strides that have been made in regards to using plant-based materials for packaging materials and the use of bioplastics. This trend continued at Interpack 2014 and now at this year’s Interpack. Personally, I was very happy to see that a company has come up with a Stryofoam-type material that is made from plant-based materials and has very similar insulating properties. This material can rot in a commercial composting facility in 90 days, which is the criteria for compostability.

I also talked to a Chinese company that makes plastics based mainly on PLA (Polylactic acid). The representative I talked to said that there is quite the demand for PLA-based plastics. If a Chinese company is getting into this business, it means they have found a way to make this a cost-effective process and they have enough raw materials available to produce in substantial quantities.

Many other companies have shown how they could manufacture their products using less raw materials and less energy and, therefore, lower their overall environmental impact.  A lot of packaging material is still petroleum-based. These materials have great barrier properties, are lightweight and can be formed into all kinds of shapes. This is all very good, but what can happen with the plastic waste? One possibility would be the incineration of this type of garbage for the generating of heat and electricity, but that is not always the best solution. One innovative company showed how to transfer plastic film-type garbage into a material that is shaped into 2×4 type planks, that can be used to build tables and park benches. This material is actually quite strong and not very susceptible to breakdown by outdoor elements.

Surprise of the show
As I was walking through the halls. I ran into Gilad Tzori from Landa. I wrote about Landa in PrintAction in June 2016 in my drupa report. I asked Gilad what he was doing at Interpack and he told me that they had teamed up with the largest folding carton printer in Germany to have an exhibit at Interpack. The print company is one of the beta sites for the Landa S10 machines.

After seeing Tzori, I went to the hall where Landa had its exhibit. I talked to one of their representatives and I was able to get some packaging examples that had been printed on an S10 machine, the same machine that will be used by a folding carton printer in Germany. Personally, I was excited to see that Landa presses are making their way into commercial press rooms. I was also told that Landa is planning to roll out the W10, the roll-to-roll printing machine, before the 2020 drupa trade show.

Packaging trends
A trend that was already emerging at drupa continued at Interpack. This trend was shorter run lengths for a certain SKU, more individualization of packaging and custom ordered packaging. All this is only possible with the use of digital printing technologies. Digital print technologies in combination with different finishing technologies were exhibited.

The combination of digital printing technologies with finishing technologies like cold foiling were also shown. One well-known ink company showcased a collection of tools that will help with achieving a custom colour on a specific substrate a lot faster than how it is currently being done. Through colour measurement, profiling and inkjet proofing and printing of the colour sample, it is possible to cut down on the time that is needed to achieve a good colour match. This ink company is using colour technology hard- and software from world leaders to reach this goal.

Overall, the printed packaging is going to be more colourful, feature more special effect inks, and will react very quickly to market trends and marketing campaigns. All this is done in the name of catching the customer’s attention to sell more of your own product in comparison to the competitor.

My view of Interpack was more through the glasses of a packaging print company than a person interested in robotics, filling lines and sorting equipment. I am well aware that a lot more than that was shown at Interpack, but every visitor came to the show with their own perspective. It was definitely worth going and if you have the chance to go, just go. Attending the Interpack trade show gives you quite a perspective on how large the packaging sector is worldwide.

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