A Disruptive Force

1 October 2018

Digitisation within the industry has being growing exponentially. From printing methods and consumer interactivity to Industry 4.0, the limit to how far digital capabilities can go is unprecedented. Sonia Sharma finds out more.

Since the development of early electronic computers in the 1950s, forward-thinking producers have been searching for ways to implement advanced technologies, as a means to increase efficiency and improve reliability within the industry.

Digitisation has long been touted as a disruptive force. A report from industry experts, Smithers Pira, projects 3.5% annual growth, with sales in the global packaging market set to hit $997 billion by 2020. One development fuelling this growth is Industry 4.0 – or the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ New technologies, driven by automation, data exchange, the Internet of Things and cloud computing, are transforming manufacturing and distribution processes, and creating what are known as ‘smart factories.’

Another development is the market for digital printing which has grown enormously because of run length reduction and the ability to personalise and customise products. Dr Sean Smyth, a consultant at Smithers Pira said: "Key drivers are the ability to produce short runs economically. Additionally, brands are looking to engage with customers in new ways and digital allows them to do this."


Consumer Interactivity

Engaging with customers is a primary focus for brands; with a lucrative way being through engagement at large sporting events. Earlier this year interactive beer glasses that reacted to specific moments of action at sporting events were used to engage with NFL football fans. Buzz Connect - maker of ‘live sports celebration products’ - created 80,000 interactive beer cups for the Super Bowl that lit up when a team scored a touchdown.


Provided to every spectator in the stadium, the ‘touchdown glasses’ lit up and flashed in the matching team’s colours every time someone scored, as well as when the teams entered the stadium. Allowing the entire stadium to be lit in unison, due to a proprietary technology, the glasses could also be taken home and continue to work for upcoming seasons via Bluetooth. Activated by downloading the Bud Light Touchdown Glass app and pairing to the glass via Blutetooth, fans could then select their favoured team.


Connecting to the audience online is also a crucial and valuable element in any marketing strategy. According to the Tetra Pak Index 2017, the most influential group in creating, or eroding, brand preference is a digital community of early adopters referred to as ‘Super Leaders’. While they represent less than a tenth of the population, they are the most active and social people online, providing them with a disproportionate level of influence over brand perception. Importantly, they are also far more influenced by third-party, user-generated content than direct brand communication. In essence, the consumer base that brands must appeal to in order to spread their message has shrunk in size, however is has grown in influence.


A Host of Benefits

Digital is increasingly competitive and successful converters are not only looking to reduce costs, but also to add functionality. That functionality maybe versioning, lots of small runs rather than one big one and customisation and variable data, which are all factors that are harder to achieve with analogue machines.

Smyth said: "Cost will be an issue for businesses considering a conversion to digital. The unit cost of production is higher for digital, and there are usually limitations with the print format and range of substrates that can be handled by existing analogue printing machines."

Customisation also allows brands to engage with their customers in exciting and innovative ways, but digital printing has other benefits which businesses will benefit from in a number of ways. One of the most important being supply chain traceability. "There will be increasing pressure to identify batches and product point of origin," Smyth said.

As growing numbers of manufacturers in the industry recognise the benefits of digitally connected production lines for the future, technology is playing a crucial role in preventing failures that could compromise food safety. With industry 4.0 set to revolutionise the way companies operate, last year Tetra Pak teamed up with Microsoft to develop a new suite of practical services. The suite of digital systems is powered by Microsoft technology with results showing downtime was reduced by up to 48 hours for each packaging line, saving up to €30,000 for clients.

Tetra Pak’s vision can be broken down into two core components: a cloud-based data monitoring platform that enables manufacturers to identify potential failures, and innovative communications equipment that empowers service members when performing maintenance tasks on-site. As one of the largest industries in the world, food production generates enormous amounts of data on a daily basis. However, where other industries have been quick to take advantage of progresses in Big Data, food manufacturers have been slower to adopt advanced analytics platforms.

Johan Nilsson, vice president at Tetra Pak said: “We worked intensively with Microsoft for 18 months.  These things typically start as an exploration of an idea before they turn into a real project, of course, because you work with the unknown a little bit.”

The Microsoft Azure condition monitoring platform uses a combination of historical and real-time performance, error, and service data collected from IoT-enabled sensors to track how machines are operating along client production lines. Using uniquely developed machine learning algorithms, Tetra Pak systems can calculate the remaining usable lifetime of components and predict failures a month in advance. When real-time performance data begins to deter from optimal levels, Tetra Pak can use the information to advise clients of their maintenance needs in a more timely and effective way, allowing them to order parts in advance, schedule service events and better manage food safety risks during production downtime.

Virtual Technologies

While Tetra Pak's advanced analytics platform may help manufacturers avoid unnecessary maintenance downtime, machines still require regular servicing to repair faulty parts. In the past, when an on-site engineer was unable to resolve an issue on their own, a specialist would be called for assistance, culminating in a lengthy process, costing both time and money.

Downtime caused by gaps in communication is problematic for any industry, but for the perishable food products sector, such delays can compromise consumer safety and result in mass product waste. In contrast, creating a digitally connected workforce by improving communications between on-site workers and expert technicians makes it more seamless to respond to safety risks quickly, whilst simultaneously reducing the downtime required to complete maintenance tasks.

For Tetra Pak, virtual technologies are key for empowering and connecting workers, providing them with the tools they need to resolve issues in a quick and efficient manner. Armed with the Microsoft-powered HoloLens mixed-reality headset, on-site service members in remote locations can use Skype to contact one of Tetra Pak’s global specialists when performing maintenance tasks. “Our customers operate in a complex landscape where quality is essential and production lines are sophisticated,” says Nilsson. “Using the disruptive innovation of Microsoft HoloLens, customers around the world can now access the whole network of our specialists wherever they are, through the Tetra Pak service engineers. This completely transforms the delivery of our support and enables quick resolution of quality issues.”

Unlike virtual or augmented reality headsets, Hololens creates an immersive user experience by blending objects from the user's physical surroundings with digital projections. This allows the user to see, hear and interact with tools and machinery in their environment. Using the advanced mixed-reality technology, off-site specialists can help troubleshoot complex issues by creating a 'digital twin' of the physical on-site equipment. This holographic view enables Tetra Pak to provide guided interactions as they can show the on-site service member exactly which piece is registering as faulty.

A Connected Future

While the developments demonstrated by Tetra Pak indicate an innovative and connected future for food manufacturing, this is just the first step towards a digitally advanced production line. Nilsson said: “I think we're still in the situation where our imagination is causing more limitations than the technology. Anyone who runs a manufacturing plant today, no matter what they manufacture, is aware of industry 4.0 and internet of things. Many are aware of the buzzwords but they don't really know what it means. They know it's something that is going to happen to them and think that they need to be part of the journey.”

With three separate industrial revolutions in its history, the industry is no stranger to the impact of digitisation and innovation. Each wave of development has helped to shape the production line we have today in many varying industries. Digitisation is already transforming the way businesses operate through the implementation of more sophisticated data analytics or development of advanced field equipment, as well as improving traceability and the way brands facilitate consumer engagement, and there are no signs that this trend is slowing down.

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