Digitalization of the packaging industry

How COVID-19 impacted the packaging machinery world – The road to virtual events

How packaging has changed over the years

However futuristic today’s packaging might be, it took long enough to get to where we are. One hundred and fifty years, to be precise[1]. Even more if we consider that time when, in 1795, Napoleon was looking for a way to preserve food for his troops and a French chef discovered the conservation power of sterilized glass[2]. But many more decades had to pass before packaging would turn into the fine craft that it is today. Ironically, it was the Great Depression that saw the dawn of supermarket culture - the perfect stage for packaging to grow into what we now call "the silent salesman."[3]

Fast-forward to the 20th century, packaging became an essential part of commerce. It's incredible how much packaging changed over the years. When plastic packaging was discovered, in the roaring 20s, it was not clear how ubiquitous it would become. It wasn't until the 1950s, with the development of polypropylene, that plastic packaging turned out to be a worldwide sensation[4]. Suddenly, it was everywhere. So much so that one century later we're still dealing with the side effect of its popularity.

What is the future of the packaging industry then? In 2021, the natural answer would be sustainability. According to Deloitte, the sustainable plastic packaging industry is worth $89 billion[5]. But that's not the whole picture. In fact, with COVID-19 spreading all over the world, another trend is coming to the fore and quickly becoming mainstream: the digitalization of the packaging industry.

Why the future of packaging is the digitalization of the packaging industry

The impact of the corona crisis on the packaging industry has been twofold. At the start, the pandemic shakened the certainties of world commerce. Shelter-in-place measures, increasing unemployment rates and a sudden contraction in gross domestic products foretold a looming recession. What followed, though, was one of the most rapid recovery in recent history[6], and not just in financial markets[7].

Such a rapid bust-and-boom cycle, combined with the need of finding new ways to deliver value under stay-at-home orders, has triggered a leap to the future the likes of which we've never seen before. Trends that had always been around the corner came to be - from a renewed focus on the customer to a greater role of IoT and Augmented Reality in the landscape. Innovative technologies, once limited to a few Silicon Valley startups, became the starting point of a new packaging supercycle. Three-dimensional software, printed electronics, digitally controlled manufacturing protocols are now a reality. 

Digitalization is the key. Reinventing old-age processes through digitalization is a clever way to drive down costs and stand out on the shelves due to an increasing proximity with the consumer[8].

Remote Factory Acceptance Tests: the ACMA way

When COVID-19 shut down the world, every player in the industry was looking for a solution to conduct factory acceptance tests remotely. Factory Acceptance Tests are the standard procedure where the customer and the manufacturer validate that the packaging machine is working according to the contractual agreement and, as everything else in manufacturing, have always been done in presence. How to perform such a delicate operation without any hands-on exam? That was the issue. 

Enters ACMA. Shortly after the quarantine went into effect, ACMA announced its own solution to the problem: Remote FAT. As the name suggests, Remote FAT is a Remote Factory Acceptance Test solution. It offers two options - live and interactive live streaming - to allow the customer the level of control they desire to inspect the packaging machine. 

How ACMA creates new value with virtual events

How is it possible to satisfy the client’s need to view and touch the product before buying? This was not so common in our industry in the past years. But as lockdowns entered into force and everyone went remote, ACMA spotted the opportunity to deliver new and greater value to the customer, providing comprehensive virtual expositions and live streaming visits. That was the beginning of virtual events.

Clients can schedule virtual events through their local area manager. During these digital expositions, through a suite of high resolution cameras, the customer can seamlessly opt in via Microsoft Teams, where ACMA’s dedicated specialists will showcase a few samples and how the product is handled. 

ACMA's virtual events are the perfect example of the new direction of the industry accelerated by the pandemic. Before COVID-19, it was not possible for the customer to view the packaging machine in action before purchasing. Now, it's a reality. This means two things. One, that the digitalization of packaging industry does not simply provide alternatives to tried and tested procedures, but also enables customers in whole new ways. Second, that the future of our industry is customer-centric. It's about the customer - and the processes put in place to create value for the customer[9]. Remote FATs as well as virtual events are not two workarounds against travel restrictions. Instead, they are two major steps along the digital transformation of the sector [10]

Want to digitalize your business? We are more than happy to help

[1] The industrial revolution coincided with the very first packaging solutions, limited to luxury goods only.
[2] Source:Michigan State University
[3] This popular expression finds its root in packaging’s ability to act as a salesman in the absence of one. In today’s supermarkets there is no salesman, and that’s where packaging really shines: it tells a story about the product and the brand without ever talking - that is, silently.
[4] Source:Rypax
[5] Source:Deloitte
[6] Source:Schroders
[7] Source:New York Times, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman
[8] Source:McKinsey
[9] Source:Forbes
[10] Source:Packaging Innovation
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