In an era of exponential change, the packaging industry is facing a reckoning. As new styles of packaging and sustainable packaging mediums compete with the global digital transformation to take top prize for the biggest disruption to day-to-day business, Foodmach CEO Earle Roberts explains how an FMCG packaging line can perform with perfect synchronicity.

The traditional packaging line in Australia is made up of a collection of equipment from different OEMS, much like a motor vehicle. It’s the same principle. Sure, some businesses have the time, budget and in, many instances, patience for an all-new line from a single EU manufacturer, but that’s predominantly not the case.

All of these bits of equipment from different suppliers have different user interfaces, different machine-to-machine interfaces and provide different levels and points of data. Maybe there’s a form of line control that holds it all together, and depending on the age of the line, there could even be an IIoT solution layered over the top, enabling some data to be used by enterprise resource systems. But in reality, each machine is operating in a silo.

Project managers are expected to specify, acquire and install these different parts and make them work together smoothly. That part is challenging enough; it’s a bit like building a car yourself out of OEM parts and hoping it’ll run like a sports model.

But then there’s the driving experience. Once you have all these machines linked together on the factory floor, will you feel like you’re at the wheel of a well-tuned engine with absolute control over every aspect of its function?

Will you have all the information needed by management to provide complete visibility? Will the line perform as well, if at all, if the landscape changes and new packaging materials, sizes, shapes, SKUs come into play?

A possible solution

Let’s take a dive into a future where the FMCG packaging line does actually operate like a high-performance vehicle, where all the parts work together with perfect synchronicity. It provides a luxury driving experience, goes from zero to 100 at pace and can handle any kind of challenge. What would that look like?

If we take the sports car analogy to its end, we think it looks like this: You specify the products you need to run now and possibly in the future. Your vehicle manufacturer designs the ultimate, integrated machine. The parts are carefully selected from the world’s best and made to work in concert by technicians who make it their business to know them, inside out. Each piece of OEM equipment is opened up for true integration, where communication between parts and reporting to a central line control hub is not just patched on; it’s built-in.

The ultimate production vehicle is engineered for smooth lines, ergonomic driving and a fully digital experience complete with AI and autonomous, driverless functionality. It’s flexible enough to handle any potential packaging changes, even on the fly, telling you exactly which materials are needed next (and having them sourced automatically if that’s what you’d prefer). It’s recipe-driven controls take all the human error out of the equation, provides full traceability over every aspect of production and meets or exceeds Australian safety requirements.

This supercar is delivered to your factory as a single, Industry 4.0-enabled system. The driver controls are breathtaking; everything you could possibly want at your fingertips on a single screen. It’s like a spacecraft controls panel, only intuitive, and while it’s easily used by anyone, you have control over what each work station sees.

Your vehicle manufacturer guarantees its performance and safety, provides you with training and monitors its ongoing performance by remote. Ongoing maintenance is provided, and comprehensive OEE monitoring takes care of the rest.

Imagine how you could improve production in your factory if you had this kind of performance and control? This kind of information to show you where you’ve been, where you’re going and what needs attention right now?

We did imagine it, and we’ve brought the concept to life.

On the LaaM

We call it Line-as-a-Machine, or LaaM, and it’s the ultimate realisation of our vision to put line managers behind the wheel of the fastest, most powerful production line solution thinkable.

Just as motorcars are a collection of parts from many OEM manufacturers brought together and sold as a single machine with one point of responsibility for delivery, performance and service, LaaM offers you a single production entity. It is a complete packaging line, accurate and seamless information, high reliability and a single supplier for ongoing service and support.

LaaM couldn’t exist without a state-of-the-art Line MES, which is the culmination of over ten years of design, development and refinement.

Our software team has taken decades of learnings from high-speed FMCG lines and complex low-speed lines and poured them into Australia’s most sophisticated line control.

De-risk your new line

Rather than taking on the entire risk of a new line, LaaM gives FMCG manufacturers a way to share the risk with a single supplier – us. We take responsibility for the line design, equipment recommendation, supply, installation and integration.

When we say ‘integration’, we mean everything from conveying, sizing accumulation and buffering to keep each piece of equipment running at optimum speed, as well as Industry 4.0 connectivity.

Proof of concept

Foodmach is supplying 90 per cent of the equipment for what will perhaps be the most complex filling line in the southern hemisphere, with a line management execution system that makes it simple to operate, optimise and manage.

A LaaM project with Pernod Ricard Wines is due for completion next year.

We think that Line-as-a-Machine – which takes a holistic view of the entire production facility and treats it as one complete system with complete interoperability – is perhaps the only way FMCG producers can realise the full benefits of Industry 4.0 and more.

It’s not just a vision, it’s the future, and it’s already here.

 This article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Food & Drink Business


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