AR and VR in packaging: Beyond the buzz

A look at real-world opportunities using augmented and virtually reality technology for packaging, consumer engagement and more.


It was in Toronto in May where I moderated a well-attended panel discussion on augmented and virtual reality at UBM’s Advanced Design & Manufacturing event, a duty that took me a step or two outside my comfort zone in packaging editorial.

I learned that the technology is even more remarkable than I’d imagined, with the panelists pointing to applications real and possible across a wide swath of industries. I also found very quickly there’s no way to take notes while moderating, so nearly all of what the panelists said evaporated.

However, I felt this fascinating subject—is there anyone unaware of the Pokémon GO phenomenon that uses an augmented reality smartphone app?—deserved a wider audience. I reconnected with research firm IDC Canada senior analyst, Emily Taylor, whose insights anchored the broad-based panel discussion of experts. Taylor conducts strategic research and analysis on mobility technology markets, focusing on mature and emerging technologies including augmented reality and virtual reality.  She sets the stage for further drilling down into the packaging side of the equation by the president of Shikatani Lacroix Design, “designers of immersive experiences,” on the next page.

As a backdrop to the market itself, a report from research firm SuperData projects that mobile augmented reality will become the primary driver of a global $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021, with AR taking the lion’s share of $83 billion and VR at $25 billion. Another report projects the global  market at nearly $120 billion by 2022 at a 75% CAGR from 2016 to 2022.


Let’s start with defining these two terms.

Taylor: Augmented reality (AR) is technology used to complement a persons’ environment through the addition of digital content or objects into their field of view, while virtual reality (VR) is technology used to remove a person from their existing reality and provide a “virtual” reality, immersing them completely within a digital environment.


What’s the state of the AR/VR market?

Taylor: Over the past year or so we’ve seen some big players in the tech industry bring AR/VR solutions to market in the form of software, services and hardware. This industry push and the promise of AR/VR technologies to be the next key computing platform has encouraged experimentation and innovation in this burgeoning market. Initial waves of AR have been seen on smartphones and tablets where the device’s camera is held up to a key landmark and additional information is augmented into the scene on the screen, and it is expected that this will be the way many are first exposed to AR.

With AR, the blending of the real and the virtual can be difficult to create, but the possibilities with both mobile devices and head-mounted displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens are expected to be more limitless than VR. Initial VR headsets and solutions have been heavily focused on gaming and hyped launches for products like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but as both AR and VR solutions evolve the technologies have potential to revolutionize business as we know it.


What are the biggest growth markets for the tech?

Taylor: We’re seeing spending and lots of interest in AR technologies in manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare. For VR, retail, construction, and healthcare are areas where we see great potential. Overall, for enterprise users AR and VR ultimately raises productivity and allows workers to interact with data rather than view it statically. Those interactions have the capacity to facilitate experiential learning, virtual collaboration spaces, and training simulations. For consumers, these technologies will provide “as if you were there” and augmented experiences as new ways to consume and share content.


What benefits does virtual-enabled packaging offer?

Taylor: AR/VR-enabled packaging—and AR/VR-enabled content overall—facilitates heightened interactions for the user by supplementing the real world with digital content and provides a new, unique experience that wasn’t previously possible.

There is currently a lot of hype surrounding AR/VR solutions, and utilizing these technologies in advertising or marketing can provide benefits that are two-fold:

  • It allows organizations to investigate the applicability of the medium to their business before making broad decisions or investments; and
  • It also can provide some PR and marketing hype for a brand.
  • Still, some AR/VR executions may be seen as a gimmick to some consumers, particularly if there is no obvious benefit or utility for the technology’s usage. Product visualization is an area where this technology fits well, where consumers can view items virtually before purchase. This may help facilitate the purchase if the consumer isn’t sure, as it allows them to visualize the item(s) in a new way.


    A test subject, outfitted with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors and Samsung Gear VR headset, uses a controller to navigate through a VR environment. Image: Shikatani Lacroix Design.


    What newer technology comes into play?

    Taylor: Head-mounted displays (HMDs) enabling AR/VR content are poised for growth over the next few years. These devices are also expected to evolve as both AR and VR HMD experiences require a lot of processing and battery power to make the experience robust, which can be a trade-off between power and mobility. Devices are also expected to become lighter and thinner, easier for longer term wear.


    What’s a piece of advice for brands considering using AR/VR on their packaging?

    Taylor: It is important to lead with good quality AR/VR experiences, as bad experiences can both be damaging to both the evolution of AR/VR in the market as well as the brand. One of the key advantages of these technologies is the level of immersion in the user experience, and the quality of this user experience will help drive adoption and interest overall. Further, adoption and usage of these technologies requires a certain level of digital operation, so assessing the current state of readiness within the brand or organization will be important when pursuing next steps.


    Next: Packaging design & development and the 3 hot spots for AR and VR


    Immerse yourself in a real-world packaging experience at MinnPack in Minneapolis November 8-9 that’s part of a comprehensive 6-event megashow that also includes PLASTEC. For more information, visit


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    Authentication: Reactive testing simply not good enough, says pharma expert

    “Even though FDA’s enforcement of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) has been pushed back a year, the illicit trade won’t stop,” warns Bob Miglani, speaking of pharmaceutical counterfeiting, diversion, and other criminal activity. Miglani spent 23 years working for Pfizer, and a year ago he joined Applied DNA Sciences to serve as chief of business development.

    The firm’s DNA markers have already made “tremendous progress” in several pharma labeling and packaging pilots, he says, and the company is now working to address industry’s challenges—and perhaps reluctance—with employing a routine product authentication strategy.

    “DSCSA is a tide that lifts all boats,” he explains, but he adds that “regardless of serialization,” there are still threats. “Serialization is digital, and anything digital can be copied and hacked. Threats and challenges will always be there for anything digital,” he says. “Companies need to refresh their toolbox.”

    Layers of anticounterfeiting technologies can help counter these risks, just as they do in currency, he says. “Our technology fits into those layers,” he says. 

    Applied DNA Sciences’s DNA markers—which Miglani describes as “molecular bar codes”—can be incorporated in “virtually any material.” They have been tested and validated in inks, varnishes, even embedded in materials, and the company has recently completed feasibility studies of tablet coatings. “With a significant proportion of the world’s tablets having a coating,” he says, “it is a seamless way to integrate our technology.”

    The technology is also a robust one. The DNA markers have been employed in cash boxes that have an electronic system that sprays the cash with dye if breached. A thief may be able to wash out the dye, but not the DNA, so the crime can be linked to the person, he says. “We’ve already had 114 convictions in the United Kingdom,” he says.

    And field DNA readers have gotten better, with faster readers and field-deployable authentication kits that can be carried onto planes, he says.

    However, the challenge with authentication technologies hasn’t necessarily been the speed, but rather the frequency, he explains. “When the police bust bad guys in Poland, for instance, they look at the packaging and then call the drug company to verify. The security contact is located and sent the suspect product. Folks in the lab then test it and determine whether it is counterfeit. The company then needs to file a suspect product investigation report with FDA. All of this is a very reactive way of testing suspect products, and it happens a few times a year,” he explains. “It is useful, but not good enough.”

    Pharma companies may hesitate to employ forensic authentication because of the effort behind investigation. Miglani says companies struggle with training employees, developing SOPs, access to systems, and accuracy.

    But given the ongoing risks—and the fact that FDA is putting pressure on companies to monitor markets—“companies need to be more proactive and routinely audit and test products in the supply chain,” he says.

    To address these challenges, Applied DNA is developing a new “authentication as a service” approach. “No longer do companies have to worry about testing,” he says. “We will do so in hotspots where there could be problems. We could provide each customer with an inspection officer who can test products in the field. We’ll produce quarterly audit reports and produce ‘heat maps’ showing, for instance, that 70% of the samples from one market are authentic and 30% are not.”

    Applied DNA has performed such frequent testing in the cotton and tech industries. The company runs a full-service ISO 17025 accredited lab in Stony Brook, and its lab workers are trained like crime scene investigators, he says. “Our forensic reports have held up in court,” he adds.

    The approach offers the potential for “a lot of data mining,” he says. “You can utilize analytics to shift strategies. If you see problems in one country, for instance, you can take a look at your distributors.”

    Such data can also be used as a value proposition, he adds. “If you want more business from a hospital chain, you could show reports on testing of the supply chain. We are living in a world of total transparency. It is important to put all your cards on the table.”

    Miglani advises pharma companies to look upon routine field authentication as just another means of auditing. “The pharmaceutical supply chain is used to auditing,” he says. “Pharma is very good at compliance.” And some companies would rather be given a certificate showing they have passed such audits, he adds.

    He adds that Applied DNA has “learned that the approach must be seamless and integrated into the pharma supply chain ecosystem. The vastness of that ecosystem is massive in scale and complexity,” he says. “There is a lot of potential for our technology—pharma needs to reduce risk and differentiate its products, and FDA is watching pharma companies closely. For certainty in the marketplace, our approach offers a whole system to tag, test, and trust.”

    For more details, see our 2016 article, “Turning to nature to fight counterfeiting.” 


    MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis) celebrates its 15th year to bring you the latest developments in all things packaging as part of a comprehensive advanced manufacturing event. Sign up today to attend!

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    Nelipak joins Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council

    Nelipak Healthcare Packaging has joined The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC). Nelipak, a global provider of custom thermoformed packaging for medical devices and pharmaceuticals, recognizes “the responsibility as packaging manufacturers to take the environmental impact of our products into consideration as we work with our customers to create more sustainable products,” said Seán Egan, director of global marketing, Nelipak Healthcare Packaging. “Nelipak can not only help medical device OEMs make more informed decisions about packaging material selection, but is also often able to reduce the total amount of plastic used.”

    Nelipak plans to work closely to promote the work of the HPRC among its customers and suppliers, “creating awareness of the need to divert more plastic from landfills,” Egan tells PMP News. “Nelipak will examine ways of helping hospital staff more readily segregate waste material through education programs and clearer marking of thermoformed rigid packaging to help remove uncertainty on the material composition of the plastic used in the trays. We will also look to work with material suppliers to educate and promote the need for higher uptake of waste material by recyclers that can be used in non-medical applications.”

    To help OEMs create more efficient and environmentally responsible packaging, Nelipak evaluates packaging beyond the initial need to protect the device to the point-of-use, says Egan. “This starts with optimizing the design to reduce the amount of material used in the manufacturing process, which in turn requires less material and energy to produce the part,” he explains. “Using simulation tools, we can streamline the package footprint to increase load efficiency during transportation from our facility to the customer’s loading bay. These same tools help customers lower their cost of ownership in their internal processes by requiring less energy in handling, sterilization and transportation to the clinical environment.”

    Reducing the number of packaging components can also help. “Nelipak continues to innovate packaging by using fewer components,” he says, pointing to the example of putting laser-etched instructions directly on trays thereby removing instructional leaflets from the mix. “We also look to develop trays that become part of procedures in the surgical theatre, thus removing the need for additional containers,” he adds.

    Recently Nelipak reduced the overall footprint of a packaging assembly for screw sets and plates compared with the previous packaging by using sealed trays instead of pouches, Egan says. “The new design decreased packaging volume by 40% for plates and 240% for screws. The previous packaging only held one screw at a time; the new pack holds three items (i.e., two screws and one locking screw); this removes four pouches from the waste stream. Additionally, extending product shelf life reduces the amount of un-used product that goes to waste.”

    Innovating during the early stages of development could help result in recyclable packaging. “Nelipak becomes an extension of its customers’ packaging development team, taking on expanded roles in design, development, and testing,” says Egan. 

    Nelipak’s expanding global footprint also plays a role. “Having multiple global manufacturing sites puts Nelipak closer to our customers, reducing our carbon footprint for shipping,” Egan says.

    Peylina Chu, director of HPRC, says in a news release that “as a manufacturing leader in healthcare packaging, Nelipak offers important insights into new technologies and design best practices that can help increase the recyclability of these materials. Their input and wide range of expertise will be vital in helping support our goal of increasing the overall recycling of healthcare plastics.”

    Other HPRC members include Baxter, BD, Cardinal Health, DuPont, Eastman Chemical Company, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and Ravago Recycling Group.

    For more details, visit or

    Be sure to visit Nelipak at the upcoming Medical Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis expo November 8-9 at Booth #1316. 

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    Food packaging safety: Avoiding ’911′ emergencies Part 1

    What happens when changing conditions transform limited food packaging risks into absolute certainties? Food safety expert Gary Kestenbaum knows.


    Packaging Safety Expert Gary Kestenbaum offers guidance for evaluating, anticipating and recognizing business conditions that impact food packaging component safety and suitability risks before they advance from infrequent and manageable into recurring and calamitous.


    Established food and food packaging facilities typically enjoy a consistent and reliably safe supply chain. Oversight and control is based on predictability with limited changes be they known, anticipated or unexpected.

    However, with historic upgrades in regulatory oversight and the need for sustaining profitability, changes occur at a dizzying pace, and any changes in a chain affect all downstream players. Quality, consistency, reliability and safety can become predictably unpredictable. “Sure thing” quality characteristics of products or processes reside as future liabilities because they are considered invisible, on” auto pilot” based on long-term favorable reliabilities.

    Typically, packaging “army of one” quality managers focused oversight on expected high-risks and demonstrated “bad actors.” Occasionally, low-risk or low-frequency defects occurred and were addressed at that time. Even when a supply chain change occurred, it was handled, per se. Defect levels increased temporarily and were “managed.”  Over time, though, sporadic defects became more consistent and annoying. When defects result in a food safety or unsuitability issue, the stakes increase significantly, and will not be tolerated by customers and regulators.

    Job one is to assess and quantify true risks and the actual or potential harm to people and profits from those risks. That process needs oversight and ownership by cross-functional teams who should be taught to function as ad-hoc insurance actuaries. Job two is to have solutions in hand, ready to implement in advance of risks becoming events. 


    A quick trip to the FDA website yields lists of published in-market quality events, recalls and market withdrawals. Multiple events from the same organization suggest that the oversight process is in need of review and rewiring.

    The important learning from increases to in-market product unsuitability events suggests changing conditions: changes in supplier, materials, process, resources or other modification. Manufacturers are not blind to addressing product quality, safety and suitability, but usually limit themselves to the existing internal written and practiced process and in doing so they may fail to properly consider how changing circumstances or conditions increase risk potential. In light of the enhanced authority given FDA from FSMA and related food safety rules, federal regulators have stated that they are expecting U.S. food supply chain suppliers, including the food packaging industry, to continuously review, evaluate and adjust assumptions, programs and controls, in advance, to prevent or reduce risk of in-market calamities. 

    Consider the analogy from a recent New York Times article that mentioned domestic flood and fire risks. Changing conditions facilitated irreversible increases for risks from floods, fires and related catastrophic property damage. The article stated that as time marched on, data showed that it wasn’t a question of whether there’d be floods or fires in targeted areas, only how often and how broad the scope. The key takeaway was that changing conditions in weather patterns, topography and environment were guaranteeing that calamities characterized as risks in the 1980s had evolved into certainties in 2017. Insurers will provide coverage for possibilities, but they recoil from covering certainties. How many times will an insurer fund a total rebuild or other expensive disaster before it simply withdraws coverage?

    The classic argument within industry that “it never happened to us in all our years in business” is tantamount to the quote in the New York Times article that “although [the scope and impacts of super-storms] Katrina and Sandy felt like once-in-a-lifetime events, there is actually a 50% chance within a 10-year period” that there will be other Hurricane Sandy-sized losses. The article went on to define the term “100-year flood.”  The public takes that to mean “one catastrophic flood every 100 years.” That is not what a 100-year flood means. 

    The article observed that there was a narrow window of opportunity for affected property owners living in high flood risk areas to accept a one-time mitigation offer, or assume 100% of the risk going forward. If would be fair to assume that food packaging manufacturers face the same terms in the event that insurance loss potentials become loss certainties. 


    Identify costly and harmful food safety or suitability risks to your products.

    •             Are you aware of potential causes and extents?

    •             Are effective root-cause analysis and corrective action control mechanisms in place? 

    •             If one slips through and harm occurs, do you have insurance to protect your business from such a calamity? 

    •             How will you react if a loss event reoccurs? 

    •             Who will insure you once it is public knowledge that you have an unmitigated risk generator in your process?

    Not having answers and solutions to these questions leaves your company at high risk for financial and reputational losses.

    When (formerly) sporadic-turned frequent calamities occur in the food supply industry as a whole, they are sure to pop up on insurer’s actuarial “hit lists” of known risks.  The food industry likely resides within insurers’ “yellow flag” categories already due to the impact on human injury and the high costs of market withdrawals and recalls. When given a reason to recalculate, insurers will quickly re-calculate and make the necessary adjustments including inspections, enhanced questionnaires, higher premiums and deductibles and, at worst, cancellation and rejections. For those companies who self-insure, the risk of increased in-market calamities can quickly affect the entire business model.

    The conundrum exists that even though every food supply situation is unique, there are of course commonalities shared by every category in the industry. A good example is off-shore sourcing of materials, be they raw, intermediate or finished. Sourcing off-shore does not in its own right assure high risk; certainly, there have been many market withdrawals and recalls facilitated by errors and omissions within the continental United States, but it would be fair to say that sourcing from outside North America adds risks, challenges and degrees of difficulty including, but not limited to U.S. Government oversight, political climates, cultural differences, the inconvenience of distance, language and communication, resource limitations and other fixed elements which are difficult to foresee or control. 


    A case study in futility

    I was once in India to oversee packaging of bulk food products.  After reviewing one supplier’s process for case-packing bulk nuts and loading said cases into a shipping container, it was obvious that their loading pattern needed improvement. I carefully measured the case dimensions, plugged said values into a software optimization program and voila, a new and efficient pattern was created. 

    You can imagine how excited I was as we began to load a container the next day using the new pattern. Smiles quickly turned to puzzled expressions when the pattern didn’t work because case dimensions didn’t match the internal limits in the container. “How did I screw that up,” I fumed?  A careful dimensional audit of knocked-down shipping cases culled from bundles in the warehouse exposed a wide variation in case dimensions, and I do mean WIDE! Variable and unpredictable enough to make cubic efficiency impossible to control.

    When I asked the owner/operator of the facility how likely it was for him to reach out to the corrugated manufacturer and request/receive consistently dimensioned goods, he laughed. Such control was either impossible, unlikely and hard to enforce. Added costs of auditing, oversight, rejection and corresponding impact to his process made such a change impractical.  After that “aha” moment, I realized that many of the options in my packaging book of tricks intended to anticipate defects and apply controls were rendered useless.

    To prove my point, I commissioned a consistently produced order of optimally dimensioned shippers, manufactured by a corrugated converted in the U.S. The cases were filled with product, as in India, and test-shipped in a similar container. Results were as expected, but, because of conditions beyond my control, the corrective plan was useless.

    The next edition of this blog will explore processes that a food packaging organization can integrate to evaluate, control and react to quality/safety risks to its products.


    Gary Kestenbaum has 40 years’ experience in the food and packaging industries, six as a supplier with National Starch, 18 as a product developer with General/Kraft Foods and 15 as a packaging engineer and developer with Kraft. As senior food packaging safety consultant with EHA Consulting Group, Kestenbaum provides guidance on packaging safety and suitability-related projects for raw material manufacturers, converters and associated supporting professionals. He can be reached at or 410-484-9133. The website is




    MinnPack celebrates its 15th year to bring the latest developments in food, beverage and all things packaging as part of a comprehensive 6-event megashow in Minneapolis November 8-9 that also includes PLASTEC. For more information, visit


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    The carbon footprint’s triumphant return

    For Walmart, sustainable packaging has a new mantra: everyday low carbon footprint.

    This new emphasis is a touchstone for a sweeping amount of broader activity on greenhouse gas emissions, which had seemingly become a distant issue as the sustainable packaging conversation has revolved around recyclability. Walmart itself had placed recyclability front and center in its Sustainable Packaging Playbook, strongly encouraging use of the How2Recycle labeling system as a means to communicate recyclability and identify opportunities for improvement.

    In April, Walmart changed the conversation by announcing packaging as one of six primary activity areas for Project Gigaton, its commitment to reduce one gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This summer, Walmart is putting the plan into action, giving suppliers a concrete directive for lowering the greenhouse gas emissions associated with packaging and asking them to report their progress.

    Carbon footprints are back on the forefront.

    A look at broader industry commitments suggests that interest in carbon footprint reductions in relation to packaging production has never waned. Research from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition on public statements and goals of brands and retailers found that the prevalence of commitments to reduce overall company carbon footprints was roughly equal to the amount of commitments to improve the recyclability of packaging. The key issue, though, is that carbon footprint commitments are always made at the corporate level, and they rarely—-almost never—-trickle down in the way of a formal commitment at the packaging level. The SPC only found one public commitment that explicitly made an imperative to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging.

    This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Packaging is never the chief contributor to the overall carbon footprint of a product or a company. And when it comes time for the packaging decision-makers to set goals, they want goals that resonate with sustainability-minded consumers. Consumers like recycling, and they understand recyclability, while the concept of low-carbon packaging doesn’t give the same warm and fuzzy feelings. Brands and retailers undoubtedly have non-publicized goals to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging, but secret goals don’t send the same signal. With Walmart’s loud new imperative, that may change.

    It needs to be recognized that packaging is consequential to the carbon footprint of a packaged product, and improvements to the carbon footprint of packaging can be meaningful in the context of an overarching corporate goal. That is exactly what Walmart discovered, and why packaging is a centerpiece in its new push.

    The rule of thumb for a packaged food product is that packaging comprises around 10% of the overall carbon footprint. Not huge, but certainly not too small to be ignored. For some products, it’s more. In the soft drink category, for instance, packaging can comprise up to 30% of the carbon footprint. For a company like Coca-Cola, this context sheds light on the rationale behind its massive push to use lower-carbon plant-based plastics in place of fossil plastics, which just so happens to be a strategy acknowledged by Walmart.

    In all, there are likely hundreds of different types of actions that can be taken to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging. Any company seeking to reduce their packaging carbon footprint needs to take the actions that make the most sense in the context of their company’s activities.

    The main effect of Walmart’s new focus on carbon is the bringing of a much-needed balance to the world of sustainable packaging. The narrative on packaging sustainability has been dichotomous at times. Do we place higher value on soft characteristics like recyclability, renewable material usage and recycled content, which clearly play into a circular economy vision? Or do we place higher value on scientific measurements of the true environmental impacts of the packaging life cycle, adhering to the principles of sustainable materials management and reducing today’s measureable impacts—like greenhouse gas emissions—regardless of so-called circularity?

    It’s hard to do both, but the biggest danger is pursuing one school of thought in isolation.

    To achieve more sustainable packaging, we need to maintain our long-term vision of creating a circular economy while simultaneously reducing carbon footprints and other measurable impacts that affect our environment today. Walmart is striking the right tone, establishing the expectation that suppliers make simultaneous advances in increased recyclability and lowered carbon footprints, and not saying outright whether one is more valued than the other.

    Companies must rise to the challenge and elevate carbon footprint commitments to the same height as recyclability commitments. In some ways, it might be a revival. Going “carbon neutral” was the original centerpiece for all things sustainability, long before “zero waste,” “closed loop,” “circular economy” or “sustainable materials management” became established ideas.

    With Walmart’s new push, old school sustainability is back!

    Adam Gendell is the associate director of GreenBlue’s flagship project, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. His work with the packaging value chain touches on goal-setting, design considerations and stakeholder engagement. Gendell has developed and delivered training seminars for hundreds of packaging professionals, including the coalition’s fall conference: SPC Advance. He coordinates several Industry Leadership Committees and is a frequent speaker and writer on sustainability topics. In 2013, Adam served on the PAC NEXT Leadership Council.


    Learn about the latest developments in sustainable packaging at MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis). Register today!

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    Is voice-enabled technology suitable for packaging lines?

    “Hey, Siri. Does the cartoner magazine need to be refilled on Packaging Line 4?” With artificial intelligence (AI)—a.k.a. machine learning—and voice activation, packaging line operators could be more aware of what needs to be done and when. Would that better prevent costly downtime? Would it increase productivity without having to hire more hard-to-find skilled workers?

    Too far-fetched? I don’t think so, especially considering that:

    Voice-directed warehousing was introduced in the late 1990s, and is seeing a rapid rise in adoption;
    Advancements in life science due to artificial intelligence and machine learning continue at a rapid pace;
    • Consumer acceptance of voice-enabled assistants continues to rise. According to CNBC, Amazon’s Echo Dot, which gives people access to voice-assistant Alexa, was the best-selling item during Amazon’s Prime Day 2017 (July 10).

    This type of technology transfer could yield positive results for packaging lines. (Photo above is Designed by


    What do you think?

    Take our short poll and tell us what you think about the practicality of voice technology for packaging machines/lines. CLICK HERE TO VOTE NOW!


    Packaging Digest posed this topic to select exhibitors at interpack, the world’s largest packaging show, in early May 2017. Here is what top executives (see full bios at the end of the article) at a handful of leading packaging machinery manufacturers think, as they weigh in on the viability of incorporating voice-enabled technology on packaging systems and lines:



    Riccardo Cavanna, CEO, Cavanna Packaging: Theoretically, voice activation is an interesting feature because hands-free is something that our customers request, especially on a production line to manage packaging machinery. Hands free for changeover, without using tools, is a must and that’s why we have introduced [at interpack] the new ZeroX flow wrapper, a tool-free machine.

    Here where we are standing in the booth [at interpack], it’s quite crowded and noisy. And in a production area, there is noise everywhere from machinery.  So, voice control could be a very interesting but the technology has to be able to recognize my voice in a noisy environment. The Siri technology is one benchmark we have. Even in a situation like this [in the booth], it’s difficult to recognize your voice.

    So, it’s a matter of technology.

    The second point is security. In a pharmaceutical plant, our HMI [human machine interface] has to log every single person who has made some change. Even in the food industry, that [type of security] is coming more and more.

    If I can tell something to the machine by voice, it might not be so safe because voice is not like a digital fingerprint or a security card. Anybody could tell something to the machine.

    So voice activation on a packaging machine is a possibility but there are security and technical challenges to be solved.


    Brian Dillman, area sales manager, East, Universal Robots USA Inc.: I can only comment from the robot perspective and not from packaging machinery overall. 

    The idea of voice-activated robot systems is intriguing from an ease-of-use perspective. The other side is safety. Safety and security concerns have password protection to make sure no one without authorization makes changes to a program. Imagine the risk of having a system with voice recognition making adjustments on the fly without validating the person providing the instruction.

    I expect efforts are being made to make robots more intuitive and provide self-learning functionality. Voice activation may come along the same lines, but the safety experts will have to evaluate how to make it secure and tamper proof.

    Alexa is great, but she can’t tell if it is my wife or the local TV news sometimes. Voice control will need more sophistication to make it viable.



    Martin Prakken, CEO, BluePrint Automation: To be honest, I don’t see a huge need for this, as there are so many other things that can be made so much more user-friendly. HMI’s, for example, are still not as intuitive as an iPhone.


    Doug Stambaugh, svp, Bottling & Capping Group, Pro Mach: I have not seen voice-recognition technology utilized anywhere on packaging machines or production lines. Currently, we have not had any requests for it from our customers. Will it migrate to packaging machinery and packaging lines? Possibly. Most of our customers’ current focus is getting more efficiency from their current equipment and adding flexibility to handle the growth in SKUs [stock-keeping units]. Not sure how voice recognition helps with this, but who would have predicted the success of Alexa and Siri.


    Uwe Harbauer, member of the executive management, Bosch Packaging Technology: To be honest, this question…I never had before. I don’t see it in the moment. I’m just thinking…why? Maybe because we are in an industry environment that is sometimes loud. That could be a problem if you used [voice] because maybe you have a wrong message then. That would not be good.

    And we don’t need that because the HMI is so self-explaining.

    So, in the moment, I don’t see it. I also have not seen it on the exhibition floor [at interpack].

    Think about pharma…A lot of things are in cleanrooms and people are dressed differently. Voice is difficult.

    But—voice recognition is no problem to add. This is cheap. You can buy it. [Lisa Pierce: No problem, really, to incorporate it into a packaging machine?] I have it in my car, you have it here [on a smartphone]. Why should it be difficult to incorporate that into an HMI 4.0? I think that would be possible.

    The question is…Do we need that?


    Do you need or want voice-enabled packaging machinery? Take our poll now by CLICKING HERE.


    Our panelists (alphabetical by last name):

    Riccardo Cavanna became CEO of Cavanna S.p.A. in 2004, after having served as a member of the board of directors since the year 2000. During his present term, Cavanna has grown the company internationally by opening a manufacturing plant in Brazil and another one in the USA. Additionally, Cavanna is the vp of UCIMA (Italian Association of Automatic Machinery for Packing and Packaging) and president of Ipack-Ima’s board of directors, the leading Italian packaging trade fair, in a joint venture between UCIMA and Fiera Milano. He is also a member of the PMMI Global Marketing Committee in the USA.

    Brian Dillman, area sales manager, East, Universal Robots USA Inc., manages the company’s expanding sales channel network in the Eastern United States. He joined the cobot market leader in 2016, bringing with him three decades of sales experience with increasing leadership responsibilities, including positions with KUKA, Motoman and several systems integrators where he sold welding, material-handling, loading, dispensing and assembly automation solutions. Dillman joined UR to be part of what he considers to be “the most transformative robot company to arrive in the market in the last 25 years.”

    Uwe Harbauer has been a member of the executive management of Bosch Packaging Technology and a member of the managing board of Robert Bosch Packaging Technology GmbH since January 2017, with responsibility for sales and the Pharmaceuticals Business Unit. He joined Bosch Packaging Technology in 2000 as head of sales for the Business Unit Pharma in Crailsheim, Germany, then served as head of Business Unit Services in Beringen, Switzerland, in 2006 before returning to Crailsheim in 2013 as head of Business Unit Pharma. German born, Harbauer earned a degree in general mechanical engineering from the Technische Universität Darmstadt in 1990.

    Martin Prakken became CEO of BluePrint Automation in 1999, after having joined the company in 1990 and served as president of the company’s U.S. division for five years before his promotion to CEO. BluePrint Automation BV was founded in 1980 to “supply the ‘missing link’: Automatic case packing of non-rigid packages,” according to the company’s website. As CEO, Prakken manages the U.S. division—BluePrint Automation Inc.—and the sister company, BluePrint Automation, BV, located in The Netherlands.

    Doug Stambaugh is svp of Pro Mach’s Bottling & Capping Business Line, one of the company’s key growth platforms. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing the operations and global commercial development for the business line, which includes the Federal and Pacific filling brands, the Zalkin capping brand and the Pace container handling brand, as well as numerous international sales and service offices. A 30-year veteran of the packaging industry, Stambaugh has a broad base of experience in the global consumer packaged goods market from packaging through the supply chain. Prior to joining Pro Mach, Stambaugh served as general manager of ITW Warehouse Automation, where he managed international operations and was responsible for global growth of ITW’s warehouse and supply chain automation. Prior to that he served in senior leadership roles at Hartness Intl. as both general manager of integration and vp of global sales.



    MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis) celebrates its 15th year to bring you the latest developments in all things packaging as part of a comprehensive advanced manufacturing event. Sign up today to attend!

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    What best practices for ecommerce packaging are emerging?

    Is there a standard transit test packaging departments are using for their ecommerce shipments? Are most companies integrating their growing ecommerce enterprise with their brick-and-mortar business? Finally, some answers.

    Packaging Digest asked attendees to our July 18, 2017, webinar “Ecommerce Packaging: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right from the Start” these two questions to get a sense of where the industry is at this point.

    Regarding transit packaging tests, no clear winner emerged. By a narrow margin (less than a full percentage point), 30.5% of poll takers say they are not currently testing their transit packaging—makes me wonder what their damage rates are. Nearly 30% of respondents chose the ISTA 3a test from the Intl. Safe Transit Assn., with almost 23% saying they use the ISTA 6 standard, which is the protocol used by Amazon. A bit more than 17% are using some other test, perhaps a proprietary one. This question had 128 people responding.

    Regarding business integration, the majority of respondents (65.2%) either partially or fully integrate ecommerce into their core business. Does it surprise you that it’s that high?

    Less than half (46.1%) integrate some functions their ecommerce and traditional retail distribution operations. Nearly one-fifth (19.1%) are fully integrated. Just less than 15% of respondents tell us ecommerce business is totally separate. Another one-fifth don’t know. A total of 115 people answered this poll question.


    4 steps to efficient ecommerce packaging

    Webinar presenter Laura Flanigan, director of client engagement for More from Less USA, shared a lot of data and advice. She summarizes:

    “It is clear change is coming—retail as we know it will never be the same. This change will affect your packaging because ecommerce distribution simply requires different approaches to packaging in terms of the number of touch points, brand engagement and the function of the package.

    “The time is now to start building a strategy for the future. If you plan the journey and take it one step at a time, you can get there in a way that is not only achievable but efficient and strategic as well.”

    Her steps to doing it efficiently: 

    1. Take stock of your current reality in terms of how product moves through your supply chain inbound, outbound, in the warehouse and for returns.

    2. Make sure you know how to measure your performance, and understand where your business is growing in terms of ecommerce. 

    3. Then, develop a plan with time-bound milestones, category by category, for what you’ll try to achieve this year and in the future.

    4. Next, plan with measurable clarity—and execute, execute, execute. The goal here is to minimize ad hoc or reactive design changes—being proactive will save you money, even if you decide to wait to address certain issues.

    Flanigan concludes with, “There is no silver bullet for how and when to move to an ecommerce or omni-channel package. You may decide there are some issues you cannot, or choose not to, tackle with respect to optimal ecommerce packaging. The goal with this effort is to outline and understand those issues so you are making informed decisions about how they impact your business.”

    You can view the nearly 1-hour webinar, including the then-live Q&A, on-demand by clicking here.


    Learn about the latest developments in ecommerce packaging at MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis). Register today!

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    Productive engineers are (mostly) happy in their work

    Would you keep working if money was not an issue? Chances are, if you’re an engineer, you would. A high percentage of engineers say they are satisfied or very satisfied in their jobs, and believe hard work is a key to success. They have a few challenges, though, like trying to keep up with rapidly-changing technologies.

    The Advanced Manufacturing sector of UBM, parent of Packaging Digest, sponsored a study this spring to learn more about our engineering community. You can download results of the full study below to find out whether engineers identity more with inventors Tesla or Edison, and which superhero reflects their personalities most. You can also find out what they think about outsourcing, supplier competency, favorite social media platforms, most influential inventions and other current issues.

    The following insights come from this research and are just some highlights I thought would appeal to our packaging engineers.


    Happy workers

    Most engineers (82%) are satisfied or very satisfied with the work they do. Only 5% are dissatisfied or not at all satisfied.


    NEXT: Not in it for the money


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    Medical thermoform-fill-sealer is versatile

    The Medical 8000S thermoform-full-seal machine produces a wide range of packaging including flexible packaging, semi-rigid packaging, rigid packaging, modified atmosphere packaging and more. 


    The Medical 8000S thermoform-fill-seal (TFS) machine from Ossid (Battleboro, NC), a Pro Mach company, provides medical and dental product suppliers and co-packers with customizable packaging that improves throughput while lowering material costs.

    The Medical 8000S is rated at up to 20 cycles per minute for moderate to high production rate operations. It produces a variety of package types, including flexible packaging, foil-foil packaging, semi-rigid packaging, rigid packaging, ambient packaging, vacuum packaging, modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), recloseable packaging and more.

    Compared to horizontal flow-wrap systems, the Ossid Medical 8000S provides a faster, more efficient method of production. Customers who switch from flow wrapping to an Ossid TFS line will see a cost savings from thermoforming rather than purchasing pre-molded packaging.

    “When customers are replacing premade containers, they have savings in space and inventory costs,” says Jason Angel, vp sales and marketing, Ossid.

    Users have the option of specifying the PLC and HMI hardware best suited to their unique environment and application. For customers interested in the utmost in hands free operation, an innovative pick and place system is available.

    Angel tells Packaging Digest there are several machines are already in the field, though the names of customers are confidential.

    “This is an Allen-Bradley [Rockwell Automation] controls-based machine with non-proprietary components,” Angel points out. “It has capability with upstream and downstream processes utilizing Pro Mach complete systems and can utilize ZPI software, providing complete line efficiency reporting.”

    ZPI software (shown above) is an option that provides automated information, KPI dashboards, custom reporting and more related to operational efficiency. ZPI also offers on-the-go mobile access.

    The 8000S is built using a rugged stainless-steel platform for low vibration and precision movement for long years of service. A servo-motion controlled web conveying drive is another contributor to overall machine optimization and quality operation.

    Change parts are readily available as is expert technical support. Category 3 safety systems, ergonomically designed access to the forming and sealing stations, intuitive operator interface, automatic splice detection, and more, round out the machine’s standard features.

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    Packaging vision and execution define top award winners

    The top winners in this year’s Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP) AmeriStar Package Awards Competition showed the rest of us how it’s done, combining innovation with practicality and design creativity with real-life usability.

    The Best of Show Award went to Locked4Kids, for its child-resistant, senior-friendly drug package; Eaton’s Neo-Ray light fixture package was awarded the Design Excellence Award; and Sealed Air took home the Sustainable Packaging Award for its curbside-recyclable TempGuard Insulated Liners.

    The AmeriStar judges considered more than 80 packages in the 2017 competition. Their judging criteria included packaging innovation, product protection, performance, environmental impact, economics and marketing. See all the winners here.


    Best of Show: Locked4Kids certified child-resistant and senior-friendly reclosable package

    Locked4Kids, an entrant in the drug and pharmaceutical category, won Best of Show this year. The Best of Show Award “honors a package that surpasses all judging criteria and that [the AmeriStar] judges unanimously rated ‘outstanding’” on all criteria, according to IoPP. Locked4Kids’s award-winning package is child resistant (CR), senior friendly (SF) and reclosable.

    The package’s primary CR feature has a squeeze-and-pull design: The consumer must press two tabs simultaneously to access the medication inside the carton. Watch a demonstration here. Locked4Kids’ unique twist on the design is to place the tabs diagonally on either side of the carton, far enough apart that a child’s hand cannot span both tabs.

    Consumers press the tabs with one hand, and use their other hand to slide a plastic tray out of the carton. The tray holds medicine in a blister pack or other pack format. The package structure locks the filled tray into the carton and also locks the blister packs into the tray. To provide an extra layer of child resistance, the carton material incorporates a high-strength, tear-resistant film lamination that withstands tearing and biting. The package has an F=1 certification for child resistance.

    And yet the package is easy for adults, including seniors, to use. Very little grip strength is required to press the squeeze-and-pull tabs, and an adult’s hand can easily reach both tabs. In tests, 100% of seniors opened the package on the first try and with no instructions.

    “The most challenging element of the design process was the fine-tuning to achieve a very high score on Child Resistant whilst maintaining a 100% score on Senior Friendliness,” says Iwan Heynen, technical director at Locked4Kids. “We continued this process even after the package was certified, which is the AmeriStar-winning Locked4Kids version 2.0 package.”

    Notably, the package is compatible with high-speed production. “The most innovative element is the fact that the CR/SF packaging platform is based with a ‘standard’ folding carton,” Heynen says. “This allows the drug manufacturer and packager to efficiently fill the cartons with their existing cartoning equipment, which minimizes the time, space and investment involved with adopting a new package format.”

    He adds, “On the materials side, most folding carton converters have the capability to make the Locked4Kids cartons, which allows supply-chain efficiency.” Both the carton and tray are recyclable.

    The package concept can also be used for many types of products.

    Locked4Kids is based in The Netherlands and operates a Delaware-based U.S. subsidiary.


    Next: Eaton’s Design Excellence Award



    Create your own award-worthy package with help from leading suppliers. Find them at or meet them in person at MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis), which is celebrating its 15th year. Register today!


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