Managing production data, supported by fast-paced innovation, addresses the need to gain control of a more connected value chain and streamline fully integrated factories. Machine builders, software solution and technology providers are running at high-speed towards the future of production. Libby White reports.

The driving force

So, what is behind this thirst for knowledge? Mattias Johansson, director of integration services at Tetra Pak points to millennials, the most connected generation yet, as the catalyst behind the trend for a more connected value chain.

“They are increasingly concerned about what they are eating and where their food comes from,” he points out. “Consumers will benefit from high quality products that are fully traceable. Technology will provide customers fully integrated factories- increasing reliability and mitigating errors.”

From an insider’s perspective, Esko’s Jan De Roeck, looks towards millennials employed in the sector, and goes so far as to say, “Today’s Generation-I and millennials simply expect intuitive tools and software to complement their work. We really are only at the beginning of the potential of the digital packaging sector.” It seems millennials are conducive to progress from both sides of the coin- from inside the industry and their own pertinent demands as consumers.

In fact, there has been a huge leap within the last five years with regards to the requirements of machine builders - from both end users and the supply chain that feeds into them, explains Mike Loughran, chief technology officer - UK & Ireland, Rockwell Automation. He points out that traditionally, a producer of food or beverage (as an example) would design their production line and then approach various vendors to find the best solution. “Now machines are essentially stand-alone, and there’s a requirement for those machines to be data-enabled to fit into the wider supply chain.”

Speed to market is another very real factor relying more and more on data-enabled production. “Operations now need to be performed in near real-time. If you can understand your production line in this timescale, then you can predict and prescribe the performance and sustainability of your machinery,” Mike Loughran explains.

Data is power

The advantages of investing into management systems for production data are complex- ultimately pointing towards streamlining operations across all sectors of the packaging and print industry and the supply chain.

In order to understand why holding data in the palm of your hands is so crucial, we asked Matt Francklow, managing director, Creation Reprographics Ltd, specialists in packaging artwork, reprographics and plate production, why they invested in a web-based management software- Esko WebCenter, and Esko Automation Engine, a modular prepress automation software solution:

“To completely digitalise the management of data from input of client specs to the business through to production and shipping. The number of incoming jobs for clients is increasing, with faster turnaround requirements. Brands are trying to keep up by producing new and different products to capture market share. This is great for business but means increasing complexity in trying to keep up with the number and variety of jobs required in ever shorter lead times.”

For companies like Creation, having automated processes and software to interpret data is the key to keeping costs down, driving efficiency and ensuring it maintains its reputation for service and quality.

Those companies that build smart, learning organisations that truly create integrated automation from incoming order through to shipping, with automated decision making and trend analyses, will be able to generate new and innovative ways to differentiate their businesses in the future. Data may be the key to delivering long term competitive advantage.

Jan De Roeck, marketing director – Industry Relations & Strategy, Esko, supports this view, “To manage operational efficiency, quality and costs means converters require dedicated and professional software tools to accurately collect and collate information to inform decision making in automated workflows. An important component of such software technology is the ability to connect different software tools with each other and reduce data duplication in the process.”

Visions of the future

Tetra Pak has recently shared its vision of the factory of the future. Its key development areas made possible by new solutions to managing production data are the connected workforce and advanced analytics. Empowered with wearable technology, local Tetra Pak service engineers at customer sites are now able to connect directly with Tetra Pak specialists around the globe wherever they are, providing real-time, expert support to customers.

When it comes to advanced analytics, data from filling lines around the world is collected into a central database from where it can be accessed and analysed by a team of Tetra Pak’s global experts. The robust database means that advanced analysis can be used to predict issues and optimise machine performance.

Mattias Johansson explains. “Our solutions to managing production data have been enabled through our collaboration with partners. By connecting packaging lines to Microsoft Azure, Tetra Pak collects operational data to help predict informed maintenance timing. If repairs are needed, Tetra Pak service engineers use Microsoft HoloLens headsets to diagnose and fix machine issues, even in remote locations.”

In the factory of the future, machines will be able to communicate with each other as well as with the digital systems of the entire operation, automatically taking on tasks such as diagnosing problems, ordering and delivering parts, and looking for an engineer who is most suitable for the service needed. The technology builds on previous measures to bring the benefits of digitisation to the food and beverage industry, such as the launch of Tetra Pak Plant Secure and condition monitoring.

Siemens has brought to the table its cloud-based, open IoT operating system: MindSphere. It connects products, plants, systems, and machines, enabling customers to harness the wealth of data generated by the Internet of Things with advanced analytics. MindSphere connects real things to the digital world and provides powerful industry applications and digital services to help drive business success.

In turn, the digital twin of performance is constantly fed with operational data from products or the production plant. This allows information like status data from machines and energy consumption data from manufacturing systems to be constantly monitored. This makes it possible to perform predictive maintenance to prevent downtime and optimise energy consumption. At the same time, data-driven knowledge about systems like MindSphere can be fed back into the entire value chain all the way to the product system. This generates a completely closed decision-making loop for a continuous optimisation process.

Beyond the data

The future of packaging is digital, according to Mattias Johansson:

“Driven by the trends behind Industry 4.0, and with code generation, digital printing and data management at its core, the connected packaging platform will also bring new benefits to food producers and retailers.” The packaging industry has surely adopted managing production data, and the full scale potential of a more connected supply chain and integrated factories remains to be seen once all the dots have been connected.

We are left with a stark caution from Esko’s Jan De Roeck, “Industry 4.0 is here – those companies that fail to embrace software and technology will be unable to compete in what is an ever more complex packaging and print industry.”