The business case for case packing automation

by | Feb 1, 2023 | News

The last couple of years have taught us that end-of-line automation is far from a medium-term aspiration, it needs to be a short-term imperative. David Jahn at packaging specialist Brillopak explains why.

About David Jahn

Focused on serving the fresh-produce sector, David Jahn, co-owner of Brillopak with business partner Peter Newman, is passionate about assisting packhouses to address labour shortages, profitability and operational efficiency.

Part entrepreneur, part innovator, part director, David has a good grasp of how economic and political decisions impact business and society globally, particularly in the logistics, manufacturing and packing sectors.

Building systems for a diverse client base – including leading UK supermarkets, SME food factories, and contract packers – David gets that no single approach to automation is right for every business or budget. He provides a fresh perspective and insight, applying his previous experience gained from launching a business, being a technology company Board Director and working in risk-management consultancy.

Companies that had already deployed automation before Covid not only weathered the storm far more effectively, but they also came out the other side fully prepared for the new market forces that followed.

A case in point would be packaging machinery such as end-of-line case packaging, which has historically relied on manual labour. The problem with manual labour at this level is that it tends to ebb and flow and even in times of calm, it takes effort to source train and then maintain a workforce.

Labour skill and shortage

These issues were (and still are) compounded by the double-edged sword that is Brexit and Covid, both of which removed traditional labour sources, not just from UK markets, but also those in other countries due to social distancing and reverse migration. The good labour simply went home, and many companies are struggling to replace them.

The risk here is do you employ from an unknown labour pool, or do you pay extra for those that you know can do the job? How much time do you devote to sourcing labour? How much of this time is from management? Would this time be more profitably spent managing instead?

Quality, consistency, predictability

Another major positive from packaging machine automation is consistency. Automated case packing is controllable, predictable and far more measurable, and in the vast majority of cases this consistency is more important than speed. It’s not that speed is not important, but throughput cannot be for the sake of repeatable quality.

Packers need a balance of operational metrics that work in sympathy with downstream systems and satisfy the needs of upstream deliveries too. By maintaining predictable flows, lines can be balanced, controlled and predicted far more easily and efficiently. This predictability is essential for vegetable packaging and other fresh produce too. Modern supermarkets (and consumers) are driven by shelf life, which is far more controllable with automated solutions.

Better vision-based QA

Long shelf lives become moot if the quality is not there; and it is in quality assurance (QA) that automation excels too. Automated case packers using camera-driven QA are more efficient than a human pair of eyes. Humans get distracted, bored and tired and when this happens, QA issues arise. We have proven this point with customers in the past, by running people and our packaging vision systems in parallel. Not only did the vision systems win convincingly, but they also collected a lot more digitalised batch-specific information too – now an essential element of modern digital chains.

Health, safety and stamina

Automation excels over manual operators in other areas too. The robots in robotic packaging machinery don’t tire, need holidays or take coffee breaks. They are also unsusceptible to repetitive-strain injuries, bad backs and can carry and manipulate heavier, more awkward loads all day, every day. They are also a lot tidier. You will never see a robot surreptitiously drop packaging material on the floor for someone else to clean up later.

Some of these points may seem minor, but small issues soon add up to be big problems. Similarly, small gains soon add up to become business advantages. You may have 101 reasons for not pushing for automation sooner, but modern market forces mean that these excuses need to be reassessed.

Speak to our packaging-automation specialists with no obligation and we can take you through your potential automation journey, how phased automation using a holistic approach allows you to grow at your pace, how to get packaging technology right first time and how packaging automation will revolutionise your operations. And don’t just take our word for it, see what we have achieved for many leading companies in these packaging case studies.