Automated packaging lines drive sustainability goals forward

  • Articles
  • Aug 18,22
Packaging is a common source of waste and inefficiency, so improving these processes can have far-reaching benefits. Embracing automation in these areas can help manufacturers become more sustainable faster and more effective, writes Emily Newton.
Automated packaging lines drive sustainability goals forward

Ensuring future success as a manufacturer hinges in part on a company’s sustainability initiatives. Customers in consumer and commercial markets want greener products, so manufacturing facilities must adapt to reduce their footprints. Automated packaging lines can help achieve those goals.

Packaging is a common source of waste and inefficiency, so improving these processes can have far-reaching benefits. One of the best ways to enable those improvements is through automation. The two factors may seem unrelated initially, but automation can enhance packaging line sustainability in several ways. Here’s a closer look.

Higher precision
The primary way automated packaging lines drive sustainability is through their precision. Reducing total plastics in a package is the second most common waste initiative among manufacturers, accounting for 26% of commitments. Less material means lines must take more care to avoid damage, which automation enables.

Automated systems are typically far more precise than humans. They also outperform workers in delivering the same level of quality over time, especially with repetitive tasks. As a result, they’re ideal for managing things with less room for error, like packaging with less material.

Similarly, automated systems can cut packaging materials more precisely to ensure they use as much as possible. This minimizes waste, improving the line’s overall sustainability.

Fewer errors
Relatedly, automating these processes also reduces waste by preventing workflow errors. Manufacturing is the largest and fastest-growing industrial waste source, and much of it comes from quality issues. Consequently, by reducing mistakes, manufacturers will minimize what they throw out, becoming more resource-efficient.

Automating the packaging line removes human error from the process. People are inherently error-prone in these repetitive workflows because they can easily get bored, tired or distracted. Robots can avoid these mistakes.

Automated lines may still produce defects, but they’ll create fewer of them. Manufacturers will then ensure that more of their materials go to high-quality packaging that serves its entire life cycle instead of going to scrap.

Process improvement
Another environmental advantage of automated packaging lines is their ability to enable long-term improvements. These machines generate hard data on where errors or inefficiencies arise. Manufacturers can then address these issues to become more sustainable.

Automation offers more effective and consistent quality control than manual approaches. Consequently, automated lines can spot defects more reliably and understand where they come from through data analysis. That makes it easier to fine-tune the process or machines in the error-prone area to prevent similar waste in the future.

These gradual improvements are important because one solution is rarely perfect. There is almost always room to grow in any process, and automation’s data generation and analysis can help find this room.

Shorter lead times
Automation’s efficiency can also help manufacturers achieve their sustainability goals. Automated machines are better at repetitive tasks than manual processes, so they can deliver the same results faster. In addition to being a helpful business advantage, that speed leads to more efficient energy consumption.

Scrapped materials are far from the only source of waste in packaging lines. Traditional workflows may also create energy waste by taking longer than necessary to produce boxes and then insert products into them. Manufacturers that shorten their lead times will reduce this wasted power usage.

An automated line will produce higher volumes in less time, minimizing the level of energy expenditure per product. Manufacturers can then either create more without increasing power consumption as much or shorten the time they leave machines on, reducing electrical use.

Easier transitions to new packaging
Some manufacturers may make their packaging more sustainable by switching to new designs or materials. Automation can help these initiatives reach their full potential by minimizing disruption. People often think of robotics as less flexible than humans, but they can adjust to a new system easier than humans in some scenarios.

It can take as long as six hours to convert assembly lines to new products with entirely manual workflows. A collaborative system using people and robots shortens that time by combining human flexibility with automation’s speed. The line can then resume work faster.

Automated packaging lines also reduce complications that may arise after a transition. Switching to a new system or product can lead to more manual work errors because people must learn new habits. Robots only need one reprogramming or adjustment and they’ll perform the work perfectly from that moment on, speeding the transition to new, more sustainable workflows.

Automated packaging lines improve sustainability
Automated packaging lines are more than a way to improve the business side of manufacturing. They can also help manufacturers make the most of their sustainability initiatives through speed, precision, data generation and customization.

Manufacturers that want to go green must address their packaging. Embracing automation in these areas will help them become more sustainable faster and more effective. They can then protect the environment and ensure success in a more eco-conscious market.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily.

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