If you intend to automate, you’ll need packaging that is machine-compatible – in other words, packaging that can be easily processed in the system. In addition to the demands that are made on product packaging by transport, sales and consumers, automation adds yet another. With professional packaging development from an experienced partner like Schubert, manufacturers can optimise their packaging in such a way that they benefit from automation in several ways. For example, in terms of sustainability and future security.
“Does this package come without plastic?” In addition to the challenges of producing even more efficiently, more flexibly and faster within the budgetary framework, this question highlights another essential requirement for manufacturers. The market and end consumers have noticeably increased pressure when it comes to sustainable packaging materials. For a long time, the popular plastics appeared to be the ideal material for packaging development: They are inexpensive to produce, can be shaped precisely, are versatile, very lightweight and, above all, impermeable. For many products that must be protected from external influences in order to maintain their quality, impermeability is one of the most important criteria for good packaging. But the adverse effects of plastics production can no longer be denied – and environmental protection has become paramount. Valentin Köhler, responsible for packaging development at Schubert, confirms this: “Plastic as a packaging material has been under critical scrutiny for a good ten years now.”
The current trend in packaging development is undeniable: Wherever plastic can be dispensed with in packaging, it is now being replaced by cardboard. There are numerous examples: from perforated trays for yoghurt pots, to trays with integrated dividers or shingle racks for biscuits, to inserts for product securing and wrap-around cartons for beverages. But the new solution is actually one that has been around for a while. Cardboard, the classic material for packaging over decades, is in fact one of the most sustainable: Thanks to wood, the renewable raw material, and the high recycling rate, the efficiency of cardboard is exceptionally high. Valentin Koehler explains: “Today, the only requirement for the use of plastic is the impermeability of packaging to ensure a longer product shelf life.” This can be seen in the case of films for flow-wrapped packaging, where paper-based alternatives are still in the early stages of development.
In Europe, the trend towards cardboard has already become very significant due to rigorous legal requirements. Packaging machine manufacturer Schubert is also experiencing this. “Cardboard is now in even greater demand by manufacturers,” confirms Valentin Köhler. With this in mind, it is a good time to rethink your packaging – and all the more if you’re planning automation. Especially in the concept development phase of a new packaging machine, there is a great deal of scope for assessing your product packaging – also regarding sustainability – and to use more cardboard in packaging development. As a packaging machine manufacturer who worked mainly with cardboard as early as 50 years ago, Schubert can draw on a wealth of experience and expertise with the material. This is clearly reflected in its highly flexible packaging machines: Many Schubert lines can process both plastic and cardboard packaging. A prerequisite here is packaging that is developed to be machine compatible. At Schubert, Valentin Köhler has taken on this function in the area of carton packaging development. It doesn’t matter whether the customer comes to Schubert with final product packaging, a specific development order or a certain openness to modifications to existing packaging. Only the packaging for very delicate and fragile products is sometimes difficult to implement with cardboard and may require a compromise between the parties involved. But Valentin Köhler is convinced: “It is practically always possible to develop a machine-compatible functional alternative made from cardboard”.
In general, Schubert’s customer advisors choose from a pool of some ten basic designs with proven packaging types and draw on their experience to obtain an initial idea of the packaging. The design is then carried out in a CAD system, the results of which are agreed upon with the customer as one or more samples.
For packaging machines such as those from Schubert, both the blank and the size of the packaging are important. Because, although most cartons are rectangular-shaped, with specific dimensions in length, width and height, the blanks can vary greatly. This has an impact on the functioning of the carton erector in the packaging machine, as well as on the magazine plates from which the robot takes the flat blanks. The magazine in the carton erector is what determines the performance of the entire line. The more blanks fit next to each other in a magazine so that the robot can access them at the same time, the more output can be achieved in the system.
For machine-compatible packaging, the design of the carton is therefore key during packaging development. But of course, the other requirements for transport and sales must also be met. This is why Schubert’s experts work closely with the customer’s packaging supplier when developing a new type of packaging and are constantly involved in discussions. For example, customer requests for material-saving or more cost-effective solutions, for other packaging formats, more marketing space on the packaging for the point of sale, or for more efficient transport solutions with a larger number of products per secondary packaging can also be implemented. The development of a new type of packaging therefore holds a great deal of potential for customers which can be exploited, and not only in terms of sustainability and future-proof packaging.
For Valentin Köhler, the topic of future sustainability in packaging development has long since reached the machine manufacturers. “The turnaround towards sustainable packaging solutions is not only in sight, but in full swing,” says the packaging expert. Machine builders who want to take advantage of this trend should plan and design new systems now with a view to later upgrades. We can all still speculate about where the journey with sustainable materials will lead. As practical as cardboard may seem now, there are other options that are being researched. For example, in the area of upcycling: What inexpensive, simple waste product could provide the basis for an entirely new packaging material? A little insider tip is grass paper. The proportion of green waste in such papers is already up to 30 per cent. This is an approach with which the packaging industry may take the next step towards sustainability in the future.