Author: Terri Ghio
The United States has one of the fastest growing packaging markets in the world and is expected to have an annual growth rate of 3.5% between 2021 to 2026. In March 2022, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the manufacturing industry is creating more jobs than are being lost. But with business booming there is in insufficient labor pool resulting in companies struggling to staff all their positions.
Since 2020, there has been a trend termed ‘The Great Resignation’ where employees are quitting their jobs en masse. Many employees have been experiencing dissatisfaction with their careers and have switched jobs, retired early, or pursued continuing education to combat this lack of satisfaction. The pandemic gave individuals a chance to reflect on priorities for their careers and many employees decided they wanted better opportunities, higher wages and more flexible hours.
Factory workers appear to be frustrated by a lack of recognition and monotonous jobs. Data visibility on the floor and smart manufacturing solutions can help alleviate this frustration. Modern smart sensors can measure vibration, temperature, cycle time and many other variables associated with equipment to capture and compare raw data to key performance indicators (KPIs), thus evaluating performance in near real-time. With smart sensors and artificial intelligence providing more visibility, operators can identify issues on the production line to help prevent unanticipated machine downtimes and be more agile in the face of unexpected disruptions – and have a better work shift experience.
Manufacturers in the packaging industry need a fully connected solution that unifies all data points across the facility to continuously assess and improve operations. Industry 4.0 can help automate tasks in production and allow captured data to empower operators to take corrective actions in real-time. Smart solutions can help manufacturers gain agility, enabling them to better respond to disruptive circumstances.
Here are three ways that Industry 4.0 solutions can help mid-sized manufacturers in the packaging industry overcome difficulties heightened by The Great Resignation.
1. Use Technology to Fill Labor Gaps
Smart manufacturing can increase employee satisfaction by creating more fulfilling production jobs and filling labor gaps with smart solutions. Industry 4.0 solutions can help companies stabilize operations against future disruptions by increasing visibility and responsiveness on the production floor. Smart manufacturing solutions can not only fill the operational gaps left by widespread labor shortages, but also create a more positive work environment by providing newly available technology tools and information to operators and supervisors alike.
Technology can reduce manual tasks and give employees opportunities to learn new essential skills. Smart factory solutions can combine factory floor data and IIoT, and enable workers to readily access training and machine instructions. This should help improve employee satisfaction and collaboration, while creating an environment that will make it easier to attract new skilled workers. Ultimately, it is all about the people and manufacturers need to optimize their existing and future workforce to achieve the agility required for future success.
2. Reduce Data Silos
The United States packaging industry is highly competitive with steadily increasing consumer demand on products and extensive lead times between product creation and customer purchase. Industry 4.0 can help manufacturers keep up, or surpass, their peers, by reducing data silos through pulling all data into one interactive platform. A centralized data repository simplifies access to information allowing operators to keep better track of inventory, supplier orders and production process progress.
Siloed infrastructures making implementing changes difficult as information does not easily flow across the siloed systems. If manufacturers want to empower operators and supervisors to make decisions on the fly, they must provide on-line access to critical information, along with technology tools that empower them to interact. Breaking down internal data silos can lead to better decision making across the company since it makes data more accessible to all. By focusing on smart manufacturing, employers can better match consumer demand, shift schedules to meet demand spikes, and enable their workforce to be prepared for any outcome.
3. Increase Sustainability
Consumers and employees alike are becoming more environmentally conscious and Industry 4.0 solutions can help reduce waste in the packaging industry. This industry has a high potential for wasted product due to production errors and long-turnaround times from creation to final consumer packaging. For example, up to one third of food product recalls are due to artwork errors because of incorrect or missing allergen information.
With a focus on sustainability, 4.0 can help companies transition toward processing more environmentally friendly materials with more demanding designs without slowing down production. Industry 4.0 solutions can also help with quality control at each step in the process. E-commerce and the delivery of products has increased the complexity of packaging operations and businesses must adopt smarter methods to keep up and achieve sustainability goals.
An Eye to the Future
The packaging industry has been a driving force in the global economy, enabling goods to be safely processed and transported quickly from warehouses to consumers’ homes. The boom in ecommerce, brought on by the pandemic, has brought more challenges and opportunities to the packaging industry than ever before.
Simultaneously, the Great Resignation has created some obstacles that can be eased by the deployment of Industry 4.0 solutions. These obstacles are forcing packaging producers to get creative in the search for ways to develop new, more profitable business and operational models while not sacrificing operational efficiency.
The global packaging industry is evolving to create more cost-efficient and consumer friendly packaging. Organizations that leverage the power of Industry 4.0 can work faster and smarter, conserving resources while remaining agile in an industry where time is everything.
Author: Terri Ghio