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Preparing for the new normal

10 August 2020

Packaging equipment could have a big role to play in helping food businesses adapt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, says Steve Jones

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on lives throughout the world, resulting in both tremendous personal suffering and major economic damage.

Whatever the timeline might be, most commentators agree that ultimately it will change some aspects of our lives forever and ‘normality’ may look a lot different when we finally emerge from the pandemic.

Managing change is a fundamental part of business life and although no one could have foreseen the huge impact of the pandemic, it will be companies that are best able to adapt to the ‘new normal’ which will have the best chance of success going forward.

Indeed, before the pandemic, successful businesses viewed change as an opportunity – planning for it and anticipating it were important elements of an ongoing growth strategy.

Change has informed a lot of new product development at Ishida.  Since its first multihead weigher was introduced in the early 1970s, the company has launched no fewer than 20 new ranges of weighers – each one building on the capabilities of the preceding one as they reflected the changing requirements of the food industry.

There have been many significant developments in the food industry over the past 50 years. Trends such as convenience foods and the growth in ready meals have been accompanied by increased competition and the need for businesses to maximise productivity and reduce inefficiencies.

To help meet these challenges, many packing lines have become more integrated, 
with the ability of machines to link together and be centrally controlled – which is a key factor in being able to deliver improved production efficiencies and increased throughput. 

A more recent development, where packing equipment manufacturers have been equally proactive, has been the drive for more sustainable solutions. 

To take one of our own examples, in terms of energy efficiency, the most recent Ishida multihead weigher range offers a power consumption reduction of approximately 20% over previous models, and the company’s latest X-ray inspection systems have a built-in feature that puts the machines into stand-by mode following spells of inactivity.

Reducing waste
Another sustainability consideration where the packaging industry can make a significant contribution is that of food waste. It is now common knowledge that one third of the food produced is wasted on an annual basis. To put this into context, if just one-quarter of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. 

Packaging materials and equipment has an important role to play in reducing food waste. In terms of food protection and preservation, modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) has extended the shelf life of many products. Many tray sealer models are able to incorporate the gas as part of the sealing process, while seal testers which are able to check the integrity of the pack seal to ensure that gas added in the packaging process will be contained within the pack. New pack styles are being introduced that reduce the amount of materials used and also add to the recyclable content, while developments in films used within Vertical Form, Fill and Seal (VFFS) machines are seeing an increase in their recyclable content.

So, as we prepare to enter a brave new world, and one that is hopefully coronavirus-free, packing equipment suppliers should be well-placed to support the changing needs of the food manufacturing sector. 

For example, one of the more recent innovations has seen the introduction of an evolving array of data products which enable machine manufacturers and their customers (with the permission of the customers) to access machine and line performance data. 

This has proven to be a useful tool during the pandemic, giving with the ability to provide remote diagnostics and maintenance to keep lines running without the need for a visit; and the availability of line data will help manufacturers advise their customers on the best ways to optimise OEE. This will be particularly beneficial as businesses continue to more towards more automated and integrated solutions as part of Industry 4.0.

Change is an important part of business continuity and growth, and companies constantly monitor, learn and adapt to what is important to their customers.

The level of change may have been unprecedented in the past few months but working together and focusing on the key requirements of this new world will be fundamental to driving the recovery.

Steve Jones is marketing director at Ishida Europe.

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