Transformation around Every Corner, Panel, Liner, Tuck, Fold and Closure
Predicting the future is usually about as useful as resisting the forces of science and Mother Nature.
But as the end of 2020 draws to a close with a long-awaited glimmer of hope sparked by development of COVID-19 vaccines, it’s time to lift the heavy veil of gloom that has made it such a year to forget, without ever forgetting the lessons it has taught us so cruelly.
With most wealthy economies around the world bound to remain stuck in their downward spirals at least until global vaccination efforts achieve the sort of herd immunity levels we need to return to some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, focusing on the future at leasts offers a much needed release valve for a year’s worth of sadness and anxiety many of us feel today.
And for the packaging and labeling industries, at least, the future looks much better than the present feels, according to a landmark new report released a few weeks ago by leading supply chain industry group MHI (Material Handling Industries).
Aptly tiled Transformation Age: Shaping Your Future, the comprehensive study is a must-read for all material handling, logistics and supply chain professionals of all stripes, and that includes the global packaging industry that suddenly finds itself at the center of global public and regulatory scrutiny on the account of its allegedly oversized environmental footprint.
And that’s perfectly okay with us. If one accepts the premise that no publicity is the worst publicity, the public’s misguided distrust in the inherently good and noble aims and purposes that packaging fulfils can and should be answered in the court of global public opinion in coming years, if for no other reason than just to show how far the role and function of packaging has evolved over the last decade, which has been nothing short of transformational.
“Over the last decade, packaging and labeling have shifted from being commodity elements to value-added products and solutions that serve key expectations from industrial, commercial and consumer customers,” the report states.
“The experience of package shipping, unloading, opening and disposal are now differentiators in product and service delivery [and] innovation and growth in these solutions will escalate over the next 10 years.
“This growth will come with added Transformation around every corner, panel, liner, tuck, fold and closure pressures to meet demands related to shipping characteristics, smart automation, competitive costs, customer preferences and product value.”
The report quotes Sealed Air Corporation’s president Ted Doheny’s recent remarks about the profound impact that the unfolding digitalization and the Internet of Things have already had on the packaging supply chain that no one could foresee 10 years ago.
“How does a package communicate with people who want to know what is inside, when it was filled, how much it weighs, whether it was stolen, and whether the contents are nearing their expiration?”, says Doheny, urging companies to focus on development of new interfaces between packaging and technologies, such as blockchain.
“Packaging companies can use digital tools that note exactly when something went into a package,” he explains. “We can own that information and share it with customers, so they can trace the inputs and track the package.
“By providing that information, blockchain helps us add value,” says Doheny, noting that smart automation also requires new rules and practices for packaging to be addressed in different ways than those used in the past with a human workforce.
As Doheny points out, “A robot hand might not be as soft as a human hand, so what packaging is required?
“We may have to design for both robots and humans.”
There are multiple of factors are driving this growth and shaping sector innovation, according to MHI, including e-commerce, digitization, sustainability, margin pressures and customer preferences for convenience, customization, safety and security.
As the study asserts, “More retail packaged goods brands will emerge as leaders in sustainability, responding to customer demands and driving packaging and labeling innovations.
“Greater integration of this philosophy into design, sourcing, production, shipping and merchandising practices will mark this decade for significant progress in positive supply chain value.”
And on that upbeat note, Happy New Year to all!