Providing clarity in unprecedented times
2023 marks the start of a crucial time for the packaging industry. With a murky economic outlook and several unprecedented pieces of landmark sustainability legislation about to come into force, this year’s industry trends can provide a path forward in these uncertain times.
As the global packaging and packaging machinery industries prepare to network at Birmingham NEC for Packaging Innovations & Empack, Featuring Contract Pack & Fulfilment, these trends are likely to be hot topics that drive conversations on the show floor.
eCommerce won’t stop – but it will slow.
For several years, eCommerce has seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut – and the pandemic only turbocharged its growth. While this growth will continue, there are some signs of this juggernaut hitting the brakes – even if only slightly.
Consumers in several key national markets report spending less online as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. Reporting from consumer research platform Attest showed that in the US, 25% of consumers spent less online in 2022, while over 50% were deterred from shopping D2C by delivery costs. In the UK, meanwhile, 58% reduced their spending on non-essential items in 2022, and while only 8% of consumers said they were looking to shop more in person, less than half said they continued to make at least one online purchase a week. Figures from across Europe tell a similar story.
In this environment of rising material costs and falling consumer spending, it’s more important than ever to find efficiencies throughout packaging manufacture, converting, and the supply chain. Optimising packaging through the use of smart technology and innovative materials – such as lightweighted or flexible substrates - will become a key route to success in 2023. Streamlining production lines with next-generation, Industry 4.0-ready solutions will also help businesses maintain healthy profit margins throughout an uncertain year by minimising waste and labour costs.
Automation becomes essential
In this climate, the cost of any mistakes is amplified by a factor of thousands. In the high-stakes market of 2023, being able to account for simple human error is no longer enough – these errors must be eliminated wherever possible. Automation will cease to be a way for businesses to get ahead – in 2023, it will become essential for businesses to keep up.
Automated palletising, shrink wrapping, and auto-bagging solutions, such as those offered by Adpak Machinery, are set to become vital over the next few years. These next-generation solutions will service a wide range of sectors as they can cope with packs of all shapes and sizes to ensure minimal disruption through the supply chain. This also helps minimise waste by making every pallet of raw material go a little bit further.
Recent generational leaps in AI have turbocharged more than just production machinery and robotics. They have greatly enhanced quality control in the print and finishing sector, too. Software like Esko’s Automation Engine facilitates a smooth prepress process for printing artwork on everything from folding cartons to flexible pouches. This software can deliver packaging projects to the press up to 50% faster by automating time-consuming quality control tasks like bleed management, image resolutions, and so on.
ESG policies make an impact
As today’s consumers – especially Gen Z consumers, who are rapidly maturing into the world’s spending superpower – grow increasingly socially conscious and environmentally aware, all three letters in ESG are set to become even more important in 2023.
Having a firm Environmental, Social, and Governance policy that is publicly accessible is only a small part of the puzzle. Placing the operational frameworks in place to make that ESG policy more than a box-ticking exercise is arguably the key challenge facing the packaging industry in 2023, especially in the current financial climate.
One way to respond to this trend is to future-proof machinery investments by making sure they can easily be modified to be compatible with a wide range of materials. At a time when research and development in sustainable substrates and packaging materials have never been faster, this allows converters and manufacturers to offer their customers more sustainable solutions – perhaps even ones that are yet to make it to market.
While the Environmental part of ESG tends to get most of the spotlight due to the global drive for sustainability, a good ESG policy should be more holistic in nature. It must consider things like employee safety and wellbeing in order to meet the demands of today’s consumers. Asset and people safety, utilising safekeeping services like Houweling Group, will become a crucial plank in many ESG policies in 2023.
New technology breaks through
Economic uncertainty, evolving consumer behaviour, and increased pressure to become more sustainable mean businesses are faced with a puzzle. The only solution to this puzzle is innovation.
Innovative thinking allows businesses to streamline their packaging operations with minimal extra cost. It also ensures any costs that are incurred lead to enhanced productivity and profitability in the future. Packaging technology is a constantly evolving field that can enhance productivity in a variety of ways, some of which are obvious – a more efficient slitter, for example, means less waste is produced during labelmaking – while others are less obvious.
One example of this outside-the-box innovation is vacuum lifting technology from TAWI, part of the global Piab Group. Vacuum lifters use suction to create a hermetic seal that can lift sheets, cartons, and boxes and move them at high speed, offering improved productivity and safety compared to existing material handling solutions.
This is just one of the many innovations that will shape the future of packaging. This future will be on show at Packaging Innovations & Empack, Featuring Contract Pack & Fulfilment where attendees will be able to explore the leading edge of packing and filling technology for themselves.
The event is free for attendees and takes place at the Birmingham NEC on 15 & 16 February. To book your attendance now, visit www.packagingbirmingham.com.