Integrators play central role in packaging automation

Packaging is a specialty that manufacturers in virtually every industry must address. To some, it means skids, shrinkwrap and labels. To others, it includes complex "recipes" of materials, sizes, cartons and containers. Control Engineering and Packaging Digest set out to investigate this dynamic market through the Automation in Packaging Benchmark Study, a three-part, year-long research projec...
By Control Engineering Staff December 1, 2008
Sidebars:
Research Methodology
Key Findings
Packagers Speak Out on System Integrators

Packaging is a specialty that manufacturers in virtually every industry must address. To some, it means skids, shrinkwrap and labels. To others, it includes complex “recipes” of materials, sizes, cartons and containers. Control Engineering and Packaging Digest set out to investigate this dynamic market through the Automation in Packaging Benchmark Study, a three-part, year-long research project conducted by Reed Research Group. This 360° overview of the state of packaging automation reveals the technology, market drivers and business issues affecting packagers, equipment builders and system integrators.

In Vol. 1, published in April 2008, research results came from the packagers and brand owners themselves. Vol. 2, published in August, focused on packaging equipment builders.

This is Vol. 3, and it focuses on system integrators. This small, but influential group provides hands-on help for system design, manufacture and installation. They also offer multi-industry insights to help packagers obtain the optimal solution for automating their production.

Complete results from all three volumes of the Automation in Packaging Benchmark Study, as well as other resources based on the research, can be found online at www.controleng.com/automationresearch or www.packagingdigest.com/automationresearch . Watch for release of the Webcast summarizing and contrasting all three studies in mid-December.

Types of automation

Package handling 69%
Palletizing/unitizing 69%
Conveying 65%
Cartoning 63%
Labeling 59%
Marking/coding 55%
Product inspection 53%
Fill form/fill/seal 51%
Casing 47%
Robotics 45%
Overwrapping 33%
Other 2%
Multiple choices allowed

Areas where integrators claim automation experience

Multiple choices allowed
HMIs and industrial PCs 80%
Motors drives and motion control 78%
Application and programming software 71%
Instrumentation and control components 65%
Networks and communications hardware and software 55%
Process and advanced control 53%
Machine and embedded controllers 43%

Steps in a packaging automation project

1. Opportunity identification
2. Conceptual design
3. Detailed design
4. Installation/implementation
5. Troubleshooting



Most important automation and control product attributes

Multiple choices allowed
Reliability (e.g. performance) 55%
Price-to-performance value 45%
Quality/durability (e.g. long lasting) 39%
Easy to use, install and maintain 31%
Compatibility with existing systems 27%
Product specifications 24%
Long term cost of ownership 18%
Price 18%
Scalability 10%
Enhances speed of changeover (line) 10%
Products performed well during in-house testing 4%
Offers development tools 2%
Lot tracking/tracing capabilities 2%
Other 2%

Which brand-related characteristics are most important when evaluating automation vendors?

Multiple choices allowed
Technical support 53%
Previous experience with vendor 51%
Vendor reputation/known brand name/longevity 49%
On-time delivery 37%
Product availability 37%
Breadth of product line 20%
24×7 service and support 18%
Vendor’s partnerships 16%
Offers remote, diagnostic support 16%
Global support 10%
Specialized product line 8%
R&D/innovation 8%
Other 2%


Ethernet protocols supported

Multiple choices allowed
EtherNet/IP 90%
Modbus TCP 43%
ProfiNet 43%
Foundation Fieldbus 20%
SERCOS III 15%
PowerLink 10%
EtherCAT 8%
Other 8%

Research Methodology

Data for Vol. 3 of the Packaging Digest and Control Engineering 2008 Automation in Packaging Benchmark Study were gathered over a two-week period in early November 2008. Respondents came from the subscriber base of the following magazines and E-newsletters: Packaging Digest, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering and Converting.

Subscribers were invited by Email to complete a Web-based questionnaire. Respondents were qualified based on their company’s role in packaging.

Of the estimated 400 North American system integrators working in packaging, nearly 13 percent responded to the survey. Another 896 respondents qualified as brand owner/packager, converter, equipment supplier or contract packager. They answered questions about the performance of system integrators. All results are posted in aggregate, and individual results are kept strictly confidential.

Pages 14 and 15 of this report compare answers to questions that were asked of respondents in all three surveys.

Key Findings

Business demographics

57% of system integrators have fewer than 50 employees; 42% have over 100 employees.

Depending on the firm’s size, system integrators on average work on three packaging projects simultaneously.

71% say packaging accounts for less than a quarter of their total sales, but 44% expect packaging to grow over the next five years.

Integrators’ business is concentrated in the Middle Atlantic and East North Central states, while 23% also report international sales.

On average, respondents performed 7.24 packaging projects in the last five years.

Automation technology selection

Packaging handling, palletizing, conveying and cartoning are the most typical projects.

Over 70% of responding integrators expect robotics and marking/coding to be the fastest-growing packaging automation segments.

47% of integrators say they select components for an automation project, while 69% of packagers/end users choose the type of equipment.

Vol. 1 indicated end users utilize less than 50% of their automation functionality. Over 70% of integrators say this is due either to an under-educated workforce or automation that exceeds client needs.

80% of integrators say controlling labor costs is the primary reason their packaging clients are automating their processes.

Packagers discuss system integrators

Top criteria to choose an integrator include cost, previous success, packaging expertise.

79% of packagers say they will likely hire the same integrator on their next project.

64% of users say technical support is extremely important; 74% are satisfied with integrators’ technical support.

Next highest factors are knowing clients’ needs and implementing recommendations.

Packagers Speak Out on System Integrators

Top criteria for selecting system integrators

Multiple choices allowed
Cost 64%
Success of previous project with us 51%
Expertise in packaging 51%
Technical resources 26%
Technical skills 26%
Referrals/word of mouth 15%
Geographic proximity 14%
Availability 14%
Affiliations with preferred vendors 8%
Financial stability 7%
Business skills 3%
Professional certifications/awards 1%
Other 4%

Are you satisfied with system integrators in the following
areas? Percent answering ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’

Multiple choices allowed
Understands your automation needs 75%
Able to implement recommendations 75%
Quality of technical support provided 74%
Has offerings compatible with existing systems 72%
Can collaborate in system design 71%
Types of automation options available 69%
Availability of system integration services 69%
Familiarity with various vendors 67%
Training/education support 66%
Identification of opportunities 62%
Uses consultative sales techniques 54%