Interpack 2017 snapshot

This May we had the opportunity to attend Interpack in Düsseldorf, Germany. The show is a drupa equivalent for packagers and converters. The scale and range was unbelievable. There were 17 halls full of technology and materials—several halls were dedicated to chocolate and candy alone! The trade show, which ran from May 4th to the 10th, 2017, drew an international crowd of 2,865 exhibitors and 170,500 attendees with 74% of them arriving at the show from 163 different countries.

Unless you geek out over Food Factory (which is a great show) it’s difficult to imagine the complexity of food manufacturing today. Automation and intelligent robotics were prevalent at the show. Converting and filling lines featured new ways to ensure a clean and safe environment. Most impressive was the pharmaceutical equipment, with gangly robotic spider arms picking and sorting items as small as individual capsules!

Industry 4.0 dominated conversations. At our tour of the VDMA booth, Michael Przytulla demonstrated the concept live. Visitors ordered cell phone power banks on a website. That website then communicated directly with the machinery which laser engraved and packaged each item. The machine was build by students who worked on a “digital twin”. Perfecting the process virtually allowed them to work in different physical locations, and delay the hardware build until all processes were ready in the virtual environment.  This reduced the entire process to a fraction of time. Industry 4.0, sometimes also called Smart Manufacturing, connects machines to the cloud allowing them to talk to one another. This has been desirable in the graphic arts for a long time, as demonstrated by our efforts for a JDF language standard. I have no doubt that all of our manufacturing equipment will continue to aim to be “smart”.

There were three halls dedicated to materials. Bioplastics in many forms including foam, film and rigid, were featured at many booths. We spoke with Preben Andreasen from Styropack located in Denmark about how these compostable options fit into the market. Most bioplastics require an industrial facility in order for breakdown to occur. While these materials are not new, Andreasen was optimistic that the industry has been reenergized in exploring them as an option. Katrin Schwede, Head of Communications at European Bioplastics also acknowledged that enthusiasm around biomaterials had grown since the last Interpack. Of course when it comes to adopting new green materials, waste management systems and legislation have a big impact. For example, Denmark has a zero land waste policy, with incineration converting garbage into heat for housing. In Ontario, we have different, municipally regulated waste systems. This is important to understand because bioplastics breakdown under specialized conditions in industrial composting facilities. In order for municipalities to compost bioplastics, there must be an aftermarket for them that will exceed the cost of collection and recovery. There are a lot of variables that change when a new material is accepted. For example, most bioplastics need to be retained for a period of time to ensure breakdown.

There were also an incredible number of flexible films and shrink options. Matte varnishes, full package decoration using shrink, as well as labels, which featured embossing, foil and other finishing systems were all around! These options remain the most flexible way to decorate a rigid package. This is especially true for small- to mid-sized brands. Foil and film pouches were also everywhere, with machines producing versatile stand up pouches with specialty closures, inline.

HP had an incredible booth with several pieces of large equipment running at the show. The booth experience included a personalized paperboard box made during the six minute presentation (end-to/end). Yael Barak, Business Development, explained that the HP solution goes far beyond the ability to create personalized campaigns. These are production machines able to create inventory just in time, with little to no waste. With product launches being so frequent, she explained that many brand owners test market products with HP devices, because volumes are initially often too low to traditionally produce the package. The next step in the HP offering is the Pack Ready laminator set to ship in 2018. This is an important missing piece as 70% of labels today are either varnished or laminated. An inline solution specifically tailored to work with an Indigo Press is yet another step towards productive digital solutions in packaging and labels.

Another important topic at Interpack was track and trace. Track and trace provides you with the ability to know when and where a product was manufactured. This is important in detecting counterfeit products on the market as well as products that have been dumped at an unanticipated location. There are many options for track and trace. We had the opportunity to spend some time at the Videojet booth, which makes marking equipment that allows you to laser engrave each product with a unique data matrix code at production speed. The consumer-facing solutions in this area are very neat! Not only can a brand check the product’s authenticity, but so can the consumer. Tracking options, together with tamper-evident closures can help customers feel confident that they are indeed about to enjoy the high end whiskey that they paid for. These solutions are not just for luxury goods. They are important in product categories ranging from pharmaceuticals to items as simple as toothpaste and shampoo. There was a lot of variety and price range in the marking equipment on display, with most options being laser or inkjet.

On the printing side of packaging, enthusiasm for digital, and more specifically inkjet continued. Fuji showcased their Samba modular printhead technology. Gallus shared a booth with Heidelberg to show off their Labelfire solution. There were also more unusual applications of inkjet. Procys, based in France, displayed small inkjet units that allow you to print on cookies or other treats using edible ink. KHS, a large PET bottle filling equipment manufacturer also showed off their direct print technology which allows you to print inkjet directly onto their bottles inline.

It’s difficult to put into words the incredible variety of innovations at Interpack. We will continue to look at some of these more directly in articles to come. In a very well attended show that spanned all facets of consumer goods packaging. We left the show energized by the enthusiasm of the many visitors and exhibitors who participated.