Braden Beam is the Bag Filling, Sealing and Palletizing Business Unit Growth Leader for BW Flexible Systems. The following content is an update to his previous post on the Packed With Expertise blog entitled “Pet Food Packaging Trends To Watch In 2022”, which itself contained excerpts from his September 1, 2021 interview with Petfood Industry.
Over a year ago, I contributed to a piece on this very blog which covered pet food trends to watch in the packaging industry in 2022. I was recently approached with that same question about the year 2023, and, in short, the answers haven’t changed very much — the trends we saw dominating the pet food industry a year ago are still alive and well in 2023. What has changed over the past year, though, is our level of knowledge about those trends, and how they’re evolving from multi-faceted, lingering questions into well-informed, detailed solutions.
My previous post on this topic was an attempt to “Anticipate which trends are most likely to mature.” This post will cover the same three trends, but instead, I’ll consider how they have matured, and what BW Flexible Systems (and BW Packaging as a whole) has been doing to address them. I’ll also address a new trend I believe to be taking off in 2023.
Sustainable Packaging Solutions
While this post does cover the topic of “trends,” we’ve admittedly covered how sustainability is far from a trend and is, rather, a core pillar of our business. That aside, in the 2022 iteration of this topic, I mentioned one of the challenges facing dry pet food brands: they have a desire to switch from standard poly-woven bags to recyclable paper poly bags, but empirical evidence did not yet exist to prove that recyclable paper poly could survive the packaging and distribution processes. I’m happy to say that as time has gone on, the evidence and data are beginning to present themselves.
We’ve been working with some of our upstreamUpstream refers to all the parts of a manufacturing process that come before another specific manufacturing process further down the production line (e.g. raw material extraction is upstream from labeling). bag manufacturing partners to test newer, more sustainable materials on our packaging machines, and the results have been promising. As we become more familiar with these materials, it becomes easier to adjust our machinery and our processes to run a sustainable poly solution that is just as robust and capable as its poly-woven counterpart. Sustainability isn’t going to go away (nor should it), and we’re thrilled to be able to make such great progress with our materials suppliers in such a relatively short time.
Data-Driven Product Efficiencies
Data drives so much of what we do. We understand that access to data is one of the most important things our customers want from our pet food machines, and we’ve been working hard to make data collection, aggregation, and organization as simple as possible. Last year’s pet food packaging trends article mentioned programmable logic controllers (PLCs)A programmable logic controller (PLC) is a hardened controller engineered to control manufacturing equipment and processes. — the computers that power our packaging machinery. With the help of our Digital Innovation (DI) team, we’ve made remarkable progress on how we use PLCs on some of our BW Packaging machines to make data tracking and analytics easier for our customers.
The DI team noticed that our PLC data streams were not operating as efficiently as they could be. The primary problem was that so much of our machines’ data originated from different sources, which made it difficult to aggregate it into a simple, user-friendly analytics dashboard. Those issues have since been addressed on a selection of equipment, creating a streamlined, scalable pipeline to connect and collect data, turn that data into insights, and turn those insights into value for our customers. The idea is to add these solutions to more and more of the BW Packaging machine portfolio as time goes on. Data-driven product efficiencies are here to stay in 2023, and we’ll continue to optimize our lineup of solutions in a manner which we believe will best serve our pet food customers.
Improving Operator Training
In 2022, I’d mentioned the trend of operator turnover and how manufacturers (pet food or otherwise) were struggling greatly both to keep their staff and to train new staff. Unfortunately, that trend is also holding steady in 2023. A year ago, I mentioned a few steps that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)In the packaging industry, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is the company which manufactures the machinery used to facilitate the packaging process. were taking to help mitigate this problem, but this year, I’d like to zero in on one in particular: human-machine interfaces (HMIs)A human-machine interface (HMI) is the dashboard through which an operator interacts with packaging systems or equipment. Modern HMIs can offer operator training resources, provide preventative maintenance reminders, assist in troubleshooting machine malfunctions, and much more..
An intuitive, well-designed HMI can help to simplify operator training and save money in a variety of ways, and BW Packaging has worked hard recently to begin making our HMIs some of the best in the industry. For one, we’ve spoken with machine operators about their experiences with using our machines, and we’ve visited facilities to watch operators in action. These visits and interviews give us actionable insights into how our HMIs work in the real world and allow us to optimize their efficiency and effectiveness to reflect how real operators interact with them on a daily basis.
Our redesigned HMIs can host video trainings right on the screen, too. We can even record and upload videos of operators performing a specific action in their plant, ensuring that future operators will always have audio/visual access to the step-by-step operations of their exact machine. We’ve also begun a program to standardize our HMIs’ user interfaces across our offerings to create a smooth, consistent experience. We’ll begin to scale these updates out to more and more BW Packaging machines in the future to offer the same standard of useability to all the markets we serve — pet food packaging included.
Innovation was conspicuously absent from our 2022 pet food packaging trends article, but the past few years have seen BW Packaging begin to develop a sharp focus on innovative packaging solutions. Specifically, we’ve developed a people-centric approach to innovation, which aims to touch not only pet food packaging, but every solution we offer.
People-centric innovation is a reflection of Barry-Wehmiller’s fundamental vision: “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.” When it comes to adapting that vision to how we develop technology, we ask ourselves, “What are the needs of the operators who use our machines every day? What are the needs of the maintenance teams that keep those machines in working order? What about the needs of the business leaders who count on our machines to package their products?”
People-centric innovation addresses the real needs of people who run pet food packaging lines every day. Its purpose is to focus value creation at a very human level, and we want to ensure that everyone who interacts with our team, our equipment, and our parts feels the same level of top-notch care. As innovation continues to develop as a trend in pet food packaging, we’ll continue to put our people-centric stamp on it to create real value for our customers and machine operators.
With the exception of innovation, many of the trends in the pet food industry are largely the same as they were a year ago. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it’s given us the opportunity to drill down and learn more about our customers’ needs and how we can develop solutions to meet them. Recyclable poly bags, data collection efficiencies, HMI designs, and people-centric innovation are just a few of the ways we’re reacting to these trends to better serve our customers. I’m sure these trends (and what we do to address them) will continue to evolve throughout the year, so be sure to subscribe to stay informed.