When it comes to performance, what is Kraft looking for in packaging equipment?
Hand: From a control standpoint, we view speed and reliability as important characteristics—so much so that we ask vendors to guarantee speed and uptime on machines. In addition, we want more integration of motion control in the packaging environment.
Gowens: We also look for equipment that is compatible with a wide range of packaging materials that we choose, allowing us to easily flex with ever changing market needs, while simultaneously minimizing recapitalization and enabling quick turnaround of new packaging designs. Another key requirement is the ability to run various packaging formats with ease of changeover.
How have these demands changed in recent years?
Gowens: The changes have pressured packaging equipment suppliers to deliver more. Take the bottling types for our Enhancers line of salad dressings. In the past, we might have run separate equipment lines for different bottle shapes. Today, we want machines that handle various bottle types on the same packaging line—with higher speeds and tighter weight control for contents.
What trends do you see in networks for connecting your machines?
Hand: Ethernet continues to grow as a bus system. Long term, we expect Ethernet to meet communications and performance needs at a lower cost while also integrating motion control.
What progress have equipment providers made in designing "plug and pack" capabilities into machines, as encouraged by the OMAC (Open, Modular, Architectural Controls) Users Group?
Hand: The change is just starting in terms of the number of equipment vendors who are meeting this OMAC challenge. The plug-and-pack concept is a good one, but the industry is still trying to define what interoperability and nonproprietary mean. We still see too much complexity when introducing equipment from a variety of vendors. Kraft uses its own control standards with strategic packaging equipment suppliers to achieve the plug-and pack capability we need.
Which equipment innovations do you see as most significant?
Hand: The most impressive developments are the flexibility of equipment design and the integration of motion control. Another key development is the combination of machine vision with robotic systems. This has allowed us to further automate the packaging process. While Kraft has been implementing machine vision for a number of years, we now see advances in cameras and lighting systems, such as LED panels, that yield better results and solve earlier concerns about reliability and maintenance. Vision tools also are much easier to use.
To what extent will Kraft be using RFID tags versus traditional bar codes?
Hand: In 2005, Kraft is supporting a number of electronic package code (EPC) pilots, but we are focusing primarily on supply chain efficiencies. We see more EPCs being used on cases and pallets—but not on individual consumer packages. However, there are many issues that EPC/ RFID technology needs to solve before it can be implemented cost-effectively across the supply chain. These issues relate to technology reliability, intellectual property, standards, and consumer privacy. Manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers need to work together.
Looking ahead, what are the biggest challenges facing the packaging industry?
Gowens: We always focus on growth opportunities that can be driven by packaging innovation. The problem is that all too often it takes too much time to develop the packaging technology to support these great ideas. So the biggest challenge is developing solutions, such as custom equipment, that will help us commercialize our ideas more quickly.
|| Evan HandLeader, Electrical Center of Functional Leadership,Kraft Foods
Patrick GowensSenior Program Leader,Global Packaging Organization,Kraft Foods