Back to business
Image: Kathryn Brand
All 18 halls at interpack 2023 were buzzing with attendees, excited to be back after the extended break of six years since the last show. This year’s installment was once again at the Messe Centre in Düsseldorf, from 4 to 10 May and played host to approximately 143,000 visitors from 155 countries, two thirds of which were from outside of Germany, representing, among other European countries, India, Japan and the US in the largest contingents. The halls were populated by 2,807 exhibitors across the 18 halls, offering the myriad visitors the very latest in processing and packaging technology.
While there was much variation across the exhibitors and innovations on display, there were undeniably certain themes that recurred throughout much of the show floor, namely: sustainability, automation and digitalisation. And even across those themes there was overlap. This is because, since Covid-19, or quite likely as a result of it, it was demonstrated at Interpack that the entirety of the industry across the length and breadth of the supply chain are facing the same set of challenges, and therefore are working to combat and provide solutions to said challenges wherever they can.
This, first of all, begins with labour and skills shortages. Something that began during the pandemic and has remained in some format, whereby not only can factories not employ enough personnel, but too many of them lack the levels of experience and knowledge necessary to run as before. Mettler-Toledo was one of the companies exhibiting its response to this challenge at the show, with its X2 Series x-ray solution, which among its many other features and attributes, has been designed to simplify cleaning and maintenance routines, removing the need for complex training, with a front-opening design and a belt that can be removed without tools, explained Rob Faes, account manager, Mettler-Toledo product inspection.
On the flip side, there were also innovations focused on training and supporting workers on the factory floor. This came in the form of augmented (or ‘extended’) reality, virtual reality and digital twins, to which almost every company Dairy Industries International spoke to alluded in some way, with Rockwell Automation and tna solutions even having VR headsets on their stands to offer visitors the full experience. Using VR, digital twins of machines can be created, offering customers the opportunity to monitor and train staff on the machinery remotely, as well as completely design, commission, and test a product line from start to finish before it is even built, explained a spokesperson for tna. Accompanied also by AR, these technologies can additionally be used to assist in changeover and maintenance, demonstrating to the operator what steps need to be taken and even how to go about performing them.
This technology is also all about cost savings. With inflation fuelled by the detritus of the pandemic and by the war in Ukraine, prices are high for both the consumer and the manufacturers, so wherever costs can be cut, the better. AR, VR and digital twins can help companies economise; Rockwell’s Emulate3D software allows whole product lines to be tested in realistic scenarios, virtually, responding to conditions as it would in the real world, with the aim of foreseeing potential issues or design flaws ahead of time, and therefore saving on cost.
Rockwell’s objectives at interpack, explained Roger Gaemperle, head of industry strategy and marketing CPG & LS EMEA, Rockwell Automation, was to not only demonstrate its VR and digital twin technology, but to showcase the company’s “complete capabilities and the full play out,” while bringing together its partner ecosystem with end users. This was the spirit of much of this year’s show, with companies and professionals eager to reconnect relationships stretched out over the prolonged absence of interpack.
While this absence proved challenging for many, the economic, political and social conditions have created a catalyst for innovation, as Jorge Izquierdo, vice president, market development, PMMI, detailed in the company’s media briefing at the show. “Remote access has been available for a long time, maybe over ten years, but the problem was the adoption of remote technologies when many of the CPG companies have concerns over cybersecurity. But during Covid it, quite happily, accelerated; it was the only option.”
This was also a big focus for Syntegon: “It’s a very data driven journey,” said Johan Nilsson, member of the executive board, CSO, Syntegon. The company is launching Synexio, its brand for digital solutions for customers which is cloud-based, allowing for remote access and connectivity on or off the factory floor. Nilsson continued, “It’s a lot about data collecting, different data, displaying it to raise awareness, create transparency, but also in what’s often known as decision support systems,” to inform operators of the most correct and efficient action, based on data, once again providing a solution to the skill and training shortages in the work force.
Rockwell had on display its own version of this need for cloud-based connectivity with Fiix, an AI-powered computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Through it, all Rockwell’s software systems can be connected, communicating with one another, becoming more efficient and powerful through the use of the artificial intelligence. This can help a customer monitor energy consumption through Rockwell’s Model Predictive Control (MPC) technology, Gaemperle explained, “To cool down the milk and reduce the moisture level, that costs a lot of energy and if we can optimise it with an MPC solution, or going forward help with artificial intelligence to optimise the process, that can save you a lot of energy.”
Furthermore, there is this demand, according to PMMI’s Izquierdo, for machinery to be able to cope with such packaging material changes from one customer to the next, as well as be adaptable for any future material innovations, especially in the realm of sustainability and recyclability, that have yet to come. “What we are finding is, in terms of operations, a lot of material and formats change continuously. You change one year to a new material, next year for the new product, and then you’re changing to another new material. It’s a continuous change, one after the other. It’s a chase for what’s the best fit for different markets,” commented Izquierdo. Therefore, machines have to be exceedingly adaptable, as companies are not wanting to spend on whole lines of new equipment, they would much rather adapt what they have to a new line, or have one piece of equipment that works with multiple of their CPGs.
This was something Sidel showcased on its show stand. Jean-Marc Passemard, senior manager, marketing communications – FHPC Markets, Sidel, demonstrated how the Cermex ProSelex, a flexible collating system for complex unstable bottles, on its international debut at interpack, could be easily altered for different product and packing formats. Each changeable part was easily accessible and lightweight, meaning that extensive training is not required for the operator in charge of the changeover, and the changeover itself is shortened to an average of one minute for a new collation to two and a half minutes for a complete bottle change. Sidel even offers the option for the machine, through automation, to changeover itself to preset specifications.
Not only does reducing downtime improve line throughput and therefore increase profits, it also saves energy, which is both beneficial from an economic point of view, but also from a sustainability point of view. Sustainability was naturally unavoidable as a show topic at Interpack, as it is the food and drink sector in particular that is being looked to by consumers to improve, due to its reliance on single-use packaging. Exhibitors at the show had set themselves sustainability targets and had made technical adaptations to their machinery – either to adapt it to sustainable packaging choices and formats, or to reduce energy or even water consumption.
Overall, the 2023 installment of Interpack was a veritable success, with 96 per cent of visitors stating that they had achieved their trade fair objectives, according to its organisers. Certainly at least that many were also breathing a collective and anticipatory sigh of relief to be back once again, interacting with colleagues and clients, with business as normal, or at least the new normal, as the industry could almost be considered unrecognisable considering the dramatic adaptations and innovations it has undergone since, and as a result of, the Covid-19 pandemic. Much can thus be anticipated for the show’s return to Düsseldorf, from 7-13 May 2026.