The global packaging machinery market continues to grow at a rapid rate, and Germany is still the world’s largest supplier. Vera Fritsche, VDMA’s spokesperson for packaging machines, trade fairs and markets, takes us through the figures.
In 2016, the market for packaging machinery and plants grew by almost €6.4 billion, an increase of 2% compared with the previous year. German machinery is in demand all over the world, with companies from the European nation generating more than 80% of their sales abroad.
The impetus for growth is increasingly coming from emerging and developing nations. While technology is often still at a low level in these places, increasing urbanisation, population growth and a growing middle class are driving change. Sales are stable in industrialised countries, in which replacement investments, modernisation and expansion of existing capacities ensure continuous demand for machinery.
Germany produced nearly half of all the packaging machinery delivered to European countries in 2016. The largest sales market in Western Europe was France, where German sales reached €293 million.
In Eastern Europe, Poland was the largest sales market in 2016; German exports rose by 17% to €221 million. After a prolonged period of restraint, Russia's demand for German machines recovered slightly in 2016, with exports rising by 6% to €181 million.
Asia is the second most important sales region for German companies. In 2016, packaging machines worth €1 billion were delivered to the continent. The largest Asian customer for German packaging equipment is China. Last year, exports to that country fell for the second year in a row, reaching a value of €346 million – 22% less than in 2015. However, due to its low per capita consumption, China remains attractive to German suppliers.
The second economic heavyweight in Asia is India, the government of which is focusing on expanding food production. In 2016, Germany exported packaging machines worth €113 million to India, an increase of 30% compared with 2015.
The third largest sales region for German manufacturers is North America. In 2016, exports to the US rose by 8% to €683 million. The growing population there, and the ongoing trend towards convenience food, as well as the demand for greater food safety is leading to an ongoing need for automation to increase efficiency, reduce errors and identify impurities.
Due mainly to weakened demand in Brazil, exports to Latin America fell by just under 5% to €330 million in 2016. In the same year, Germany exported packaging machines worth about €80 million to the South American nation, where declining incomes and rising unemployment are dampening demand for food and beverages.
Exports worth €97 million to Mexico helped to balance out the Brazilian decrease. Food is one of Mexico’s most dynamic markets and shows great potential for the coming years. The Central American country's growing population and rising incomes is leading to increasing demand for packaged food, although most of the foodstuffs produced in Mexico are exported to the US.
Appetite for growth
The global food industry is a dynamic growth market. In particular, the demand for packaged food is increasing. According to the UK market research company Euromonitor International, 755 million tons of packaged foodstuffs were sold worldwide in 2016. They expect this figure to rise to 839 million tons by 2021, driven by growing world population, increasing urbanisation, higher employment rates and rising incomes.
All over the world, the food industry is required to react to changing consumer trends in the short term. This means getting out new products to the market quickly. The variety of food products is immense and continues to grow; product life cycles are becoming shorter; and lot sizes are falling. At the same time, production costs must be kept as low as possible because rising wages, energy and raw material prices are driving up costs and reducing margins. When investing in machinery and equipment, companies are therefore increasingly focused on increasing efficiency, productivity and flexibility.
Increase efficiency, reduce costs
Industry 4.0 increasingly offers the food industry the opportunity to produce more cost-effectively, and to control complex production processes flexibly and individually.
Consumers want customised products at reasonable prices, so packaging machinery and systems must be adapted to requirements quickly and flexibly. They must offer a high format range and be able to make fast format changes that are as tool-free possible.
This requires completely new machinery and plant concepts. Modularisation and standardisation, and robot-based automation, as well as digital printing systems, are the central elements here.
Depending on the application, the use of robot-based automation drastically reduces the number of format changes. Camera-controlled robots are highly productive in the industrial packaging of foodstuffs. Typical examples here are the handling, repacking and loading of the products into packaging trays, and the sorting of different products according to shape and size. However, it is not only vision systems that robots need for this work, but also other sensors, such as pressure or force sensors, product-specific gripping tools or dosing systems, as well as powerful control and application software. Compared with conventional special machinery, they offer decisive advantages; they can react independently to changes in their environment, and adapt to new products, formats and tasks.
The communication between human and machine, as well as the machines with each other, is crucial. Human-machine interfaces (HMI) are the key to sustainability-oriented process management. HMI of the industry 4.0 generation serve as an interface for the data acquisition, transfer and visualisation of individual machines or complete lines. An intuitive guided operation helps the operator in their supported work.
Step by step, they are guided through the individual production workflows. The same applies to format changes, cleaning and maintenance processes as well as other processes.
Industry 4.0 leads to a paradigm shift in maintenance. Unplanned production downtime due to sudden component failures is a thing of the past. The tools required for this are condition monitoring, remote control and, based on this, predictable maintenance and/or predictive maintenance.
The trend is moving away from reactive and regular maintenance, with its fixed replacement intervals of components, to predictable, targeted and, above all, precisely plannable measures. These offer significant advantages, such as a higher availability of machines and systems, lower failure risks, higher reliability and lower maintenance costs.
Packaging and filling machines and plants are in use for many years. For companies, the challenges of bringing their old systems together with the technical possibilities and the digital world of today are great. The effort required for this often clearly exceeds the expected benefits. With appropriate retrofit solutions, however, machines and systems can be networked cost-effectively. Plant operators can improve their production processes or product quality with the resulting information.
The digital twin
In the food industry, manufacturers compete for customers, and new products must reach supermarkets for sale quickly and in appealing packaging. Machine suppliers have less time to plan, develop and commission customised packaging systems, so in order to shorten time-to-market, minimise planning and test risks, they increasingly rely on the 'digital twin' – the virtual image of the real machine.
Even during the development phase, design errors can be corrected without first having to manufacture any real parts. It is possible to simulate the individual steps of the packaging process in real time, to check interfaces between the individual line components and thus optimise the packaging process as a whole. A virtual commissioning significantly shortens the real process.
The advantages for the customers lie in accelerated design sequences resulting in shorter delivery times. The digital twin can also be used to carry out product runs with new product formats during operation.