Exhibitors at interpack 2017 displayed packaging and processing equipment.
Image courtesy of Messe Düsseldorf/Constanze Tillmann

DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — When it comes to advances in technology, innovation tends to be more of an evolution than a revolution in the baking and snack industries. While most exhibitors at interpack 2017 didn’t make quantum leaps, the packaging and processing equipment displayed took significant strides at simplifying and streamlining everyday operations on the production floor.

During a tour of the world’s largest packaging show, which is being held in Düsseldorf, Germany, from May 4-10, exhibitors seemed to be listening to the challenges that bakers and snack manufacturers face as they strive to bolster internal plant efficiencies that create a competitive edge in the highly competitive global market.

In many ways, those upgrades in technology targeted the nickel-and-dime issues that can, on an annual basis, add up to tens of thousands of dollars — and often many times more — in sanitation, maintenance and changeovers.

Although labor often dominates the discussion when it comes to return on investment (R.O.I.), it’s no longer about the number of people working in a plant. With the North American workforce gap, today’s labor situation involves ensuring a retention and reassignment of key employees to continue boosting the plant’s performance that ultimately impacts the company’s bottom line.

From an operations perspective, new generations of servo-motor-driven baking production and packaging lines dominated enhancements in technology at this year’s show. On cookie and cracker lines, servos provide greater versatility with quicker changeovers and fewer moving parts that require less preventive maintenance than gear- and chain-driven systems in the long run.

Moreover, exhibitors pointed out various servos’ abilities to interact with human-machine interface (HMI) and PLCs to better control the line and make adjustments to the process on the fly. In some cases, they now rely on recipe-driven software to switch from one product variety or packaging format to another with R.O.I. savings ranging from 25% to 40%, according to several exhibitors.

Remote maintenance to reduce costly downtime seemed omnipresent throughout the show, especially for repairing or jerry-rigging a broken-down production line until an actual service technician can arrive onsite. Long-distance communication between equipment companies and their customers has taken several steps toward making the process more seamless using tablets and even Google Glass, which frees a maintenance engineer’s hands to make repairs.

Sanitary design continues to advance, with many systems offering both wash-down or dry-cleaning options, and in many cases, a combination of both. Many exhibitors displayed production lines elevated off the floor to enhance access for sanitation. They also featured increased access to the internal parts of processing lines where allergens or even pathogens may harbor.

On some systems, components of sheeters as well as rotary or wire-cut cookie systems could be easily pulled out of the line and wheeled via a cart to a secured cleaning station while a second system slides into the makeup line. Such options provide not only ease of cleaning, but also streamline changeovers, substantially enhancing yield for high-volume operations.

Additionally, an increasing number of processing equipment and packaging systems featured forms of plexiglass — instead of stainless steel panels — that allow operators to see motors and other key internal parts in action to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Off the exhibition floor, interpack announced it’s cooperating with the World Packaging Organization (W.P.O.) to extend the WorldStar Award to include the category “SAVE FOOD Packaging Awards.” The awards recognize best practices in packaging solutions for their capacity to reduce food loss and waste, which has been a major initiative of the show in recent years.

“We are delighted to be able to support the idea of SAVE FOOD with an award,” said Johannes Bergmair, vice-president of sustainability and food safety at the W.P.O.