Italians See Packaging Pushing Higher

April 6, 2012
The main event in Italy for processing, packaging, material handling and package printing took place in the end of February in Milan with the Ipack-IMA trade fair.

Keynote presenter of this year’s opening event was the astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Deputy Commander of a 159-day space mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and first Italian astronaut selected for a long-term mission in the space.

“Space missions have pushed forward technical innovation and human capacity, and that’s also for the packaging solutions,” said Nespoli. Materials coming on the ISS have to be packed perfectly to survive during the launch and to preserve goods for months. “Everything which comes to space has to be packed and unpacked in the right way; if not, the absence of gravity makes objects float around and in the end they are lost. Also, everything has to be stocked in narrow places but in the right order, so that everybody can easily find everything needed, and in ashort time,” Nespoli added.

For example, every object on the ISS is equipped with Velcro so that it can be attached to the walls (which are also equipped with Velcro) in order not to be lost. More than that, packaging materials used in space have to be very light, fireproof, antistatic, and they must not release toxic substances when heated.

The Italian packaging industry overall is growing. Research conducted by Giampaolo Vitali from the University of Turin revealed that the 34 percent of the 236 companies interviewed registered an increase in sales during the second part of 2011, and the 26 percent said export was growing. Innovation was said to be the main success factor.

One of the most innovative solutions we saw during the event was made by Italian company System ( Its Freebox system produces five or six cardboard boxes in a minute from flat 1.200 x 1.200 m cardboard, with any graphical logo and image printed in. Box sizes can be customized according to the product to be put inside. The cardboard comes directly from the paper mill and is stocked in two “warehouses” inside the machine, which means the user’s warehouse disappears, as does other expensive “accessories” such as pre-assembled boxes, cliché, cutters, printers and the like. Overall costs have been cut by 70 percent with a 30 percent raw material reduction, according to the company. The input for the box format comes from a touchscreen interface called Copilot, made by System Electronics (a System’s business unit), from other dimensional visual recognition systems, or from the user’s database.

Another big “investor” in packaging automation at the Ipack-IMA was vision system maker Cognex ( With more than 600,000 installed products, more than 4,000 customers and $322 million revenues in 2011—breaking $100 million in European revenue for the first time—Cognex wants its customers to know how important innovation is for the company.

“The great value R&D activities have for us is confirmed not only by the over 250 licences we own and the fact that more than a half of our employees are hardware and software developers, as we develop everything inside our company, but also because we invest every year from 18 percent to 30 percent of our revenues in R&D,” said Giuliano Collodel, Cognex sales manager for Italy and Middle East. 

Ilaria De Poli, [email protected], is an editor at “Fiera Milano Editore,” a magazine covering automation and manufacturing in Italy.

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