Packaging Machinery Trends: Communications and Mobile

As a non-exhibiting automation supplier at PackExpo, Opto 22’s Benson Hougland came to observe, learn, and see where today’s technology trends could be heading.

With many customers either directly serving the packaging industry or operating and maintaining large packaging machinery operations, executives and engineers at automation technology suppliers need to stay on top of packaging machinery trends. For Opto 22, whose packaging-related customer list includes Thermoforming Systems, Packaging Corporation of America and Dole Fresh Vegetables, that meant Benson Hougland, Opto 22’s vice president of marketing had a very specific mission at PackExpo 2014.

“I came to learn more about the packaging and processing industries,” Hougland said. We need to make sure we’re supplying our packaging industry customers with technologies that are successful for them.”

Another driver behind Hougland’s visit to the event was to learn more about packaging technologies that Opto 22 can use itself. “As a manufacturer of automation products, we have our own packaging processes,” he said. “So I’ve come here to evaluate some technologies [for our use] as well.

When asked about the technology trends he saw in the exhibits at PackExpo as well as what he’s hearing from customers, Hougland noted two specific trends: communications and mobile.

“Connecting the various systems on the plant floor with Ethernet is very prevalent in packaging now,” said Hougland. He added that, for Opto 22, the company’s SNAP PAC—an integrated system of hardware and software for industrial control, remote monitoring and data acquisition—is “the bedrock of the ability communicate and move plant floor data over Ethernet.”

But more than any other trend in industry right now, Hougland said, mobile is most notable. “Mobile is bigger than anything now—across industries,” he said. The ability to connect to systems on a mobile device is “expected now, it’s no longer a luxury.”

Hougland noted Packaging Corporation of America’s (PCA) use of mobile and plant floor communication technologies as a prime example of the technology trends taking place in the packaging industry today. PCA uses Opto 22’s groov mobile interface development system and SNAP PAC. “PCA uses groov to visualize machine data on mobile devices without having to do any programming or coding to enable it. They’re using this information to improve yields and throughput and get plant-wide visualization.”

Describing PCA’s use of these technologies further, Hougland said that PCA has a production monitoring system that combines PAC communications with groov to measure output from boxing and palletizing systems. This data is then moved out to PCA data centers and brought back to operators on the plant floor with mobile devices. “They’re doing this across 100 facilities to streamline operations,” he added.

See the video below for highlights of the interview with Hougland and further details about the packaging industry trends Opto 22 is watching.

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