How Packaging Equipment Suppliers Can Help OEMs Innovate Machinery
OEMs serving the food and beverage packaging sector are in the perfect position to innovate, and equipment vendors are there to help
Parts suppliers serving the food and beverage packaging OEM market offer numerous tools for their OEM customers, some of which are well understood and even expected. Others — not so much.
For instance, just about all suppliers committed to the market offer custom product configurators and CAD libraries to help OEMs select the right parts for their pneumatic or electromechanical packaging line builds. This is one of the standard ways that suppliers can collaborate with their OEM customers. The only differentiating question then becomes, just how easy is the CAD tool for them to use.
Beyond tools like CAD and configurators, equipment suppliers also provide ranges of standard industry or catalog solutions designed so OEMs can build in the functionality they seek. For example, modular style pneumatic valve systems can be expanded as applications warrant, and their compact design can help OEMs maximize their use of space. Similarly when it comes to pneumatic actuators, compact rodless designs with the ability to lock at various points can lead to greater utility from a single piece of equipment.
Aside from standard catalog products, however, equipment vendors often can assist their OEM customers by providing customized packaging equipment solutions that solve application-specific problems.
It's exactly the sort of collaboration OEMs need now. Among their biggest concerns is working with customers — food and beverage manufacturers — that increasingly are requesting machines built to turn out growing numbers of new SKUs (a.k.a. stockkeeping units), or the number of unique items a food retailer carries. It's a trend that has been fueled by both consumer and retailer demand, and is likely one that's here to stay.
Food and beverage manufacturers have good reason to add this equipment flexibility: they stand to gain increased sales by adding new sizes and packaging variations to meet a consumer need. But how they incorporate this new flexibility is where OEMs are asked to innovate. The challenge is finding equipment that lets manufacturers switch products, quickly and without frustration.
Food and beverage manufacturers expect to easily adjust their lines and machines so they can quickly switch from one packaging type to another. Maybe they need to process four-packs on one shift, and two-packs on the next, or the standard trays of cookies today, and family packs tomorrow. In many cases, manufacturers demanding the changes also expect to be able to make these adjustments rapidly on the plant floor, without tools and without the need for outside technicians. This is where yesterday's technology, while at times sufficient, also can fall short.
The answer, in many cases, is a tailored equipment approach built for the application. Suppliers offering customized pneumatic solutions can help OEMs design for these changes within the same packaging lines. While OEMs may prefer to use standard catalog products over custom product solutions when it comes to food and beverage packaging equipment design, this new era of seemingly unlimited product packaging choices brings customization front and center.
For OEMs who want to provide product changeover capability via easy line modifications, custom solutions may be one of the best ways to do it. Many of these types of product changeovers haven't been attempted at this scale before, which makes the need for customized solutions all the more pressing. Increasingly, OEMs need a vendor partner willing to offer this sort of tailored product design and application assistance and with the know-how to achieve these goals.
The right equipment suppliers can do this first by developing a thorough understanding of the OEM's need in terms of form, fit and function. From there, suppliers may be able to develop one or more product options or prototypes tailored to the OEM's unique situation and application, particularly regarding changeovers.
OEMs then have the opportunity to consider and test these configurations, requesting modifications if necessary. Perhaps the OEM needs increased pneumatic flow or some other feature to increase packaging line performance. It may require trial and error, but successful suppliers will work to deliver, making sure the solution fits the OEM's overall need and producing the customized part to align with their needs.