A customer recently brought to my attention a post on LinkedIn by Michael Shannon, Senior VP at SGS International, titled, “Packaging Automation – A Word of Caution.” The post offered a critique of a whitepaper produced by a company that focuses on downstream, pre-press automation. I’ve read both the whitepaper that Michael refers to in his post and Michael’s post. I have to say, in my opinion, they both are correct—sort of.

Michael does a great job of explaining the risk of fully automating the packaging process. As he states, it typically depends on the complexity of the packaging. Also, the total of all costs of the process needs to be weighed against the ROI, which is true from our experience, too. Plus, I have to agree that domain expertise in the packaging world is an asset worth spending money on. And Michael is correct to point it out as such.  

However, technology and advancements in packaging automation are always changing. So it is always appropriate to understand the latest technology and how/if it can help you—and certainly never to dismiss it.  

For example, the idea of templating content and graphics may work in some instances, but for highly complex graphics packaging, Michael is right that it may not have the same ROI. And, it also adds a new level of risk to a client’s process that wasn’t there before. In the right circumstances it can work, no doubt. But it is smart to weigh the pros and cons, from what I’ve seen. 

In practice, we have used our Content Certification module (ensuring accurate content upfront in the process is a must) and we have partnered with best of breed quality-check proof reading systems to ensure accurate on-package artwork, while speeding the process of proof-reading. As we know, it’s the accuracy of content that is most crucial. A product won’t be recalled for inaccurate color, but a labeling error could result in a costly recall.

Also, I think connecting systems (for example, how we connect a customer’s master data workflow to our Design2Launch Mosaic solution) is a must. Zooming out to look at the larger picture and linking the pieces that have natural connection points can be a more efficient and cost effective approach than wholesale automation from scratch.

This is what we like to call custom automation. It’s an approach that makes it easier for companies to gain from automation in that it allows them to add new efficiencies without abandoning systems that work well and are familiar.  

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So, I believe that both articles are partially correct. And the answer to evolving automation technology for most companies lies somewhere in between. To me, it’s like fixing the golf swing. Most of the time, it just takes a tweak here or there, starting in a better position, changing your grip slightly. And POW. A perfect shot.

Similarly, a complete automation overhaul may be overkill. But a few tweaks to the process would be welcome. Some additional functionality can help solidify, control, and speed processes. Connecting other systems using available APIs can reduce costly re-keying of data and give important notifications of packaging changes.

Also, additional reporting capabilities can only add visibility and allow greater focus on areas that are low hanging fruit or unknown bottlenecks. These are the areas that we investigate with our customers to come up with packaging automation solutions that work well for them.

One footnote. The whitepaper in question and Mike Shannon’s response focus on downstream, pre-press automation. There’s a whole other part of the equation dealing with upstream processes that need to be considered in a different light. We’ll address this in a future post.

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If you’d like additional information on packaging automation regarding workflow management, download our eBook, “Accelerating Product Time to Market for Food & Drug Retailers Yields Bottom Line Benefits.” I think you’ll find it useful even if you’re a brand owner or have another relationship to packaging.


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