Packaging Trends and the Role of Technology

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According to a recent study by market research and consulting firm, Smithers, in 2019 the total value of packaging globally was $917 billion. That number is expected to grow steadily by 2.8% to reach $1.05 trillion in 2024. 

Consumers and suppliers drive the need for new and innovative packaging. Trends like ease of storage, sustainability, convenience of opening, resealable, shelf appeal, amount of material and weight all play into the need for new and efficient packaging.

Trends in Packaging

In 2019, we witnessed some of the largest climate change protests in our history. As Millennials and Generation Z continue expanding into the workforce and their purchasing power increases, sustainability, recycling and environmental issues will continue to take center stage; according to youth research firm YPulse, nearly half of young consumers say they're more likely to buy a product described as "sustainable." Consumers are becoming more conscious about their shopping habits. They are increasingly looking for sustainable products and companies that share similar ideologies.

In 2020, we’ve seen a number of trends in support of a greater demand for sustainable packaging supplies. From zero-waste packaging to sustainable packaging that can be repurposed, earth-friendly packaging supplies are expected to continue to boom in popularity and produce greater demand from consumers. 

Shoe brand Rothy’s manufactures machine-washable footwear made from plastic water bottles. The company has repurposed more than 34 million water bottles to date. Rothy’s uses a production process that knits shoe uppers to shape, which creates virtually zero waste, unlike traditional cutting, where 30% to 40% of material is wasted. Rather than shipping a box within a box, the shoeboxes are the vehicle for both shipping and returns. The company’s vegan, biodegradable boxes are made from 85% post-consumer recycled materials.

Another example of a sustainable company is Blueland. What started off as a Shark Tank proposal has burgeoned into a successful eco-friendly company that produces sustainable cleaning products. Blueland offers the purchase of a one-time reusable bottle that can be refilled on an as needed basis, with non-toxic dissolvable cleaning tablets. Rather than throwing away the plastic bottle after you’re done with a cleaner, you can use the Blueland bottle repeatedly. The use of their dissolvable cleaning tablets with the water you're already using in your home, cuts down on waste. In addition, every part of its packaging is recyclable, and the tablet wrappers are compostable and biodegradable.

The Role of Technology in Packaging Manufacturing

But, what goes into the work behind the scenes at packaging manufacturing facilities to get a glass jar or cardboard box from the factory floor onto retailers’ shelves? What role does technology play here?

Packaging is a key industry vertical of focus at Parsable, and our Connected Worker™ Platform is deployed across a number of globally recognized packaging companies. During my time at Parsable, I’ve worked very closely with a number of packaging clients. One of the observations I’ve made is the pattern of deployment these companies have undertaken; they are often growing rapidly, scaling their operations in terms of locations and new product lines. 

At one large packaging manufacturer, Parsable was engaged to kickstart digitization efforts at a new plant location. The new plant would replicate an existing plant in terms of product, processes and equipment. The packaging company faced tight timelines and struggled to train and onboard new workers. On top of that, the company wanted to reduce their reliance on paper-based procedures and having to manually record human and machine data on paper ledgers. 

Parsable was leveraged to standardize processes across both the new and existing plants. The company assigned a lean team to quickly digitize procedures across production, quality, maintenance and the warehouse logistics.Templates were created, tested and revised within two weeks. The templates would become the building blocks for deployment at the new plant, and would ensure consistent standards and quality among workers, in line with operations at the original plant. 

As time got closer to opening the new plant, recruiting new talent became a challenge. The original plant struggled with high employee turnover. To make things worse, the team failed to create an efficient onboarding process. This meant every new hire would require the training and attention from an existing veteran employee – which happened quite frequently. It now became the veteran employees’ responsibility to make sure new employees were sufficiently trained with the right techniques, processes and skills to get the job done. 

With the aid of modern digital tools, organizations can capture and record the tacit expert knowledge of veteran workers, which can make retirement and onboarding of new hires more seamless. With Parsable’s Connected Worker Platform, workers are provided with real-time data and multimedia work instructions on mobile devices. Digital procedures are enhanced with photos and videos, to ensure best practices are being followed throughout the plant so workers can complete the job safely and efficiently every time. Now, the valuable tacit knowledge from the veteran workforce is captured and shared with the new hires. The company noted a 40% reduction in onboarding time at the new plant. 

Another indication of technology's important role in recruiting: An employee posted a job description that highlighted using the new Connected Worker Platform to accomplish work activities. Not only did the new job description attract more Millennial applicants, but once new hires joined the team they had a more productive and engaging way to undergo onboarding training and to ensure daily work tasks were done right the first time.

As the new plant was getting off the ground, processes were replicated in Parsable’s platform to streamline production. Managers could now tap into valuable analytics and insights, without having to be physically present at the plant. Parsable has allowed this packaging company to finally have a full picture of what is happening at their factories down to the worker level, driving operational efficiency.

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