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How Are Robotic Systems Reshaping B2B Packaging Efficiency?

July 11, 2024
B2B packaging companies must become more efficient. Discover how robotic systems can provide improvement across various workflows.

Pressures are mounting for logistics operations to become more efficient as businesses look at supply chains with increasing scrutiny. This effort has proved difficult amid labor challenges and widespread disruptions, but improvement is possible. Robotic packaging machinery is a crucial part of the solution.

The global packaging robot market is worth $5.6 billion and could nearly triple in value over the next 10 years. This monumental growth should not come as a surprise. Robotic systems bring several needed improvements to the B2B packaging sector.

Productivity Improvements

The biggest advantage of robotic packaging machinery is that it works faster than human employees. The demand to ensure product safety in packaging often entails productivity sacrifices, but robots remove the need for this tradeoff.

Many of these speed improvements stem from the fact that robots can move faster than physically possible for humans. Automation has the added advantage of maintaining the same speed across an entire workday, as machines cannot get tired and do not need breaks.

Packaging facilities can also improve efficiency by using automation to overcome workforce gaps. Just 5% of logistics organizations say they face no labor shortages, and 37% say their issues in this area are “high” to “extreme.” Automating packaging lets warehouses free their employees to manage other tasks so they can accomplish more despite lower staffing.

Waste Reduction

Robotic packaging systems also help B2B companies minimize their material waste. Because robots cannot get distracted and operate based on real-time sensor data, they make fewer mistakes than humans. As a result, they can pad, fill and seal packages without wasting resources.

Automated solutions can also achieve higher precision than humans, letting them design more cost-effective packaging. Amazon used one such system to reduce package weight by 26 grams per shipment. Over time, savings like this result in far lower material needs, improving logistics companies’ bottom line.

This resource efficiency is ideal for environmental reasons in addition to monetary savings. Less waste makes a supplier more sustainable. That edge becomes increasingly valuable as more businesses seek to make their supply chains more eco-friendly amid rising regulations.

Workplace Safety

Another way robots boost B2B packaging efficiency is through safety improvements. Workplace injuries are significant time sinks, resulting in 108 million days in lost productivity in 2022 alone. Automation addresses this issue by removing workers from the most dangerous parts of the job.

While packaging may not seem dangerous, repetitive motions commonly cause musculoskeletal injuries. Using packaging robots to handle these monotonous workflows reduces the strain on employees’ bodies, preventing lost-time incidents from physical stress.

Some robots pose their own hazards, but newer alternatives provide a solution. Collaborative robots—or “cobots”—are significantly safer than conventional bots because they use sophisticated sensors to detect and avoid nearby employees. Warehouses that use them can ensure machines and workers maintain peak productivity without risking collisions.

Custom Packaging

A less obvious benefit of robotic packaging machinery is that it enables custom packages. Personalization has grown in consumer segments, but the B2B sector can also profit from it.

Sectors like electronics and medical manufacturing often have strict packaging demands. Custom solutions can meet these needs better than one-size-fits-all approaches, but designing and producing tailor-made containers was historically too expensive and time-consuming to justify. Packaging robots offer enough speed and precision to overcome that obstacle.

A longer design process is less disruptive when robots shorten manufacturing lead times. Because higher automation investments reduce process costs by 17% on average, packaging companies also have more budget room to dedicate workflows to custom solutions. As a result, personalized packaging becomes more viable, unlocking new business opportunities.

Automated Quality Assurance

Quality control processes likewise benefit from robotic solutions. End-of-line inspections are crucial—especially when serving high-risk industries like pharmaceuticals or food and beverage—but often produce bottlenecks. Automation can improve both the quality and efficiency of these workflows.

Machine vision can detect flaws imperceptible to the human eye in a fraction of the time. Consequently, it does a better job of catching errors so packaging companies avoid sending defective products to their clients. These businesses can then enjoy customer loyalty without sacrificing productivity.

Automating quality control also produces data points on each defect. Artificial intelligence (AI) — which 77% of supply chain businesses already use to some extent — can analyze this information to uncover the source of errors and suggest preventive measures.

Best Practices for Implementing Robotic Packaging Machinery

Businesses hoping to capitalize on these benefits should keep several things in mind. First, optimal automation starts with recognizing the ideal type of robotic packaging machinery for the use case at hand.

Delta robots are cost-effective and achieve high speeds but can only handle simple, repetitive tasks. Multi-axis robots are more expensive and may be slower but can automate multi-step or more complex work, making them ideal for unique packaging considerations. Similarly, automatic tool changeovers are costly but typically yield less downtime by eliminating manual intervention.

Upfront expenses are a common challenge, as tight budgets and cost concerns are the two most-cited barriers to warehouse automation. The solution is often to start by implementing packaging robots where they will yield the most improvement first. Businesses should avoid investing more in robotics until these use cases show a positive return.

Automation will likely also create some workflow disruption. Packaging companies can overcome this barrier by putting employees through reskilling programs before implementing robots. That way, the workforce is ready to take on new roles by the time an automated solution is in place.

Organizations must optimize their robotic packaging systems over time, too. They should track relevant key performance indicators before and after installation to see where the solution succeeded and where it can improve. Making minor tweaks to these areas over time will result in ongoing gains.

Robotic Packaging Machinery Is the Future of B2B Logistics

Robotic packaging machinery is the answer to many of B2B logistics companies’ challenges. While this technology requires careful implementation to reach its full potential, it can significantly improve efficiency, safety and quality assurance.

Recognizing these benefits is the first step to thoughtful robotics adoption. Businesses that do that can make informed investment decisions to keep up with an evolving industry.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.

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