Many coffee businesses are looking to pivot their products to formats more suitable to the growing at-home and retail markets. Secondary packaging, what the coffee bags or capsules go in after filling, needs to be a key consideration when turning from wholesale or hospitality sales to direct-to-consumer.
“The demand [for new packaging solutions] has grown as far as retail consumption is concerned, creating a constant increase in production, and a related increase in automation demand to meet the needs of increased production,” says Paola Fraschini, Marketing Manager at secondary packaging specialist Cama Group.
“Automation allows you to increase the efficiency of processes and production, to manage the changes of products and packaging on the same line in a lean and effective way, and to have a production capacity that can be extended over a potential of 24 hours, reducing the number of operators needed around the machine line.”
However, an inability to travel, meet face-to-face, or test equipment due to COVID-19 may be discouraging some to invest in the new technology they need to cater to this market. To provide these businesses with a sense of assurance and continuity, Cama has expanded its digital capabilities with the launch of its Live Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) program.
“The goal of Live FAT was to support customers who could not travel to test the machine here in our factory to test it remotely, staying safe at home, at their desk,” Fraschini says.
“Although we have been working on the technology for some months now, its virtual, on-line approach is proving incredibly pertinent and beneficial in these times of lockdown and separation.”
Cama’s customers often require tailored and flexible solutions for their packaging. With the Live FAT platform, smart cameras located close to the machine’s primary operational elements give them real-time video access to machine tests – using their own protocols and project specifications – live from Cama’s premises.
In addition to the comprehensive overview given by the smart cameras, customers can also access complementary cameras covering static equipment, such as electrical panels.
This visual information and data is streamed via a secure, invite-only Microsoft Teams portal, accessed using a computer, tablet, or phone. Customers also have the option to go full screen on particular views, to get even more detail.
Fraschini says high-definition cameras coupled to dedicated visualisation software and auto lighting ensure the clearest possible views, immaterial of the viewing platform.
“Live FAT is a combination of all these processes through a PC architecture, to which smart cameras positioned in the crucial parts of the machine are connected,” she says.
“The idea for this system came from an analysis of what we could do remotely. We can manage interviews, meetings, and assistance, and this function came as a consequence of our increasing digitalisation approach, which started a long time before COVID-19.”
Live FAT joins an ensemble of programs Cama has introduced over the last few years to carry the customer experience into the digital age. These include pre-sales visualisation, virtual design using augmented reality, and virtual commissioning.
Fraschini says Cama has long been a proponent of advanced contemporary automation solutions, Industry 4.0 concepts, and comprehensive on- and off-machine connectivity.
“Cama is now able to virtualise every step of a project: from initial design concepts, through to building, testing, commissioning, installation, and beyond, for ongoing maintenance and support,” she says.
“Our machines are like our body. We are full of sensors, which transfer inputs to our brains, and this is the same for our machines. Packaging machines, years ago, had only basic sensors on board which could only identify if the machine was alive or dead. Nowadays, trough digitalisation, all of our machines are able to ‘talk about their feelings’. They can advise of their status, like: ‘I am consuming not enough or too much energy, not enough or too much air, I am nearly broken down’, thanks to the machines’ smart components.”
The adoption of smart machine technology like this, and much deeper connectivity, offers multiple advantages to both manufacturers like Cama and its customers in coffee, food and beverage, and other segments.
Large companies in particular have appreciated the cost effectiveness of Cama’s virtualisation, Fraschini says. She adds it will be essential for them to maintain this operating model moving forward.
“This is not a simple video test. It is something more dedicated and complex. It requires a greater commitment on our part in terms of operations, but the yield is successful,” Fraschini says.
“Virtualisation can be applied to many different aspects of a machine’s lifecycle. It will help address all those geographic, economic, technical, and social barriers that customers may currently be unable to overcome, such as providing trial products due quantity, shipping costs, or simply because they are excessively delicate or frozen. It will be like having a highly experienced Cama engineer on site for our customers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications have helped speed up a movement towards Industry 4.0 concepts across various industries. Fraschini says those already embracing automation, digitisation, and virtualisation, like Cama and its customers, may have fared better than most.
“During this emergency period, Cama never stopped operating to meet the needs of our customers, while, of course, following rules of conduct established by the government. The company responded immediately and with extreme flexibility to all changes requested, and this allowed us to continue the activity without uncertainties,” Fraschini says.
“The drop in demand in our sector [of secondary packaging] was, worldwide, lower than in other sectors. This is explained by a growth in the demand for ‘ultra-packaging’ in various geographical areas, such as eastern countries, the United States, and Europe itself.
“The agri-food sector reacted well. Moreover, let’s not forget the growing numbers in the large-scale distribution sector. Another aspect to consider is that packaging will be increasingly in demand as protection and safety tools. This will lead to a maintenance of our volumes for the foreseeable future.”
Fraschini says to Cama, it is key the coffee industry, and manufacturers more broadly, put a greater focus on automation and digitisation to recover from the effects of COVID-19. Cama’s next step is to add virtual remote assistance to its digital manufacturing package.
“We are in a time of strong changes, where it is essential for manufacturers to invest in research and development. The key word is ‘adaptation’ to situations, from every point of view, and the lesson we have learned is that we must be able to optimise processes,” Fraschini says.
“Companies able to adapt and be flexible will maintain their positions in the market and will probably be able to grow again.”
For more information, visit www.camagroup.com