The term Industry 4.0 has become an established feature of our digitised society. After the invention of the steam engine, the introduction of flowing water pools and the widespread use of IT, the fourth Industrial Revolution has now started, based on smart production processes. Thanks to networked systems, today’s machines, products, plants and supply chains are continually communicating with one another and ensuring greater efficiency and flexibility through the close integration of processes in production and logistics.

Obviously this development has also affected the packaging industry, and so it seems obvious that this year’s interpack from 4 to 10 May 2017 should include a special show on Industry 4.0. During the trade fair the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) will have a range of exhibits in its Technology Lounge (Hall 5), illustrating what kind of ideas and solutions there are for tomorrow’s machines and how production processes are changing.

We talked to Vera Fritsche, expert advisor in the VDMA Association of Food Processing and Packaging Machinery on Industry 4.0 to find out what are the challenges and opportunities for companies in the packaging industry.

Ms. Fritsche, before we start talking about this subject in more depth, could you just briefly give us an idea how long Industry 4.0 has been around.

The term Industry 4.0 was first used in 2011 and is a major item on the digital agenda of the German government. There is also a research platform called Industry 4.0. Many are therefore talking about a fourth industrial revolution today. However, one often forgets that its predecessors – Industry 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 – were not revolutions at all, except for the first one, but cases of evolution. Each time the transformation proceeded in many small stages, and the same is true for Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 merges IT and production technologies. We will see humans, machines, production equipment and products communicating directly with one another, and this will create opportunities, though also challenges for companies.

Why is the timing currently so appropriate for the special show “Industry 4.0”, and what should visitors expect?
Industry 4.0 is on everyone’s lips. There are numerous conferences, studies and publications on this subject and on the question how the digital transformation might impact machine manufacturers and users. There’s also a lot of hype at the moment, and so it’s important to show how companies use and implement digitisation. Our special interpack show on Industry 4.0 in the VDMA Technology Lounge has been set up in collaboration with partners from industry, science and research. Using exhibits such as the smart4i, we’ll be demonstrating ideas and solutions for tomorrow’s machines.

This demonstrator allows the customised labelling of a powerbank. Visitors can order the device on a website and specify their own colours and wording. The job order is then mirrored from the cloud directly into the machine, which also handles the relevant process settings, so that human intervention is no longer required to carry out the job order. All the modules operate automatically, ensuring extremely short times from the order to delivery.

We will also present a smart user assistance system on the thematic complex of Industry 4.0. Such systems have enormous potential for increasing the efficiency of a plant. They can store the knowledge and experience of developers and users on a large variety of processes, making them available as and when required. This makes them a basic requirement for efficient production routines which meet the challenges of Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 stands for the Internet of Things in production, allowing independent communication between the product and the machinery. What exactly does that mean, and what technical requirements need to be met?
Machines and products can only communicate if they change data and information, both vertically and horizontally. This makes it necessary to have standardised interfaces. Such interfaces, however, continue to be a major challenge, as most machine manufacturers still have their own interfaces. One of the most important elements in the Internet of Things is integration. But integration does of course require consistency in the exchange of data and information between machines, plants, processes and humans. This presupposes open standard protocols, and we are currently seeing a clear trend towards open source solutions.

What are the challenges that the packaging industry still needs to accept from Industry 4.0?
Packaging machine manufacturers cannot offer suitably far-reaching solutions under Industry 4.0 unless their customers are prepared to share machine-related data from the manufacturing process. This is important for the acceptance of Industry 4.0 by the users of such machines. It follows that there needs to be a change in the communication between packaging machine manufacturers and their customers. If both sides want to benefit from networking, they need to trust each other and collaborate even more closely than they are at the moment.

How is Industry 4.0 changing traditional job profiles in the packaging industry?
Today’s packaging machines would be unthinkable without mechatronics – the interaction between mechanical, electrical and IT components within a system. The design and development of mechatronics solutions are determined more and more by software development, as the very concept of mechatronics involves a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics and IT with software. The job profile of a mechatronics engineer needs to be adapted to the needs of the industry. Industry 4.0 has led to greater requirements, both technically and organisationally. Workers must have interdisciplinary skills, in particular, and companies must equip their workforces for Industry 4.0, using a wide range of professional development options you segment save my work. It is therefore especially important for training enterprises and universities to talk to one another and to provide appropriate training. The job profile of a production engineer is already in place, and training places and university courses are available, so that we already have a suitable Industry 4.0 job profile.

What are the most important issues in Industry 4.0?
What matters for the purpose of Industry 4.0 is data. However, data is totally pointless in isolation. Data material derives its value from intelligent algorithms that understand the characteristic patterns of specific events within random data items and then generate usable information from it. Data makes it possible to assess processes and events fast and objectively, to make specific decisions and to take preventative action if a production system shows deviations.

Major potential in the application of Industry 4.0 can also be expected in predictive maintenance. There is currently a trend to move away from regular, reactive maintenance and, instead, to take maintenance precautions which are predictable and specific and, above all, which can be precisely scheduled. When a company buys machinery, it gains significant benefits, as the relevant plants and machinery display higher levels of availability, with a reduced risk of failure, better operating and production safety and far lower maintenance costs.

Which trend within Industry 4.0 is having the greatest impact on packaging? Using highly efficient, computer-assisted track & trace systems, such as barcodes and RFID labels, products can be traced along the entire value chain, without any gaps. Customers can use their smartphones at the point of sale or at home and check whether a given product is original or fake.
These solutions also serve to detect weaknesses in the supply chain. Real-time wireless technology provides information about the exact location and route of the merchandise, including any possible disruptions in the cooling chain. This makes it more efficient to map out trade channels and to save costs.

Printed electronics on pharmaceutical packaging can communicate with a smartphone app, telling patients or nursing staff the correct dosage and how that medication is to be administered.

Sensors on packaging monitor the state of a packaged product, particularly if the content is sensitive, and then display information about it. For instance, they can recognise impact and temperature fluctuations. The consumer then sees – in the shop or upon delivery at home – whether the product has suffered transport damage.

These examples illustrate that smart packaging has enormous potential.
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