I attended PACK EXPO Las Vegas in October to scout for new technologies and trends that are applicable to the cosmetics and beauty care industry. Aside from testing my physical fitness in walking probably 15 miles, all told, up and down aisles, what did I find? Notable were processing, filling, and packaging equipment with newer technologies that can process wide range of products and enhance consistent high-quality results. I noticed the wide use of Industry 4.0 technologies to make the new generation of equipment more productive. I also saw strong potential in a possible marriage between Industry 4.0 serialization capabilities and social media to enhance the engagement between cosmetic consumer and cosmetic manufacturers.
Gentle care for expensive product
Cosmetics and beauty care products are judged by the consumer on their aesthetic. Any external damage will be visible as a quality defect and viewed negatively. Equipment manufacturers have come up with innovative ways to handle the product gently.
One such at the show was the ESS CEL5-BL Bottom Load Case Packer from ESS Technologies. Traditionally, cosmetics containers have been manipulated so they can be dropped or placed into a pre-erected case. ESS Technologies showed a novel idea that should prevent damage to containers that are automatically case packed. Why not minimize any extra movements required to push, pull, or lift the products? Such movements could cause potential problems, or lose orientation required for oddly shaped containers or closures. Instead, a machine could form and close the case around the multiple products. That’s what ESS’s CEL5-BL Bottom Load Case Packer accomplishes.
Model CEL5-BL uses a Fanuc M-10iD to form the case, but rather than sealing the bottom, the robot holds the erected case over the load position while a servo infeed arranges the pack pattern. The robot lowers the case over the completed pack pattern, and the containers within the case are shifted onto an innovative bottom flap closing system. The bottom and top flaps are then sealed with 2-in tape (standard) or hot melt glue (optional). Bottom load applications include round bottles with large trigger spray handles, cartons that are not stable enough for side-load applications, and any other products that are not suitable for top loading or side loading. The CEL5-SL will erect, load, and close up to 10 cases/min.
Liquid filling and washdown environment
Handling contact-sensitive packages, or containers filled with thin, spill-prone liquid, has always been a challenge for cosmetics manufacturers since they require movement that comes to a complete stop for filling and assembly operations. Beckhoff recently rolled out standard product-moving modules based on the PC-controlled linear motion eXtended Transport System (XTS). Beckhoff said it is now rolling out a hygienic design, stainless-steel version of the XTS, now with IP 69K protection rating. All surfaces are chemically resistant and provide ease-of-cleaning without any hidden edges or undercuts. All components are sealed at the joints with high-quality elastic material and enable high-pressure washdown. As a result, the XTS Hygienic meets all EHEDG requirements for system certification according to EL Class I AUX. The XTS system is an intelligent system consisting of several magnetically driven movers, guide rails, and linear motor modules that can easily be configured in a wide range of geometries, lengths, radii, and orientations. They can be easily reconfigured with new modules. The movers can synchronize their motion, as well as combine to form groups and accumulate; they can create clamping forces, feature jerk-free high-speed acceleration, and can be selectively stopped and started at any position. Additionally, the XTS is cable-free, making cleaning and maintaining cleanliness an easy job. Aside from the obvious benefits for cosmetics and beauty care products, XTS-based machines offer ultimate flexibility for line reconfiguration at low cost and minimal time.
Changing over for cosmetics co-packers
Cosmetic product manufacturers—especially cosmetics co-packers or other sub-contractors—face a daunting task of constantly changing over their equipment for short lead time production requirements and small runs. It is not cost-justified to have dedicated equipment, but automation is a must for the manufacturer to be competitive, so flexibility is a much sought-after capability. These two innovations caught my eye at the show for their changeover flexibility.
First, PKB has increased the product range it can run on its PKB Eco filler-capper machine. Now, the same machine can be configured to be able to run wide range of cosmetics—from very small plastic containers with screw closures, to water-thin fragrance in glass bottles, to thick mascara and hot lip gloss, to jars—just by adding or removing modules, since the basic machine remains the same. The fill range is between 0.5mL and 500mL.
Anybody who has dealt with cartoners, especially for very small cosmetic products, knows how difficult and time-consuming a changeover is. Citus Kalix exhibited its new generation horizontal cartoner KP600 EVO. In addition to protecting even the most fragile folding cartons, the cartoner features seven automatic (motorized) adjustments, programmed from, and saved as recipe on, a color touchscreen. Those parts that need replacement are changed without tools. All these features were added without increasing the cost of the cartoner.
Ultra-careful handling barrier yielding to gentle automation
Automation in the cosmetic industry has long been inhibited by difficulty in handling multiple formats of delicate, fragile, and easy-to-scratch materials and components, especially during unscrambling and singulation. Though traditional rotary and vibratory unscramblers have evolved, the new game in town is flexible feeders consisting of a fast robot (to pick and place the parts), a system that delivers the components in front of the vision camera, and a fast vision system that identifies the part and its orientation, thus optimizing the picking order. These flexible feeders eliminate costly, time-consuming retooling and allow manufacturers to work with a wide variety of parts without purchasing new equipment. Moreover, it’s now easy to teach and train operators how to program these systems with a point-and-click interface. Many were on display, but there were two that caught my eye.
Epson Robots exhibited what it called a simplistic, affordable, fast, and flexible feeding system configured with a G-Series SCARA robot, the new IntelliFlex™ Feeding System, and IntelliFlex Software and Vision Guide. The unique feature was the small-footprint IntelliFlex Feeding System, delivering and shaking loose the parts within a small tray, thus eliminating parts recirculation found on previous generation of a similar system. Such singulator/feeders will be vey productive for items such as foam and brush applicators, godets, and small closures found in cosmetics and beauty.
Meanwhile, Fanuc exhibited an amazing vision system coupled with multi-axis robot. The 3D camera was able to sense height, position, orientation, and angled surfaces. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this system was that it performed flawlessly, detecting an object painted with a random zebra pattern moving fast on belt painted with the same pattern. The product was camouflaged to the observer, but not to the vision system. This capability opens a new venue for automation and accommodates a wide variety of cosmetic products that are known to have complex aesthetic shapes. FANUC also introduced an AI Error Proofing artificial intelligence, a new addition to its iRVision vision control. The AI Error Proofing tool is able to intelligently differentiate between good and bad parts during production runs. Here’s how it works. During setup, the operator presents multiple examples of work pieces, and classifies them into two categories–good and bad. Once the operator classifies the images, the AI Error Proofing feature automatically classifies the parts during production runs.
What’s all the buzz about “Industry 4.0”?
It was clear at the show that manufacturing is at an inflection point; technologies are advancing very fast while their cost is rapidly falling. These drivers have started to transform how manufacturers organize and execute global operations, from product design and production, to customer service and corporate culture.
In a world where cosmetics and beauty care consumers are increasingly ordering exactly what they want, wanting it today, and using the internet for research before they buy, being fast to market is becoming a requirement for survival. Adopting and integrating Industry 4.0 technologies will allow the cosmetic brand manufacturer to rapidly develop, get into production, and react to market demands. This is because the digitized data about the product and the necessary means to manufacture and distribute it can collaboratively and concurrently be used by the various suppliers involved in the process.
To illustrate the efficiency afforded by using Industry 4.0 technologies let’s review only a small portion of the total cycle: tooling or reconfiguring the equipment to be able to run a new product. The engineers at the machine supplier will plug digitized product information into the digitized machine model (often called the digital twins of the actual product and machine) and will investigate if the product can run on the machine. They will design the necessary tooling and run multiple simulations, under different boundary conditions, and if there are problems, they will modify the design, re-analyze, and repeat the process until they are satisfied. While doing that they will optimize the cycle time. All the above activities are done quickly without a penny spent to make actual parts. Subsequently, the machine will be modified and tooled with high confidence that it will perform as planned. Production cost end up as anticipated or better, and there’s no need for costly inventories of parts just in case troubles show up. This all ultimately results in the full utilization of capital assets because of the high confidence that production can quickly and predictably be changed from one product to another.
Just as important to the manufacturer’s ability to react fast is maintaining the equipment in good running condition. I saw these two examples, introduced at Las Vegas, of important new remote maintenance initiatives to reduce equipment repair work and downtime.
The Coesia Group showcased its next generation Remote Assistance maintenance technology on R.A Jones Criterion® CLI-100 cartoner. This service solution uses high-quality audio, live video, file sharing, remote PLC interface, and augmented reality for faster, more effective equipment diagnosis. Remote Assistance combines technology like smart glasses, tablets, or smartphones with an IT platform to connect on-site personnel with Coesia experts. This enhanced collaboration allows packaging operations to resolve issues faster and maximize uptime at lower cost, by avoiding the financial burden and wait-time associated with bringing in specialized technicians.
Nita Labeling Equipment Inc. exhibited one of the most “sentient” labelers I have ever seen, and the manufacturer calls its sentient system Nita 4.0. Imagine a labeler that senses issues and tells you how to fix them. Imagine a labeler that tells you which parts needed changing before they wear out, or that power load (torque) on the motors are trending to cause wear issues. Built into every Nita 4.0 system are these features:
1) A comprehensive set of self-diagnostic and real-time monitoring capabilities.
2) All the 3D drawings and bills of materials for all the labeler’s parts, accessed by intuitive interaction navigation menus and screens, including all the documents needed to order and purchase parts.
3) The labeler is connected in real time, via the internet, to the equipment supplier, and a single click places a purchase order for the parts.
4) Built into Nita HMI is a one-button connection to a live Nita video chat technician who can guide the operator through any problem, or even connect to the machine to diagnose and remedy a settings issue on-the-spot (free service).
Moreover, for those whose IT department will not allow a dedicated IP connection for network security reasons, Nita is providing its NitaCare Mobile application that offers the same technical support as the one built in. The no-charge application connects directly to the NitaCare team and automatically allows Nita team to see what is going on and help resolve the issue.
Industry 4.0 and consumer engagement
Cosmetic brand manufacturers make hundreds of products, constantly changing with the whims of consumers. How is the manufacturer to know what is going on with the consumer and how the consumer reacts to new products? The answer lies in an Industry 4.0. ecosystem of assigning unique identity to everything; this include the products themselves. We are all familiar with 1D bar code (UPC), or the more recent 2D datamatrix code (QR code), printed directly on the outer package or a label, used to identify product types (frequently called SKUs). These codes are generic for all identical products—they do not identify the individual products being sold within a SKU. These codes are required by retailers and are mainly used in the distribution of the products. The cosmetic brands makes some use of these codes already. For example, the Point-Of-Sale (POS) data is used in production planning. The consumer also makes some use of these codes to do online research about the product, but the research is convoluted, and the cosmetic brand is getting limited information about the consumer. Currently the cosmetic manufacturer is getting some digital information about end customers through brand sites, social media, and online marketing. This is typically a marketing-/IT-owned effort.
Industry 4.0 technologies such as serialization and the track and trace ecosystem (including Cloud servers and verification processing), already used for pharmaceutical products, point a way to significantly increase consumer engagement, as well as provide other operational benefits to the cosmetic brand manufacturer. In essence, serialization involves imparting a unique code (some people call it a “product digital passport”) on each product, right on the production line as the product is created. This serialization facilitates tracking of each product throughout the product life cycle, from production until it is purchased and used. By issuing serialization identifiers to each sale-able item, cosmetic brands can safeguard the value and integrity of their products by guaranteeing the authenticity of the product, facilitating recall operations, mapping the grey markets, spotlighting counterfeiting, and complying with government regulations and directives. Plus, there are operational benefits due to the transparency of the product in the supply chain.
Antares Vision introduced at Las Vegas its enhanced serialization technology that allows embedding QR codes to micro-sites, or social media, directly into the packaging of a product. The consumer will be incentivized to scan the code with a mobile phone and enter some data. In return, the consumer will be offered a plethora of helpful information such as discounting opportunities, product description, application and use, allergies, what “influencers” say about the product, future line extensions, etc. Moreover, the consumer can now communicate to the manufacturer about any issue found with the specific product. This allows the manufacturer to quickly assess if there were problems with the production lot and take proactive measures to communicate with specific consumers to alert or remove/replace defective product. This immediate proactivity can potentially build trust between the manufacturer and the consumer (and now with the “influencers”).
To do this properly, brand teams must partner with packaging experts to make sure the code (and maybe an incentive note) are visible while minimizing impact to size and aesthetics. Antares has launched at the Las Vegas show a test of the concept by distributing fake gambling chips, each already coded with a unique QR. Those who receive the chips are encouraged to scan the chip with their mobile phone (no special application needed) and enter some information with the promise that some would receive prizes.
Done correctly, this type of innovation may lead to richer understanding of the basket(s) consumers buy together, as well as lifetime value of the consumer.
These are only the highlights that one traveler down the aisles of PACK EXPO was able to uncover. It can’t help but make you wonder what we’ll see next year in Chicago.