The promise to producers is of lower costs through reduced inventory and lower energy usage, improvements in quality control and productivity, and the insights management can gain from the greater availability of more accurate information. Although the processes of batch manufacturing differ in fundamental ways from the exact precision required by discrete manufacturers, Industry 4.0 concepts definitely offer advantages to the Food and Beverage industry, and consumers too will benefit from the application of Smart Factory principles. Smart sensing technology, for example, can be used to improve aspects of the manufacturing process such as food safety and track and trace, as well as improved packaging and new product development. Rise in innovation – Augmented Reality and Smart Glasses The ability to trace a food or beverage product’s complete history is becoming more important as consumers and authorities are demanding product recalls, when necessary, in ever shorter timeframes. Instances of food poisoning are increasing, partly due to greater consumption of fresh food, and technologies like smart sensors and RFID help to keep the entire supply chain in view. As food components move from field to table, inventory management becomes a critical aspect of the F&B supply chain. Managing a huge variety of perishable components calls for sophisticated software that keeps products moving fast, with minimal time spent static in a warehouse. And here is where another innovative technology can come in to play. Augmented reality is helping logistics managers keep control of stocks, improving process speed, accuracy, and efficiency. AR notification and navigation systems with a smart glasses interface help warehouse staff pinpoint the precise location of each item and reduce the number of wrong picks. For example, ST Electronics has adopted the Epson Moverio smartglasses in a pilot trial for locating of stock in their warehouse that utilises AR navigation systems, helping warehouse staff to pinpoint the precise location of each item and reduce the number of wrong picks. With the smart glasses headset, workers no longer need to return to the office to get their picklist each time a new order comes in. They can be alerted to new tasks on the go, and are less likely to get lost or make mistakes. Greater speed and accuracy of stock management means less time in the warehouse and fresher components into the food supply chain – and therefore healthier and happier consumers. Changing demand and new interactions with customers It is no secret that the way consumers shop is changing. Increasingly, the customer journey involves online product research before purchase, and studies have shown that as many as 84 percent of shoppers in the US use their smartphones before or during a visit to a store to gather product information – and those who do, convert to buyers at a 40 percent higher rate. Retailers and manufacturers are therefore under pressure to find ways to interact with the customer at the point of sale, in order to influence the purchase decision. This means smart packaging, labelling and POS collaterals that go beyond the traditional limitations and communicate with consumers on multiple levels. Smart Labelling and packaging The relevance of Industry 4.0 to labelling and packaging may not be immediately obvious, but it is the smart sensor technologies which form an integral part of Industry 4.0 in the food and beverage plant that can provide the up-to-date product information – raw materials, sustainability data, allergen information, expiry dates and so on – that smart labels can present directly to the customer. Smart labelling can also protect against counterfeiting, product tampering and theft, as well as helping to extend the shelf life of fresh produce and reduce waste, of both food and packaging materials. The key to taking smart labelling and packaging from concept to reality is the digital printing revolution. Driven by both technology trends – speed, format, capability – and market forces such as the demand for shorter runs, customisation, SKU proliferation, JIT production and environmental concerns, digital printing applications are virtually limitless. Labels for every product type, shrink sleeves, folding cartons, tags and shelf talkers can all be printed with high quality and at low cost on a huge variety of substrates, from paper to polyvinyl to metallic foils. This versatility and rapid changeability have led to the situation today where packaging has become the primary product differentiator when the consumer confronts the vast variety of food and beverage choices on the retail store’s shelves. Even before the product reaches the shelf, digital printed packaging is impacting the whole supply chain, delivering measurable benefits for brand owners. Through product development, test marketing and manufacturing, to targeted on-demand product promotions, digital printing of labels and packaging is producing higher value and increased revenues. When it was time to carry out a brand refresh of a popular snack product for example, digital printing was brought into play as early as the prototyping stage. The product team was immediately able to see the realisation of the brand personality and packaging design evolution – The initial design concepts for a range of flavours were printed onto metallic foil, fully mocked up into pouches and filled with product for placement in stores for final real-world, consumer shelf testing.
Conventional packaging will continue to help F&B brands stand out from their competitors. However, the trend to smart packaging, with the convenience, economy, and versatility of digital printing, will usher in a new era of interactive shopping, building new and stronger relationships between brand and consumer.