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ARC Forum points to the need for packaging machinery standards

A scheduling conflict kept me from attending this year's ARC Forum in Orlando. But Keith Campbell—esteemed colleague, automation expert, and author of OnTheEdge blog—made it to the event, so I bring you his observations.
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The opening session of ARC's World Industry Forum on driving innovation, sustainability, and performance provided insights into the issues that are or will be affecting packagers and packaging machinery suppliers, even though the word "packaging" was never actually used. The session's presenters represented ARC and the oil and chemical industries, but these industries frequently deal with issues a few years in advance of the rest of manufacturing.

Areas that the forum will be dealing with as the days unfold include energy management, remote operations management, anti-counterfeiting, cyber security, mobile solutions for manufacturing, project management, interoperability, and asset management. Questions from the audience and replies from the panel assembled at the close of the opening session frequently moved to the topic of standardization. All of these topics relate to packaging.

Andy Chatha, President of ARC, shared a statement from P&G's 2010 annual report to point to a significant trend that is affecting industry. One aspect of this statement is about standards that are bound to affect packaging machine suppliers. P&G's Chairman/CEO Robert A. McDonald stated in that report:

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"Another good example of how we're becoming more productive is the ‘digitization' of P&G. With digitization, our goal is to standardize, automate, and integrate systems and data so we can create a real-time operating and decision-making environment. We want P&G to be the most technology-enabled company in the world. We are targeting a 20-25% reduction in some spending areas and we are looking for a sevenfold increase in real-time data. By getting the right data to the right decision makers at the right time, we can become increasingly efficient and productive."

Many have questioned why engineering and IT departments want to get involved in specifying control equipment, networks, and data standards for packaging machines. I think that this statement gives some real insight into why that is and what is likely to happen, not just at P&G but at world class manufacturers everywhere.

Standardizing systems and data is where it starts. System standards can be vendor specific or based upon broader industry standards. Data can be standardized company by company or via standards such as PackML. The industry can influence how this is done or they can sit back while end users create multiple and varied standards which machine builders will need to deal with one by one.

I believe that machine builders that are already working with industry standards are the ones best prepared to do business with companies that share or will develop a vision like that expressed by P&G. Those companies are also the ones best prepared to provide ongong leadership to the standards development process.

Packagers, packaging machine manufacturers, and their organizations need to decide whether these issues are important enough to invest the time and energy that it takes to develop, update, and support workable standards that will help companies standardize, automate, and integrate systems and data.

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