October 2022’s PACK EXPO International in Chicago was the first major PMMI tradeshow that I’ve visited since the COVID-19 pandemic. Since it had been a while, I was intrigued to see what would be new for the cosmetics and beauty care industry, especially considering the inaccessibility of factories due to the pandemic, the shortage of technical people, and rising labor costs. Well, after many miles of walking the show floor, a lot of observations, and even more questions asked, it was clear that the focus of the show could be distilled into three main themes: packaging material sustainability, automation, and the digitization of our world.
Most of the sustainability exhibits and talks at the show were related to food and high-volume consumer products. So while sustainability has been a major theme for cosmetics and beauty care brands as well, that is too big of a subject for this article. Hence, I will focus on automation and equipment, including the extensive use of the digitalization of “everything” and the extensive use of the internet to communicate and resolve equipment issues.
Smart automation via linear motor track systems
New and more integrated smart automation solutions and digitalized machine and plant processes were introduced by a number of generic automation suppliers.
The keys to smart automation, as it replaces hard automation, are the linear motor tracks moving magnetic carriers—sometimes referred to as shuttles—in combination with robots, cobots, and integrated control systems. These smart package holders transport the workpieces individually and at high precision through a machine, and without being bound to rigid timing (on demand). By now, many automation houses—like Schubert, Syntegon Technology, Groninger, PKB, and Weckerle, to name a few—have incorporated systems like the eXtended Transport System (XTS) from Beckhoff, or the ACOPOStrak and SuperTrak from B&R, into their respective cosmetic and beauty care lines. The advantages of such systems are manyfold. They realize higher operating speeds, precision braking and acceleration, and individual product movement is controlled independently of other products, all while obviating the need for buffer zones. These advantages are key in preserving the best possible product aesthetics, very important for cosmetics and beauty care, as they eliminate rough handling and contact between package components. Thanks to their modular design, new and existing systems are easy to scale and rearrange, thus minimizing new investment.
The newest innovations I saw at the show were the systems that makes use of levitating 2D product transport, with up to six degrees of freedom, called XPlanar system from Beckhoff, or ACOPOS 6D from B&R. The technology is based on the principle of magnetic levitation: Shuttles with integrated permanent magnets float over the surface of electromagnetic motor segments. They can move freely in two-dimensional space, rotate and tilt along three axes, and offer precise control over the height of levitation. Altogether, that gives them six degrees of motion control freedom. Dirt caused by mechanical abrasion, as occurs on conveyor belts and chains, is essentially eliminated. This prevents soiling and contamination of sensitive products and reduces cleaning costs.
I can’t wait to see the next compact assembly line made with this new levitating transport technology.
Cobots replace manual labor
The trend of replacing manual labor with cobots was very evident at PACK EXPO International. To refresh the reader’s memory, the term cobot refers to Collaborative Robots: robotic arms that have pressure-sensitive sensors enabling them to work alongside people, while removing the need for expensive industrial guards and safety scanners. These cobots, due to their “manipulative” motions mimicking humans, are now automating the tasks of box/ case forming, case packing and palletizing—if high speed is not required.
Flexline Automation exhibited an integration of a Universal Robots cobot with its BoxEZ manual case former. The company also exhibited another cell with an additional cobot to automate the collation and insertion of the primary products into the formed box and the pushing of the case through case closer/taper.
Omega Design Corporation exhibited its Cobot Pack Assist for the Intelli-Pac unit, loading multiple containers into a formed box. This is track and trace case packing, labeling, and inspection. Omega claims that the cobot boosts efficiency (faster operation than manual case packing), significantly reduces human error, and frees the operator to focus on overall operation and product quality, not hand motion.
And Brooks Automation exhibited its SCARA type PreciseFlex Collaborative Robots in a palettizing set-up. The advantages of these SCARA cobots are in their simplicity, and in both horizontal and vertical reach envelope.
Late-stage customization puts focus on printing
A key to successful late-stage customization is quality, on-demand printing directly on secondary and tertiary packaging. This is not only a cost savings capability by eliminating labeling or preprinting boxes; it supports sustainability and eliminates supply chain disruptions for manufacturers and fulfillment centers alike. The ability to perform the printing at the last moment before shipping or picking for shipment offers a unique opportunity to customize the printing to individual consumers as a marketing tool. For example, wouldn’t you like to get a box with colorful picture of the products inside, or of what other products may go well together with what is being shipped?
Inkjet technology has undergone rapid development. A range of inks, from non-hazardous vegetable oils to UV-cured inks in many colors, are now available to be applied on different package substrates, mostly by continuous inkjet printing (CIJ) and by the drop-on-demand (DOD) systems. These both use piezoelectric technology (PIJ) to control the jetted ink flow. All suppliers are continually upgrading their products, enhancing their reliability, maintainability, resolution, readability, and compliance with GS1 standards, including GS1-128, GTIN-14. The trend is for the suppliers to integrate scanning and scanning software to verify that the code is correct and readable. Optionally, the suppliers incorporate Industry 4.0 elements (and by now some Industry 5.0, it seems) such as connectivity to factory ERP systems, other equipment, and through the cloud to the printer supplier for continuous equipment monitoring. Interacting with track and trace software is another feature becoming popular, especially for the pharma industry, but could be used for high value cosmetics and skin care products to detect and monitor “diversion”. Another development is the increased printing envelopes with the use of large, high resolution printing heads.
For example, Domino introduced its all-new Domino Cx350i, a high-resolution DOD case-coding system. The company touts the high resolution, integration of the no maintenance features of the DOD, and what it says is an intuitive control system.
Graphic Solid Inks (GSI) made its PACK EXPO International Chicago-debut with its multi-color Colorize Inkjet Systems, featuring CMYK+White CIJ with UV cured inks. GSI combined NoLabel and Colorize Printing heads, with one control system, to be create vivid, high-resolution printing plus bar codes on kraft corrugated. PW has covered this technology before, but I could see this having an impact specifically on cosmetics and beauty care.
Diagraph introduced its DOD ResMark 5000 high-resolution compact heads without ink hoses, featuring integrated control for up to eight heads, patented quick disconnect printer modules for easy swap, and localized wireless connectivity. Plus, the company claims to have the industry-leading ink throw distance up to 0.5-in.
Not to be outdone by inkjet coding, the laser coding market has also vastly upgraded itself in the years since I was at the last PACK EXPO International. Different UV wave lengths are offered, as well as powerful CO2 options, so more substrates, including metal, can be clearly marked and read by scanning hardware and software. The etching envelope has also grown significantly.
Videojet, for example, exhibited 60-Watt CO2 Laser Marking System with an etching envelope of almost 4 sq ft, and with life of 45,000 hours, it can save a lot of ink.
Another key element in late-stage customization is the ability to handle (and print or code) primary packages rather than having to get them preprinted. This is very beneficial for short runs or promotional customization, both common in cosmetics and beauty care. The technological challenge is to have flexibility to handle a wide range of formats on the same equipment, with minimal or easy change overs.
HSAUSA introduced the VFS-1000 Vertical Feeding System that takes a unique approach to the way folding cartons, bags, and pouches are magazined and delivered to a conveyor. Stand-up folding cartons, pouches, and bags are standing on an edge, picked, and placed onto a shuttle table, then pushed on to the downstream conveyor, presumably for printing or labeling. It is a batch operation, but the replenishment of the blanks can be done without stopping the equipment. The VFS-1000 is part of a family of modules that can be put together to automatically handle, print (or label), inspect or reject and stack up finished parts.
A common retail cosmetics vector for late-stage-customization is blister packaging. Sonoco Alloyd introduced the Aergo line of blister sealing packaging equipment. The Aergo line features heat, fusion, and RF sealing technology. Plus, it uses servo motions rather than mechanical , thus enhancing de-nesting capabilities, and can be scaled up with additional options. The Aergo SSL 11 station servo-driven machine at the show had all the necessary stations to handle both plastic blister and EnviroSense PaperBlister, and featured Alloyd quick-change heat seal tooling. Sonoco Alloyd has been touting their EnviroSense PaperBlister package as a way to contribute to a brand’s sustainability profile.
Most cosmetics and beauty care containers are sourced from overseas. To maintain purity inside the container in the interval between making the container and filling it, some manufacturers opted to have the container delivered to their filling operation already pre-capped. This way, no dust or dirt can enter the container. To handle these pre-capped bottles, the filling equipment needs to remove the caps, put the caps on a shuttle system, fill the open containers, and re-cap/re-torque the containers. While this complicates the fillers, it does have one significant operational advantage and one quality advantage. There is no need for unscramblig equipment and complicated set-up for changeovers, and there is no additional physical handling of the caps, further maintaining the original aesthetic of the caps without handling damage.
PKB has started to offer this un-capping, to fill, to re-capping feature as well. For instance, I saw a video at PKB booth of a high speed filler performing the un-capping and re-capping.
Many suppliers touted remote access for equipment troubleshooting, all through the internet, and many times using the smart phones as the access and communication tool.
NITA exhibited a wide range of its SENTIANT labelers, and the focus in its booth was all about uptime, seamless remote monitoring, and maintenance access via the internet (or cloud). NITA claims that their labelers are the easiest to maintain due to 100% license-free, non-proprietary electronics and software, all synchronized servos (no PLCs, etc.), live tech support via the internet, self-diagnosing software system with in-screen parts ordering, and built-in preventative maintenance.
Equipment innovations for tubes in the cosmetics market
Tubes are a common package format in the cosmetics, body, and hair care industry, often in multiple sizes and artwork decoration. So, how do you make manufacturing more efficient? Easy and fast changeovers is one answer.
Citus-Kalix, part of the COESIA Group, introduced its latest high-speed simplex (one filling nozzle) KX1103 EVO tube filler for plastic and metal, capable of producing at 110 tubes/min. The manufacturer calls the machine “the next generation,” primarily due to the quick changeover. The claim is 10 minutes [of changeover time] to start a new production run. The equipment accomplishes the fast changeover with automatic servo-driven adjustments where possible, format set-up data registered in recipe, dedicated change parts that can be easily swapped (no adjustments needed and preferably no tools), and now more and more, step by step instructions on the HMI.
Tubes for cosmetics and beauty care have been mostly sourced from China. Problems in the supply chain due to COVID-19 from China created a demand for new tube labeling equipment. Pendergraph Machines introduced its tube pre-labeler TL-60, which was integrated with to a
Conveyors for cosmetics are also advancing
So conveyors are not going away, and we still need to unscramble components. Gentle unscrambling and transporting are key to safe handling of cosmetic products, where aesthetics are key.
Manufacturers of horizontal motion conveying systems grapple with how to minimize vertical “rubbing” movement and constant vibration between parts being transported in linear transport chutes. Several manufacturers displayed a new concept of oscillating chutes that did not create vertical vibration. A profiled movement back and forth (cam-driven linear motion) “pulls the rug” from under the components that want to continue moving forward due to the inertia imparted by the forward movement. Essentially, the backward movement is much faster than the forward movement. This can provide gentler means to move flat components, as well as powder. However, since all the manufacturers displaying these chutes at PACK EXPO focused on food products, none has attempted to explore the gentle handling of cosmetic componentry (highly subject to being damaged by rubbing against each other and against rails). Two examples I saw at the show:
More generally speaking, I was thrilled to see so many advances exhibited and discussed at PACK EXPO International after my long hiatus, and the above 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 Las Vegas.