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Future shock (sidebar)

Blue-sky packaging ideas

While incremental improvements of existing packaging technology made up the bulk of interviewees' comments, several ideas were offered that, if realized, could radically alter the face of packaging. At the top of the list was an entirely new filling concept sketched out by Paul Redwood, packaging systems manager at Unilever Home and Personal Care Products. His observation: why take bottles out of the case in order to fill them? Why not fill and cap pre-labeled bottles while they're still in the shipper from the bottle maker? That would eliminate a huge amount of bottle handling as well as uncasing, case packing and case sealing. It could also push labeling upstream, out of the packager's plant (already a practice at some packagers). It would be simple enough to develop an array of nozzles that could be positioned over a series of containers, says Redwood. As for the capper? "That'd have to be explored further," he admits. There's also the question of rinsing. At Coors Brewing, senior packaging engineer Ron Morse envisions a unique use for robotics, but not for actual packaging. Rather, case packers, cartoners and multi-packers could come with robots to replenish their magazines. Morse also envisions a similarly unique twist on machine vision: instead of inspecting packaging materials, why not embed inexpensive machine vision chips and lenses into packaging machines so that packaging equipment could continually monitor itself? "Obviously we have sensors, but sensors are either go or no-go," says Morse. "Vision systems could monitor a lot more." Both ideas could free up workers, says Morse, from the drudgery of replenishing and monitoring. Also at Coors, Joe Haake, R&D packaging manager, wants multipackers that are flexible. Really flexible. "We'd be interested in machines that could pack any number of cans-six, nine, eleven, twelve, fifteen, whatever." And the ability to handle different shapes: "For example, we may want to run ten cans into a triangle pack, fifteen cans into a pyramid, etcetera." From the plant managers at contract packager Power Packaging come a couple of far-out ideas: a horizontal f/f/s poucher that's able to operate at 600 to 1ꯠ+/min speeds, and capable of being changed over in 15 minutes, with no change parts. Or how about a high-barrier pouch or thermoforming material that's completely recyclable? Sure guys. Anything else? "I'm going to throw in my two cents for transparent aluminum," says Coors' Haake. "Everybody laughs, but I have confidence."

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