Suzanne Callander reports on the increasingly obvious link between digitalisation and more sustainable processing and packaging operations. 

As the confectionery industry, along with most other industries, faces increasing pressure to reduce its environmental impact, it is important to highlight the very real link between digitalisation and more sustainable production operations. By integrating digital technologies into confectionery production processes, it is possible to streamline operations and also achieve greater sustainability.  

Integrating digital technologies into existing production lines will help confectionery producers to enhance their resource efficiency and reduce waste through the real-time monitoring of energy consumption and raw material usage.  

Effective predictive maintenance strategies rely on data coming from smart devices on the production line to help reduce unexpected equipment downtime. It enables producers to predict equipment maintenance needs and optimise maintenance schedules which increases operational efficiency, prolongs equipment lifespan, and minimises the need for replacements – leading to a more sustainable production process. 

Digitalisation also allows confectionery producers to gain better visibility and traceability across their supply chains. Technologies such as blockchain, RFID, and smart sensors enables producers to track the journey of raw materials from source to finished product. This transparency not only helps identify potential bottlenecks but also ensures compliance with sustainability standards, such as ethical sourcing and fair-trade practices. 

When it comes to sustainability, the packaging industry has made huge progress on two key fronts – production line energy consumption and the use of more eco-friendly packaging materials – according to Andrea Boggio, CEO at SACMI Packaging & Chocolate. 

Making progress 

In most confectionery plants a great deal of energy is consumed during production and this is why SACMI Packaging & Chocolate felt it was important to work alongside the main electric motor manufacturers to develop solutions that minimise consumption and CO2 equivalent emissions during processing. 

“Take a typical conching cycle for a high-quality dark chocolate, made in a high-output factory,” says Andrea. “It has been demonstrated that modern motors can cut electricity requirements, saving up to 22 tons of CO2 emissions per year. These are real-world figures taken from a SACMI Packaging & Chocolate project for one of the industry’s leading players: results that are repeatable in other settings with similar energy scenarios.” 

Packaging operations – both primary and secondary – can also be made more sustainable.  Andrea pointed out that, in the drive to make packaging more environmentally-friendly it is crucial to maintain the product’s organoleptic qualities and shelf life. “Today’s multilayer packaging materials do this extremely well, so the challenge is to replicate that performance with green materials. However, many of the new sustainable materials are more fragile or differ somewhat from traditional ones, so it is important that the packaging machines are able to handle these materials.” 

A new generation of SACMI Packaging & Chocolate machines, ready for the latest green materials, is now coming online. For example, its new praline and bar wrapping machines have handling movements and the relative on-machine controls required to work with cellulose-based materials. “We have replaced the traditional ‘mechanical approach’ to design with a ‘hybrid’ mechanics+electronics model. The result? More accurate, more precise wrapping movements even at high speeds, making the machines ‘gentler’ and much better suited to the new materials,” concluded Andrea. 

interpack insights 

There has been a huge shift in technology advances between the last two interpack exhibitions. Since 2017 not only has technology has come on in leaps and bounds but also the drivers for technology adoption have changed, as the need for more sustainable solutions – in both products and production processes – has become a driving force for change in most organisations. 

Creating a sustainable confectionery packaging solution requires the equipment and packaging material to be perfectly matched and this is a target that Schubert has set for itself with its new ‘Packaging Perspectives’ program. Through consulting, packaging development and research, it aims to actively support customers on their sustainable journeys.

The programme includes expertise, packaging development, testing facilities at Schubert’s technical centre and laboratory, as well as customised consulting services to bring together the best possible mix of materials, packaging and machine for an application.  

“With Packaging Perspectives, we aim to provide new perspective for more sustainable packaging,” explains Marcel Kiessling, Managing Director of Gerhard Schubert GmbH. “As part of our Mission Blue Sustainability Initiative, we are consolidating all our activities relating to sustainable packaging in the program.” 

But what might this mean in practical terms for confectionery producers? Schubert experts are able to provide support relating to material selection and packaging design to ensure packaging solutions are both machine-compatible and environmentally friendly.  

Schubert’s experience in erecting, filling and sealing flat carton blanks sits behind its Packaging Perspectives program. For example, optimised blanks can significantly increase the efficiency and performance of a machine, making an investment in automation more profitable. This is why Schubert designs customised trays, boxes, wrap-arounds and other recyclable cardboard packaging – either to improve existing cardboard solutions or as an alternative to plastic packaging such as trays and shrink films. Re-design and nesting also helps manufacturers to fit more products onto the pallet helping to reduce transport costs. 

Becoming neutral 

Resource conservation, energy-efficient and CO2-neutral production are topics that are high on the agenda at Theegarten-Pactec. Indeed, the company recently announced that since the start of 2023 it has been CO2-neutral as a company.  

When it comes to its product offerings, Markus Rustler, Managing Partner at Theegarten-Pactec, says: “Our machines are already very energy-efficient, but I can definitely see further ecological potential. Although we are CO2-neutral as a company, the same doesn’t yet apply to the life cycle of our products. We use cast steel for the basic housing of many of our machines, which is very energy-intensive to produce and further process. But that, too, can of course be made CO2-neutral. This is one of the major next steps we will be taking. Our goal is to be able to tell our customers that when they order a machine from us, it will be CO2-neutral until it arrives at the factory gate and goes into production. 

“I also believe that we haven’t yet reached the end of the line in terms of efficiency, speed or the footprint of the machines. In terms of energy consumption, our lines are already optimally designed, but there is certainly still marginal room for improvement here as well. For example, we can dispense with equipment that uses a lot of compressed air and find alternatives.” 

At Interpack this year Theegarten-Pactec demonstrated how its packaging machines can be adapted to work with sustainable, recyclable packaging materials. One example – the suction supported sealing technology on its CFW-S machine to package chocolate bars – sees the sealing station located directly after the actual wrapping or packaging process. As soon as a product – paper or a mono film serving as packaging material – has reached the sealing station, the sealing tool is brought up to the product. The packaging is sucked up to the sealing plunger with the help of negative pressure and sealed gently within milliseconds. Combined with active cooling, this process does not create any pressure marks or other damage to the chocolate product and eliminates the need for glue dots to permanently seal the packaging.  

Sustainable packaging materials can also be used on other Theegarten-Pactec machines. The EK4, for example is able to pack 2,300 hard sweets per minute using a double twist wrap. Instead of the usual wax paper or films, a paper-based alternative without wax application can also be used and processed stably. 

Material savings 

At Interpack this year, tna demonstrated its proprietary sustainability calculator which helps assess how the use of single-serration jaws on vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) packaging systems can help to reduce consumption of biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) – a recyclable but non-biodegradable film. For example, if the use of single-serration jaws enables a 5mm material saving per seal, on a VFFS system that produces 150 bags per minute, these savings will translate into 2.26 million bags per month. In a factory of ten packaging lines, operating at least 12 hours a day, this would give a saving of almost 390km of film every month. 

“We want to help our customers realise ambitious sustainability goals and create a greener, more prosperous world,” says Nadia Taylor, Co-founder and Director at tna solutions.  

“Demand for energy-efficient and sustainable operations continues to grow and confectionery producers are seeking solutions to measure and manage the environmental impact of their production plants,” adds Eric Geling, Chief Sales Officer at tna solutions. “We believe that what is good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line. Reducing energy, waste and streamlining processing will inevitably have a positive impact on product yield and line efficiency.” 

tna experts guided Interpack visitors through possible changes that could help reduce their environmental impact. The robag 3e VFFS for example, is says to be able to lower product waste levels to 0.1 and deliver energy savings of up to 20% thanks to its power saving software which automatically shuts the system down when not in use. 

Committing to change 

Bühler has recently committed to having solutions that reduce energy, waste, and water by 50% ready for market by 2025.  

“Under the motto ‘Driving the future of food – with sustainable solutions,’ we not only propose solutions that address key sustainability issues, food security, and consumer trends, but also inspire our customers to innovate. We support them in every step of their journey, from the project idea, conception, to product development, we develop and deliver the solutions, and move on together with services and maintenance of the lines,” says Thomas Bischof, Global Head of Business Development Consumer Foods at Bühler Group. 

A highlight on the company’s booth at interpack was the SWAKT-Eco wafer baking oven which has been designed to reduce gas consumption and emissions for the production of flat and hollow wafers. The oven boasts a reduced gas consumption – of up to 30% – and noxious emissions are said to be 90% lower, thanks to the use of a programmable logic controller (PLC) that automatically adjusts heat distribution.  

Coming full circle 

GEA recently announced that it is tackling the need for greater sustainability in production environments through the creation of circular economy processes that target both material use and plant operation at customer sites. 

In the current economy, materials are taken from the Earth, products are made from them, and eventually they are thrown away as waste – the process is linear. By contrast, in a circular economy the idea is to stop waste being produced in the first place. 

At the heart of the GEA circular economy process is a strategy that operationalises five R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Remanufacture and Recycle. GEA has developed a framework for the five R’s to be applied to both the transformation of existing service parts and the design of new parts. 

In addition to applying a circular strategy based on the five R’s to spare parts and packaging materials, the organisation is focusing on the circular economy as a future model for operating machinery and equipment in a more sustainable manner at every stage of its lifecycle. This model focuses on maximising the lifecycle and sustainable optimisation of productivity, with particular focus on ‘Design to Sustainability’ (D2S) which will see machines and systems being designed in such a way that makes retrofits and maintenance possible to ensure equipment lifetimes are maximised, while minimising resource consumption.  

Today almost every provider of confectionery processing and packaging solutions is adding digital technology to its offerings and these all offer the opportunity for confectionery producers to improve the sustainability of processing and packaging operations, while at the same time enhancing operational efficiency. Now really is the time to embrace digitalisation as it will not only benefit the environment and offer production improvements and cost savings but will also help meet consumer demands for ethically produced goods. By taking proactive steps towards digital transformation, confectionery producers can position themselves as leaders in sustainable production, ensuring long-term success in a rapidly evolving industry. 

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Editor: Kiran Grewal