They have already begun to pack confectionery processing and packaging machines away in Dusseldorf, home to this year’s interpack show. Final numbers were just released: 2,865 companies exhibiting, 170,500 visitors. Oh yeah, 74 percent were from abroad, and three-quarters of those in attendance were decision-makers.
Moreover, I personally can attest that interpack is a huge show. It’s a good thing they had scooters, given the exhibit is spread across 18 halls. It is not only the largest show dedicated to the packaging industry, but the largest exhibit featuring confectionery processing and packaging equipment. The triennial affair provides a stimulus for suppliers to showcase the latest innovations designed to boost efficiency, reduce downtime, simplify sanitation and improve changeovers.
And this year, they even have machines talking to themselves. It’s dubbed Industry 4.0. As Wikipedia explains, “Industry 4.0 is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing.”
By using sensors embedded in processing and packaging machines, manufacturers can collect and analyze data, which then can be used to not only monitor wear and tear — and schedule preventative maintenance — but also extend to prescient troubleshooting, which can eliminate bottlenecks and downtime before they occur.
Pretty scary, I mean, pretty amazing, isn’t it? Now mind you, the companies I talked to are just in the early stages of the Industry 4.0, which encompasses the Internet of things. And just to clarify, the Internet of things, again according to Wikipedia, is the “inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as "connected devices" and "smart devices"), buildings, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.”
This digitalization of production processes is opening up all sorts of opportunities, from simplifying sophisticated operations to increasing flexibility. In addition, this technological quantum leap is allowing for virtual reality applications.
Let me give you an example. I stood in awe while watching my colleague Pam Mazurk take a 3D “roller coaster” ride as a potato at tna’s booth. tna, known for its vertical baggers, snack processing equipment, distribution systems and now starch mogul machines, wanted to provide visitors an opportunity to see what a potato goes through in becoming a chip. 
After putting on a virtual reality set of glasses, Mazurk was fully immersed in the production process — from peeling and frying to conveying, seasoning, weighing and bagging.  A little dazed and dizzy after the experience, Mazurk was, nonetheless, totally exhilarated, even if sea salt and vinegar wasn’t her favorite seasoning.
Luckily, I was able to watch from the sidelines, enjoying the view on a series of TV panels.
When we stopped by Winkler und Dunnebier’s booth, I had the opportunity to don a pair “smart glasses,” essentially glasses with a small camera embedded in the frame. These glasses allow an operator or a technician to examine a machine and display the problem to the Winkler und Dunnebier’s technical service department, thus providing a “real time” picture to quickly resolve any issues at hand.
Consider this Star Wars-type of tools with what’s going on with global consumer trends, and it’s becoming pretty clear that the confectionery manufacturers of tomorrow will need to be extremely flexible, supra consumer-centric, global in vision, local in execution and totally transparent while running world-class production facilities, be they large or small. Good thing suppliers are ready to help.
You will find much more coverage about interpack in our July issue, but I thought I’d just share some fresh memories with you today. Believe me, you’ll be seeing the impact of these and other developments from this show for years to come.