PaladinID Interview With In-Store Consulting
Moderator: Christine Curtis
Interviewee: Dana Ritchie
Interview Topic: Enabling small food businesses to transition from manual to automated packaging
Introduction: Hello, I’m Christine Curtis from In-Store Consulting and I speaking with Dana Ritchie, CEO of PaladinID. Welcome to “Ask the Experts”, Dana. As you know, our team at InStore has decades of experience in emerging CPG food brands. I was particularly intrigued with the automated packaging solutions that you provided for a small dessert brand. Apparently they are experiencing significant increase in volume, and absolutely HAVE to automate their packaging in order to fulfill new orders from larger food chains…as well as complying with the retailers’ packaging and labeling requirements.
Dana Ritchie: Thanks, Chris, for inviting me to speak about automated packaging. While PaladinID is known for barcode labels, what we truly excel at is problem solving! Companies come to us with unique needs and conditions, and we engineer the most durable, dependable and sustainable solution. I love helping clients advance their labeling and packaging speeds, increase their capacity and improve their operations. Their growth means that they are successful, and it’s always great to be on the winning team!
Chris Curtis: Dana, tell us a little bit about what is involved in shifting from a manual packaging setup to an automated packaging flow?
Dana Ritchie: At PaladinID, we like to start at the end of the process and work backwards. We look at every aspect of the packaging line to see where automation makes sense and where it can physically be implemented. By studying and understanding the entire process, I can make recommendations on how to streamline and improve the workflow. We start by looking at the palletizing functions at the end of the flow and then walk the line back to where the product is made and then to how the raw materials are brought onto the line.
I always try to put myself into the customers shoes and design a system that will improve the overall workflow instead of only approaching it from an “automation” perspective. We not only determine what needs to be solved today, but we also can plan for the needs 1, 3 and 5 years out. The equipment is capital intensive, so it is a good idea to design the automation plan for the long run.
Chris Curtis: How is a system size and capacity determined?
Dana Ritchie: Projecting volume and designing a system with the ability to increase capacity are not as tricky as it sounds! The volume is known or projected by the customer, so we give them options on how to accomplish what they need today along with ideas to expand capacity. Often, the ROI is so readily calculated, that it’s an easy decision for the client to match their investment to exponentially increase their production output over time. Most projects are multi-phased over years, but here’s how an automated system is usually implemented:
1. The first step is understanding the current production flow, and then identify how to streamline the process using conveyors to move product instead of manual transfer. Initially, it’s as easy as installing conveyors When you automate, the first step is to install conveyors in every possible segment of the production process.
2. Equipment and Software are the next items that need to be identified. Equipment costs are very straight forward, as most equipment is standard; readily available and easily serviced. Software costs range based upon their complexity, clients often allow their budget to determine how to initially select a software solution that will allow them to grow and add functionality over time.
3. Execution – We formulate a plan before the equipment arrives with the key people involved with the setup and work to ensure everything is ready for the installation. The more planning on the front end of the project, the easier it is to install and setup on the back end.
4. As for ongoing maintenance, system updates and repairs, we offer on-site technicians to update, repair or install every piece of equipment we sell. We also offer yearly maintenance programs.
I know it sounds like one big PaladinID plug, but automation doesn’t just happen – it takes thoughtful phasing and monitoring as the improvements are inserted into a production line.
Chris Curtis: Many of our clients are small-medium CPG manufacturers and retailers. What are the key factors taken into consideration when developing an automated packaging solutions for these types of companies?
Dana Ritchie: In my experience, here are the top three most important considerations:
1. What’s the ROI? our clients are looking for Payback in 1- 1-1/2 years
2. What’s my all-in investment? Typically, when we’re developing an automation plan, many times the customer needs to implement in phases. Installing one line at a time, or a part of a line is often the way we get started. This enables immediate productivity improvements while ROI starts to be realized and measured.
3. What’s the best way to integrate automation without interrupting my business? Just as I mentioned before – customers often opt to implement automation in phases, not just to manage operational expenses, but also to manage operational interruptions.
Chris Curtis: What are some of the compliance and system integration needs required by food distribution channels and how is that managed?
Dana Ritchie: The food industry is trending more and more to private branding which is motivating companies to use variable data labeling and flexible packaging. This along with the ever changing compliance labeling demands are driving automation. Companies need the ability to change information on their packaging lines in real time. As barcode labeling technologies advance, having flexibility with automatic printing and label-applicators will be critical.
Chris Curtis: What are some examples of packaging and labeling challenges you’ve been asked to solve?
Dana Ritchie: Recently we worked to automate a “Grab n Go” container line. These items are sold through convenience stores like 7-11 and Mobile Marts. The client was hand labeling these small containers, but it was becoming difficult to keep up to their volumes. We automated this line with a shrink sleeve applicator which would reduce the manpower on the line by 50% and doubled the current capacity. This was solved with off-the-shelf equipment and a custom pre-printed shrink sleeve.
Our approach is tackle one step at a time with the overall picture in mind making sure each piece of equipment will integrate down the road into a totally automated packaging solution.
Chris Curtis: Since you provide custom label solutions, have you ever had anyone try to associate digital marketing information to these product labels?
Dana Ritchie: Yes, Chris. We’ve had numerous clients inquire about this and we’ve been experimenting heavily with both RFID and NFC-embedded labels. It’s incredible, when you realize that a simple label with a sensor can connect a jar of spaghetti sauce to the Internet of Things! What is so compelling about attaching RFID and NFC sensors to product labels is the opportunity to integrate all the production, compliance, authentication and marketing channels that exist directly to a packaged item! Imagine being able to track temperature conditions over the life of the product from production to landing on the shelf! I saw a Campbell’s soup shelf sign that delivered recipes when shoppers engaged their phones with the sign! We are already seeing a surge in RFID and NFC usage in the automotive and BioTech industries and we predict that consumer packaged goods are not far behind!
Chris Curtis: Well, this was great! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Dana. Keep us posted on your experiences with RFID and NFC!