King May 17, 2019

As Tetra Pak unveils its future factory plans, it hopes the carton you drink out of will get smarter, more sustainable

This August, Tetra Pak has invited its customers in the subcontinent — beverage and food producers — to its factory at Chakan, near Pune.

The agenda, says Ashutosh Manohar, Managing Director, South Asia Markets at Tetra Pak India, is to discuss its vision of the factory of the future. “We will be showing to them what we are capable of doing and will be finding out from them what direction they want us to go in,” he says.

Tour through the Chakan plant of Tetra Pak and watch the six-layered aseptic packaging from which we drink juices and milk take shape and it looks a super-efficient manufacturing process.

The speed with which rolls of packaging material is being produced for juice brands, milk companies, pharma majors (ORS is an emerging big beverage) and alcohol companies is astonishing.

From here, these rolls go off to the customer’s factory where they will be shaped into tubes and the liquid filled into them. Tetra Pak makes the filling machines too. It also makes processing equipment for dairy units as well as takes back old machines which it refurbishes and sells to start-ups looking for affordable equipment.

At Chakan it also offers food technology services to its customers, creating juice and dairy formulations.

Factory of the future

Over 189 billion packages came out of Tetra Pak’s 31 factories around the globe in 2018, but the Swedish major is pushing the envelop on production, going for digitalisation to further improve efficiency. In April this year, it displayed its factory of future concept at Hannover Messe, one of the largest trade fairs in the world. Tetra Pak’s vision is a factory where all the machines will be able to communicate with each other as well as with the digital systems, which will be able to diagnose problems, and even order and deliver parts.

Explains Adolfo Orive, Tetra Pak’s new global CEO, “Today there are so many kinds of equipment in a factory that do not talk to each other. What we want to do is to connect them so they work in a synchronised way to drive efficiency.” In addition, Orive says, “we need to create software that covers the whole spectrum of factory and provide flexibility to producers to manage production lines as per demand, thereby reducing costs.” Already Tetra Pak has put in place condition-monitoring systems. There are sensors in its machines that tell the company when parts need to be changed. “It allows us to to do preventive maintenance and thereby save costs,” Orive says.

The broad vision for the future is “Lights out factory”, says Ashutosh Manohar. This is a concept in manufacturing where humans do not need to be on site and hence lights can be off. However, Orive is quick to clarify that the automated factory will not mean job losses — the profiles of workers will change, but people are central to driving technology, he says.

So how far away is this factory of the future? Orive says there are a couple of examples where Tetra Pak is already delivering end-to-end connectivity. In Spain, for instance. At Pune, the packaging lines do talk to the processing equipment, helping measure performance. So it could all come together sooner than you think.

Smart packaging

Meanwhile, even as the factories get smarter, the packaging too is going smart. A few months earlier, Tetra Pak launched connected packaging solutions for its customers. Two pilots are running at the Chakan plant in India, which is one of three markets globally where Tetra Pak has invested in technology to print dynamic QR codes. Not only will the packaging giant develop and print the QR codes but also develop a cloud solution to manage the data and an app to help brands gain insights from the data.

Riding on partnerships

Orive says if you look at the history of companies, success came to companies that were closed. “Success in the future, on the contrary, lies in opening yourself, and getting more ideas from outside than inside,” he says.

The future factory thus will be riding on a lot of partnerships. Take the partnership with Microsoft, for instance, for maintenance of machines. “The idea is that if a customer has a problem with one of our equipment at their site, the HoloLens will allow the problem to be solved, long distance,” says Orive.

It is veritable telemedicine for equipment repair. You put on the HoloLens and you can see what the other person in the factory is seeing, he can download manuals and you can guide him and explain what to do. “We will thus be able to deliver faster service to customers at less cost,” says Orive. This was introduced in India more than six months ago — you can even connect to a technician in Lund, Sweden. “The only limitation of the technology right now is the internet connection,” says Orive with a grin.

Other partners include ABB, SAP and automated logistics solutions provider Elettric80. “We are looking at systems integrators who could help us build the factory of the future,” says Orive.

Also, Tetra Pak has been acquiring companies to meet this vision. Just last week it announced the acquisition of Macro Automation, a provider of automation solutions.

Food & retail trends

What are the consumer and retail trends that could shape the packaging of tomorrow?

Orive says Tetra Pak has its pulse on consumption behavior around the globe. According to him, health, sustainability and uniqueness are driving food and beverage purchases. “Twenty years ago we only had one type of milk – today, we have lite milk, toned milk, products that satisfy needs for more protein, or more vitamins, and for those who are lactose intolerant,” he says. Every customer has a unique need and as producers meet these, the packaging has to reflect these too, he says.

In retailing, as trends like drone delivery come into being, Orive says Tetra Pak will hold an advantage over glass and tin packaging as “our packaging is lighter”. Convenience will be the biggest driver of packaging design, he says, which could translate into suitable size and shape of packs. Sustainability is another driver and Tetra Pak is pouring money into research on nanotechnology – nano crystals and other material technology to make its packaging more sustainable and safer.