Schwaebisch Hall. The mix of presentations, panel discussions, and company tours was informative, practice-oriented and dynamic. Approximately 190 visitors from 16 nations had come to attend the very first international Packaging Valley Days in Schwaebisch Hall from June 9 to 10.
“Until now, we have always focused on products. In the future, we will assign equal importance to the packaging processes. Because, after all, we represent ourselves at the point of sale with the packages’ quality”, commented a client from Sweden, who together with her colleague took tours through four Packaging Valley companies. Tobias Dworsky, technical project manager of Hartmann in Heidenheim, had come for totally different motives: most of all, the product-switching newcomer in the industry wanted to broaden his knowledge on packaging machine engineering in a practice-relevant way and learn more about the regional companies.
The symposium kicked off with two presentations, one on “Organic and Printed Electronics”, the other on “Investment risks – how safe are your production processes?” In the view of Dr. Klaus Hecker, business manager of OE-A, an organization of the VDMA, organic and printed electronics have the potential to change the entire landscape of the packaging world in the very near future. This young technology is based on metals or chemical substances that can be processed into viscous and thus printable media. Their conductive or semi-conductive properties allow producing sensors, memories, light sources and displays that are extremely thin, light and flexible. Today, it is already possible to manufacture flexible multilayer foils that can connect solar cells with accumulators.
The highly cost-efficient production of organic and printed electronics allows furnishing even the simplest products with additional functions, including disposable products and packaging materials. Further new applications for the packaging sector are still in the pilot project stage, as for example new safety labels that stores the date that the package was first opened. The technology supports temperature or UV-sensitive indicators for maximum, minimum or accumulated values. Another application in the pharmaceutical sector refers to packages that register the time that the patient administered the medication Future functionalities are to include transmission of the data to the attending physician via computer. Another application example from the marketing sector refers to packages with surface parts imprinted with electro-luminescent print, or packages that can play entire videos at the push of a button. This summarizing cross-section of the new technology’s immense application potential led Dr. Hecker’s to the conviction: “Organic and printed electronics are considered to be among of the most important future markets.”
In recent years, it has become a recognized position that machines are mechatronic systems i.e. systems that owe their entire functionality to the successful synthesis of mechanics, electronics and software. According to the observations of Dr. Rainer Stetter, business manager of the consulting organization ITQ, many companies have not yet developed sufficiently consistent mechatronic approaches and processes. This is often demonstrated by the separation of the disciplines, whereby software does not get the priority it actually deserves. Dr. Stetter backed this theory with results of a survey conducted in the machine engineering sector. Software engineers feel much less integrated into the entire project process than mechanical engineers. At the same time, he explained, companies often fail to employ the necessary staff of software engineers.
Dr. Rainer Stetter showed how the companies’ organization structures, in parallel to the development of mechatronics, need to change from subsequent, to co-operative, inclusive and interrelated processes. Traditionally, and in some cases this is still common practice, software had been the very last link in the manufacturing process. “In this context, however, interdisciplinary work flow is of the essence“, emphasized the speaker. For this reason, informatics will not only become a core competence as mechatronics advance. In addition, the system engineering staff will increase in numbers and also play a central role within the production process to ensure a holistic approach, co-ordination and organization of projects. In closing, Dr. Stetter referred to the BESTVOR research project, which offers a free Internet questionnaire for an evaluation test of a company’s mechatronics competence.
Dr. Stetter, later in the role of the panel’s moderator, opened the panel discussion with pointed questions. “Is mechatronics of any importance at all?”? Or: “How can the quality of software be measured?” Werner Gesang (director of Engineering and Technical Services, Bausch & Lomb GmbH, Berlin) put forth an answer that was as simple as it was convincing: “Mechatronics has three letters: OEE“. And he made very clear, that he often was not convinced by the machines’ Overall Equipment Effectiveness. He received support from Volker Maier (head of plant engineering, Mühlens GmbH & Co. KG, P&G Prestige Products, Köln) who postulated: “It should be possible to crank new machines like cars, at the push of a button, without requiring a congregation of technicians in the background.“ Gerhard Schubert (managing director of Gerhard Schubert GmbH, Crailsheim) countered with the observation, that requirements and specifications are frequently not clarified when the client places the order, a view confirmed by Mr. Bernd Hansen (1st chairman of the Packaging Valley Germany e.V. and CEO of the Hansen Gruppe, Sulzbach Laufen). These contrasting views opened a lively and interesting discussion.
The debate made evident, that software engineering does indeed play a crucial role in machine building. There was general and mutual consent that machine quality improves with the scope of functionalities in the software. The customer’s side conceded that software engineers have to reckon with modification requests during the late development stage. Consequently, they join the development later in the process. The panel further reflected on how to handle in-house software standards of customers and machine manufacturers and how to guarantee optimum software updates. By advocating the ‘simplest machines possible’ with as few functions as possible, Gerhard Schubert took an unconventional approach. According to his belief, the real art consists in mastering complex problems by simple solutions, an approach that requires extensive conceptual preparations. “If I have 79 to 80 functions in one machine, I also have 70 to 80 error sources.”
In the afternoon of the event’s first day and during the entire second day, the guests took tours through the facilities of the member companies, which had opened their doors for the Packaging Valley Days. “The presentations provided important insights, and the companies presented themselves in a very convincing manner. All in all, my impression is very positive”, commented Tobias Dworsky (technical project manager Hartmann AG, Heidenheim) after the event. Hosts, organizers and company members of the Packaging Valley whose expectations with regard to networking and specified project inquiries were more than fulfilled, also expressed high satisfaction. Bernd Hansen added: “Our openness and diversity was widely recognized and applauded.” In view of the very favorable feedback also from international guests from Europe, Japan, United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Libanon and Indonesia, the 1st chairman of the Packaging Valley expressed confidence that the event would be repeated in the future: “Not next year, but maybe in two years.”
At present, Packaging Valley Germany e.V has 34 member companies, either packaging machinery manufacturers, or suppliers to the industry. Packaging Valley provides approx. 7,000 jobs in the region’s packaging machine building sector. The Packaging Valley is located in the district of Schwäbisch Hall (southern Germany) that has good traffic connections to the airports in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Many world market leaders have their seat in the Packaging Valley.