Flexibility versus a complete solution – an interview with Martin Sauter from Gerhard Schubert GmbH

“With Schubert, you can have both!”

Do packaging machine manufacturers and their customers prioritise maximum flexibility or do they prefer complete solutions for one packaging application at a time? Martin Sauter, Head of Sales at Gerhard Schubert GmbH, explains in this interview the packaging specialist’s position in this regard.

Which trend is more relevant for Schubert – highly flexible packaging systems or rather individual complete solutions?

At first view, these two requirements may appear mutually exclusive. But for Schubert, flexibility and complete solutions are not contradictory. With this in mind, a directional decision does not have to be made. Our TLM machines satisfy both objectives thanks to their modular design and our comprehensive approach to the entire packaging process. However, the market now demands significantly more flexible solutions at various points along the way. And technological developments – the keyword being digitalisation – are also challenging familiar, proven processes.

Which developments require a particularly high degree of flexibility?

We see the open issue of packaging material as one of today’s key topics. This is currently creating a great deal of momentum in the industry. What is required is packaging that is as environmentally friendly as possible, while providing optimum protection for the product and being cost-neutral for the end consumer. More cardboard instead of plastic, more paper barrier film instead of multi-layer barrier film – this is what the future looks like. These alternatives can already be used with our machines today. After all, paper-based packaging has been part of the Schubert world for more than 50 years. But manufacturers are facing a new challenge and want solutions that can be retrofitted. That is why we pay great attention to flexible application possibilities when developing new systems, and test new packaging materials for quality and process suitability even with our own machines. With new types of film, for example, the impermeability of flow-wrap packaging and the quality of the sealed seam are put under the microscope in one of our Flowmoduls.

In this context, how do you assess the increasing trend towards personalised products?

“Mass customisation” is most definitely a second defining development for the packaging industry. Product variety is constantly increasing, not only in terms of the product itself, but also in terms of packaging variants and personalisation options. This means that the production units are becoming smaller and more frequent retooling is required. Manufacturers are therefore increasingly in need of highly flexible packaging systems that allow simple and fast format changes, and are immediately ready for use again. This clearly reflects our philosophy: A Schubert line should immediately deliver faultless production results without requiring a start-up curve. Especially in fast-moving sectors such as the cosmetics industry, where the time to market is becoming even shorter, these functions are essential for smooth, efficient production. Here, digitalisation is playing into our hands and opening up new avenues on a previously inconceivable scale.

What exactly are you referring to?

A new digital opportunity that is growing rapidly in the industry is additive manufacturing. We are using this process for 3D printing of format parts for robot tools. Individual 3D tools, which are “form-fitted” to products, can now be changed in minutes or even printed out directly in the production environment via our part streaming platform.  A second option, which allows more flexibility, is via the machine control: Schubert uses the international OPC-UA standard as the machine language for its VMS packaging machine control system, so that our TLM systems can be easily integrated into turnkey solutions. Moreover, the GS.Gate industrial gateway which is now integrated into every new Schubert machine offers new options for preventive maintenance and fast service. This reduces the risk of machine failure to an absolute minimum.

How do you integrate flexibility into your machines?

We look at flexibility first and foremost from the product side. You should be able to pack different products with different package sizes in different configurations on just one machine. And by this I also mean products as diverse as bottles and biscuits. That is the standard we set for ourselves and by which we measure our work. We have two types of machines for this purpose. On the one hand, the picker lines, which pack unsorted individual products. This corresponds to 100 per cent flexibility. And on the other hand, TLM systems with product grouping – either with pick & place robots, which in this calculation gives about 70 per cent flexibility, or with mechanical pre-grouping. Here you could refer to 50 per cent flexibility, although this figure can be further increased by using interchangeable pre-grouping tools. This is where flexibility is in the tool! However, the mechanics are only a part of how flexible a machine is. That is why we consider the mechanics, electrics and software as an integrated system, whose variability is ultimately mapped in the VMS packaging machine control system.

From the product itself, we then move on to secondary and tertiary packaging: Different pack sizes, individual products, variable product arrangements, cardboard, flow-wrapped bags or trays, each made of different materials, these are all variants that we can implement on one and the same machine thanks to modular technology. Schubert machines have flexibility built in – virtually by design.

So what does a complete solution mean for Schubert?

Basically, just that: Thanks to our flexible technology, we are able to seamlessly map the complete packaging process from the bare product to the ready-to-deliver pallet in a Schubert line. We look at the upstream and downstream processes for each order in view of providing the best solution for our customers. To this end, we also integrate intermediate processes, for example in track & trace solutions for the pharmaceutical industry. Classic stand-alone machines have long ceased to be a focal point at Schubert; we build plants with at least two and up to any number of integrated processes. For us, complete solutions also mean the expansion of our technology portfolio. In recent years, we have developed numerous processes which we can now integrate into the TLM systems ourselves. This includes processes such as deep drawing, sealing or punching, as well as processes such as filling liquids or dosing powders. As a complementary technology, we develop our robots without a physically protected space, the cobots. So you could say that Schubert supplies complete solutions which are and remain flexible in themselves.

For more information go to https://www.schubert.group/en/

Written by Kevin Gambrill