Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

Reassuringly expensive gear: Overcoming the challenges of the packaging industry

Graham Mackrell, managing director of precision gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK, explains actuators, boots and socioeconomic unfairness 

As a famous fictional policeman once said, “The reason that the rich were so rich… was because they managed to spend less money”. 

What he meant was that although the rich may buy more expensive things, they buy products that will last longer and are therefore a better investment.

Although the policeman in question was referring to boots at the time, the same is true of cars, phones, and even servo actuators used in packaging machines. 

One of the main problems facing the packaging industry is the commoditisation of packaging materials.

“An efficient use of packaging materials is a competitive advantage. That advantage does not always have to be price driven,” explains Brian Gale in his white paper on the problems facing the packaging industry.

While many customers focus on price, Gale argues that instead they should focus on the material most suited to their needs, thereby increasing efficiency and savings throughout the supply chain.

Similarly, by viewing each part of a packaging machine as a commodity on which to save money, companies often miss the fact that an initial investment has the potential to save more money down the line.

Investing in packaging machines with high-quality components means they will last longer, so the cost of repair, maintenance and part replacement is reduced.

The perceived value of packaging machines has fallen below their actual value. The only way to raise this back to its true level is to clarify the benefits of using high quality components, even if it sometimes means a larger initial outlay.

When discussing initial investment and lifetime costs, another industry issue rears its head; people don’t make like-for-like comparisons. Comparing two servo actuators based on price alone might provide a seemingly obvious choice, but when looking at their specifications that choice becomes far less obvious.

Small variations in the accuracy or weight of a servo actuator can have a huge impact on a number of factors. Lower accuracy means more wastage and higher weight means more stress on other components. More compact actuators are almost universally better, while additions such as zero backlash gears significantly increase efficiency.

Along with motors, actuators are often among the first components to fail in packaging machines. Saving money by buying a lower quality component today won’t lead to savings later; in fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Buying a new, cheap component every year is more expensive than purchasing a more expensive one every five years. Added to this is the loss of productivity because of downtime caused by having to replace the part. These factors increase the actual cost of running a packaging machine, despite its lower initial price.

In the end, that fictitious policeman was correct. The best way to stay rich is not by buying the cheapest option, but by making the best investment in the long run.