With the world's population dramatically rising, the global demand for food is expected to nearly double by 2050. This challenge presents huge opportunities for food manufacturers and the businesses involved in packaging produce. Not that all this is easy: poor machine reliability can cause delays, while environmental worries put pressure on packaging companies to go green.
Martijn van de Mortel, product manager for vertical packaging at GEA Food Solutions, knows all about these problems. After all, GEA Food Solutions has nearly 60 years' experience in building quality packaging machines and has not stopped "working with our customers based on what they need", he explains. "We ensure that the product is presented in the ideal size, so they look good on the shelves of the retailer and the product quality remains high."
This confidence seems justified when one examines GEA's range of smart-packaging machines. At 1,450mm high, for example, the GEA SmartPacker TwinTube offers reliable performance with a reduced footprint. "Because of its design and speed, it is ideal for running a packaging line at high speeds and continuously," Van de Mortel says. "It can comfortably run for eight hours in a row with the same product and bag style. As we put it here at GEA: 'Why buy four when one packs more?'"
GEA's other machines are just as impressive. Like the GEA SmartPacker TwinTube, the GEA SmartPacker CX250 is incredibly fast and reliable. After all, the machine has an uptime of more than 98% and is able to pump out 250 bags a minute. Not that GEA stops there: developed with the confectionery industry in mind, Van de Mortel and his team ensure that that the drop height of the bags' content is kept to a minimum by design.
Other innovations are just as clever. "The machine detects when a product is between the sealing jaws, creating a double bag that can be easily detected and automatically removed," Van de Mortel adds. "It doesn't simply cut through the foil and the product, making sure you don't pollute the closing mechanism."
If GEA is striking for its technical prowess, its service offerings are just as robust. From testing new technology to providing processing know-how, the company offers what Van de Mortel calls "the entire package". To highlight what he means, the Dutchman takes the example of the humble chicken nugget. "We offer the entire [production] process. Here, [we] do not just [provide] the equipment, but also the knowledge and all the testing and consultancy that go with it. That is what makes GEA stand out against its competitors."
Not that GEA simply relies on past successes in a competitive market. With industry 4.0 set to transform how companies do business, Van de Mortel and his colleagues are working to make the GEA SmartPacker 'even more smart'. He highlights new online availability and systems that let machines set some production variables automatically.
At the same time, GEA is working hard to craft "engineering for a better world", Van de Mortel continues. "Another big thing is that we're working with trusted partners on the type of material that we use to create bags," he explains. "Plastic pollution is a huge news story at the moment. This is why, together with several partners, we are working on the recyclability of these materials, so [the machines] can be run on recyclable foil. We are even trying to develop a biodegradable foil. We need to do that to look after our future."
Van de Mortel clearly means the health of the planet here, but that last sentence could easily have been used for his industry more specifically. GEA might be an environmentally conscious company, but it obviously has the future of the packaging industry in mind too.