Is the packaging industry really embracing the potential of Industry 4.0?

Jo Stephenson, MD PHD Marketing, Director of FIAUK (Flexographic Industry Association UK), and Partner to Easyfairs

The fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0 or 4IR as it’s become known, proposes rapid acceleration of business through technology interconnectivity and next generation automation. Human intervention will be minimised – the future is digital.

Digitising every step of a business process enables companies to reimagine how their products and services are designed and engineered, sourced and supplied, manufactured and serviced (if required) once shipped. But are we really thinking that far ahead in the packaging and label industry?

But for a few exceptions, the answer has to be no. Being honest with ourselves, automation has always been the driving force of the industry – volume and speed often being the name of the game driving competitiveness. However, this has been about individual machines or process capabilities, not the joined up, hyper-connected, data-driven world that Industry 4.0 proposes.

There is no doubt that printing, converting and packing machines are getting faster, more consistent, versatile and user friendly – indeed printing or packing at a touch of a button is nearly a reality. However, the connected workflow across machines, business functions and to the external world, across customers and suppliers, is still left wanting. And yet, the industry is crying out for design and production agility to meet today’s brand and retailer needs.

With today’s ageing packaging industry workforce, the IT literate, skilled leadership required to deliver the programme can often be missing too, and the resulting culture change needed to embrace new technology and new working patterns can be daunting. The industry already has skilled labour shortages – adding new IT requirements to the mix can feel like a step too far in what is already a challenging market environment.

Instead of worrying about what we have to lose, we must focus on what we can gain in a more streamlined, efficient and satisfying work environment.

The reality is that the packaging industry is ready for change. Whether its economic and global supply challenges, the ageing workforce, inability to attract young talent or a general recognition that ‘the times are a’changing’, the scene is set for digital disruption. What we need now are some brave leaders with a clear understanding of what can be achieved and how, and Industry 4.0 can quickly become a reality delivering the competitiveness, resilience, and versatility that today’s industry so badly needs.

Leaders from across the cutting edge of packaging will gather together on February 15 & 16 at Birmingham NEC to discuss this new frontier for the industry at Packaging Innovations & Empack, Featuring Contract Pack & Fulfilment. Attendee tickets are available to book now, for free, at

This is an abridged article that can be read in full here.

Manufacturing Update