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As online retailers shape consumer buying behavior by offering customized goods, manufacturers are turning to technology suppliers and machine builders to add flexibility into production, packaging, and supply chain processes.
E-commerce Automation-In today’s e-commerce environment, it’s what Walmart wants. Or, more specifically, “If you don’t do what Walmart says, they go somewhere else.” That was the statement from a representative of a large consumer packaged goods (CPG) company who participated in the Vision 2025 sessions at PACK EXPO Las Vegas last September. This meeting brought together machine builders, CPGs, and contract packagers to tackle issues ranging from asset reliability to request for proposals to dealing with multifunctional equipment with fast and efficient changeovers—a byproduct of “what Walmart wants.”
While Walmart and other online retailers are influencing manufacturing decisions, they are merely a symbol of a much bigger issue related to the omnichannel market—broadly defined as an integrated approach to e-commerce that serves a multichannel sales model. This new sales scenario means that products must be made in smaller formats and sizes. As a result, manufacturers must adapt processes to accommodate the batch of one, which requires flexibility on the manufacturing and packaging lines as well as in the warehouse and across the supply chain.
Automation World recently reported on this Amazon effect, in which consumers expect fast, frictionless transactions with visibility and accessibility at every step in the buying process. In this demand-driven market, the goal is to economically produce one customized product. This requires reconfigurable, modular machinery that can mix and match product flows. One solution for this comes in the form of flexible track systems, such as B&R Industrial Automation’s AcoposTrak and Rockwell Automation’s iTrak independent cart technology.
But technology suppliers are taking the concept of flexible manufacturing a step further by doing more integration, coupling traditionally independent applications—like robots, vision, and labeling—with machine control. They are also applying emerging technologies, like digital printing, and investigating ways to tie it all together through enterprise applications.