Enhancing sustainability in packaging engineering

Erik Snijders

Erik Snijders

Senior Project Manager

Based on the sponsored article published in VerpakkingsManagement, June 2023 in the Netherlands.

August 3, 2023

"When it comes to sustainable packaging in the food and beverage industry, it is often about the packaging and the material used," states Erik Snijders, project manager, and the Head of Department of the Packaging department NIRAS Nederland. However, NIRAS believes that there's more to it than just the materials. The design of a packaging line also plays a crucial role in sustainability impact, and many companies have yet to tap into its potential.

NIRAS takes pride in challenging their clients to think differently. "When companies come to us, they usually have a fixed idea of how their product should be packaged," says Iris Tijman op Smeijers, Project Engineer Packaging. "They ask us to implement it as per their requirements. However, we often take a step back and critically evaluate their needs. We help them to adopt a sustainable mindset and explore how sustainability can be integrated into their packaging requirements. Our aim is to protect our clients from rushed decisions and encourage them to make sustainable choices."

A specialized department for packaging

"Our core business in the Netherlands is process and packaging engineering for the food and beverage industry – and we also have a Buildings department specifically for that market," Erik Snijders explains. "Our clients range from major food suppliers like Royal FrieslandCampina and Aviko to smaller companies like Cranberry Terschelling. We provide support to any company looking to improve the efficiency of their packaging line or seeking better ways to handle raw materials." Boasting a global workforce of over 2000, NIRAS has fifty dedicated employees in the Netherlands, spread across three locations. The department: Packaging Engineering, is a specialized unit that focuses on packaging lines and advice clients on operations or logistics regarding packaging.

While sustainability discussions often revolve around packaging materials, NIRAS acknowledges that the design of the packaging line is equally essential. "The way of filling and packaging can save a lot of rejected product and packaging material and prevent waste," explains Tijman at Smeijers. She highlights that, for instance, when it comes to compactly packaging powder, a reduction of the size of the can minimizes the transportation of empty space. Another critical aspect of going green is energy consumption. NIRAS emphasizes the importance of selecting processes that prioritize energy efficiency. An example of this could be ensuring that machinery genuinely turns off during standby periods so energy is not wasted during these time lapses.

Results achieved through collaborative efforts

Erik Snijders adds, "Working on a project basis enables us to be present on-site and in the office or work remotely for several days. This arrangement allows us to leverage the expertise of colleagues from diverse disciplines and incorporate their knowledge and experiences into the project. Moreover, the NIRAS Group fosters expertise networks, ensuring everyone remains informed about the latest techniques and regulations. Our holistic and independent approach, combining various areas of expertise, greatly enhances our project outcomes."


Simulation backed-up with 3D design

To optimize the selection process of a packaging line, NIRAS has put a lot of effort into studying and implementing simulation software. "With simulation, we can model the entire factory and test the design early in the process. By adjusting parameters, we observe how the production line behaves, striving for a 'First Time Right' result," states Snijders. This approach significantly reduces start-up times and the need for extensive testing, ultimately minimizing production losses. Coupled with 3D design, the company gains a realistic representation of the factory's layout, ensuring smooth logistics flows and ergonomic control and maintenance possibilities, which are also considered essential elements of sustainability.

A proven project method

The projects at NIRAS Nederland follow a well-structured stage gate model. "We collaborate closely with our clients to define the requirements and explore various concepts during the design phase," shares Tijman op Smeijers. "The final design takes shape during the detailed engineering phase, and in the realization phase, we work closely with suppliers to bring the packaging line or adjustments to life. Each stage undergoes a go/no-go evaluation, and we guide the client through every step of the process."

Let’s choose a greener future together

By prioritizing sustainable choices and adopting a comprehensive approach that considers both packaging materials and packaging line design, NIRAS empowers its clients to make strides towards a greener and more environmentally responsible future.

The original article is published in VerpakkingsManagement june 2023.

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