Insight

Including packaging engineering adds significant value

Erik Snijders VSM2
Sally-Ann van Nuland

Sally-Ann van Nuland

Marketing Coordinator

In a time when the food and beverage industry is constantly evolving and producers are faced with increasingly complex challenges, it’s becoming ever more important for food producers to choose the right engineering and project management support, to enable them to excel in a competitive market.

May 10, 2024

Based on the sponsored article published in Food-Tec and Industrial Automation, April 2024 in the Netherlands.

Erik Snijders, Senior Project Manager at NIRAS in the Netherlands and team leader of the Packaging Engineering department, and Winfried van Klooster, Senior Engineer Packaging, provide insight into the field of packaging engineering for food and beverages, clients within this industry, and their perspective on the services they offer with NIRAS:

From afterthought to strategic element
A particular expertise within food production is packaging engineering. This discipline is often seen as a logical consequence of the production process and therefore sometimes receives less attention. This expertise is a crucial link in the successful packaging of various types of food and beverages.

Winfried explains, "Often, manufacturers of food and beverages invest a lot of time and energy in the development and packaging of the product itself, but less thought is given to how the product will actually be placed in the intended packaging. Smart choices regarding packaging machines, conveyors, palletisers, and so on, can certainly make a difference in the overall production process." Both NIRAS professionals also highlight that intralogistics movements fall within their expertise. Efficient supply of raw materials and packaging materials, storage of finished products, and a suitable warehouse layout supporting further distribution are essential for a smooth flow of products.

"Manufacturers are increasingly realising that packaging can be differentiating," Snijders adds. "Therefore, packaging machines or installations are no longer seen solely seen as the final item in a budget. And although packaging machine suppliers nowadays offer extensive engineering, it is important to note that this often does not fully exploit the potential of available solutions in the market or meet the actual needs. By collaborating with an independent partner like NIRAS, manufacturers can benefit from an objective assessment of all available options, the latest technologies, and thus select the most suitable solution that best fits their specific needs and objectives."

Further explanation from Snijders indicates that the idea of having a single point of contact is initially considered clear and straightforward, which is why it is often seen as the most suitable option for the project manager of the client. However, it also means that the client is bound to this single supplier in the future. This does not necessarily have to be negative, but it can result in reduced flexibility for manufacturers and their future changes. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider how this clarity relates to the need for independence, flexibility, and diversity in the long-term strategy of a company.

Independent advice offers tailored solutions
One of the core principles in NIRAS is independence. In contrast to suppliers focused on servicing their own specific products, NIRAS acts as an objective engineering party independent of commercial interests. With this approach,  the most suitable solutions can be tailored to the unique needs of each client.

Additionally, sustainability, including energy consumption and hygienic design, are core focus areas, and 'Project Excellence' is a cornerstone in the approach to clients. The project approach is based on the Stage Gate Method, a phased and structured project methodology where each new 'Stage' has a go or no-go moment, and the perspective of considering a client's factory as if it were their own facility.

Requirements and specifications
Another essential part of the service is the focus on clear specifications and requirements. By thoroughly documenting these aspects in the early stages of a project, NIRAS contributes to preventing potential complications and delays in later phases. This not only results in more efficient project execution but also leads to significant cost savings. These savings can be directly visible in the project budget but can also manifest later as lower operational costs for manufacturers.

"If there is any uncertainty or contradictions, we take the lead in addressing them," Snijders explains. "Our expertise enables us to assess the impact of changes on end products, budget, and schedule, allowing us to provide valuable insights to our clients."

Early specification and requirement capture lead to clear guidelines, protocols, and procedures, enabling the project team to identify potential bottlenecks and risks before they occur. This approach ensures that manufacturers are better prepared for potential challenges and choices to be made during the project, thereby increasing the chances of successful project delivery. The project documents thus serve as a valuable reference point throughout the project and even afterward. Evaluation and subsequent optimisation can be performed based on a solid foundation if properly documented.

Manufacturers have the know-how
"What we find important is to engage with the right people to understand the specifications, requirements, and other conditions," Winfried explains. NIRAS organises the process of gathering all necessary information in an efficient and effective manner. This means that this crucial step is taken before procurement orders are issued to suppliers. One of the methodologies used for this purpose is Value Stream Mapping. During such a VSM session, the flow of materials, raw materials, and data through a process is mapped out. It is a powerful tool for identifying process improvements and validating the information you think you already have about the process.

Erik adds, "We prefer a proactive approach in involving relevant stakeholders within production processes. Ideally, as early as possible in the project and sometimes even specifically per project phase. By directly collaborating with those responsible for processes, manual operations, and other crucial aspects of production, a project team can gather and list valuable insights, leading to better-informed decisions. Moreover, this contributes to a smooth project flow and consensus, with all stakeholders aligned and clear expectations and requirements."

Digital solutions and experience in practice
Although digitalisation plays an increasingly significant role in the industry, it’s important to emphasise the value of physical presence at production locations. This allows engineers and project managers to understand the complexity of the actual environment better and thus come up with even better solutions for clients.

Winfried states, "According to us, walking around in the factory adds value. Our projects are, of course, partly executed from our offices in Rosmalen, Apeldoorn, or Sneek, but it is also important to see processes, spaces, actions, materials, and so on, in reality. Especially when making adjustments to long-standing processes and production lines, seeing them in practice is often the best starting point."

This approach highlights the importance of direct observation and hands-on experience in understanding the unique challenges and requirements of each production location. By regularly being present at production locations, the contextual nuances and operational complexities can be fully comprehended.

However, this does not imply that digital solutions are not equally important, especially in the field of packaging engineering. Digital tools for various aspects such as digital design, maintenance, master planning, operational management, logistics, and supply chain optimisation are evolving rapidly and are indispensable in the engineering profession. NIRAS consciously invests in digital tools such as simulations and (BIM) modelling to execute projects even better and more efficiently. In this regard, having the right information and involving the right people in projects is crucial.

Reach out:

Erik Snijders

Erik Snijders

Senior Project Manager

Rosmalen, Netherlands

+31621580404

Winfried van Klooster

Winfried van Klooster

Lead Engineer Packaging

Rosmalen, Netherlands

+31(0)655852977