Solving Complex Problems With Smart Solutions
Innovative and performance-driven, Pack-Smart Inc. develops, engineers, and produces high-performance, fully automated modular systems for printing, converting, personalizing, and packaging, as well as industrial and digital automation. The company’s ability to create hardware and software innovations that address difficult engineering, manufacturing, and distribution challenges while attaining the highest speeds, greatest precision, and world-class Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is one of the many keys to its success.
Based in the Concord area of Ontario, Pack-Smart has performed more than 1,500 installations in 25 different nations over the past 20 years, differentiating itself from traditional packaging solutions through innovation and the application of cutting-edge technology.
With a personal background in print and print finishing as well as packaging, CEO Derek Dlugosh-Ostap has been involved in numerous interesting projects over the years, primarily with automation.
“At Cadbury we implemented chocolate wrappers that would run at speeds of over 1,000 chocolates per minute,” he says. “The industry standard at that time was about 150 chocolates per minute. I was right out of school and thrown at this project with electronic motion control technology, and not a lot of senior people were very interested in venturing into uncharted territory.”
Being young and fresh out of school, Dlugosh-Ostap was put on the project, igniting his excitement about motion control servo motors.
“I felt that would be the next generation of technologies used in automation, specifically print and packaging.”
After working for both Cadbury and GSK (formerly GlaxoSmithKline) leveraging motion control, he decided to start Pack-Smart.
Recognizing the gap between print and packaging, Dlugosh-Ostap created the company with the goal of bridging that gap. His first project centred around AOL during a time when direct mail was popular and AOL was mailing out millions of discs for people to connect on the internet. “In the early ‘90s, the only way to access internet was by putting a CD into your CD-ROM, installing AOL software on your computer and using a modem to dial.”
Pack-Smart’s first account was with a company that was awarded a contract for mailing those AOL CDs, requiring some unique capabilities that included associating a CD with a special PIN code, assembling a package, and mailing it directly to a customer in volumes—in some cases up to 60 million a month.
“That was the first technology we developed at Pack-Smart,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “A Pick & Place technology and self-mailer production system that allows for some complex material handling as well as managing data and associating that data with a product that was being mailed.”
That was the beginning of Pack-Smart, he says. “That’s our core business: complex material handling capabilities as well as data tracking. And that’s been part of our DNA from the early beginnings and it is now.”
Pack-Smart built in various areas, including pharmaceutical, developing technologies for graphical testing and bringing together multiple components into a single product to associate a certain serial number and data with that product. For transaction products, Pack-Smart has developed technologies used for credit cards, banking cards, governments IDs, any type of serialized document, and payment methods, to name a few.
Pack-Smart started developing Pick & Place Systems and vacuum transports, recognizing and appreciating the advantage of using what’s called electronic gearing technologies as opposed to mechanical linkages. From the very early days, the company utilized servo motors, motion controllers and multi-access servo systems to create large, integrated systems that give customers more control, flexibility and adaptability for their ever-changing business needs.
“As a company we’re always trying to find projects that are unique, and that’s been part of our DNA,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “Most of our customers are companies that come to us because there’s no technology in the marketplace that exists that can solve their technological problems, material problems or data problems.”
Consider Pastures is one such company facing the challenge of innovating egg packaging. Pack-Smart has been proudly involved in many egg packaging projects, specifically for premium Omega-3 eggs where brand owners are looking to either make the packaging more interesting or more appealing.
“Over the years we’ve been able to add food colour labels and integrate them with a molded fibre type of packaging, replacing what is traditionally known as dry offset or Styrofoam trays,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. Consider Pastures’ project involved a “completely different” and unique carton with no adhesives and environmentally friendly paperboard.
“It has had tremendous shelf presence,” he says. “Doing something different with eggs isn’t an easy task; this project required some really intense collaboration between our company and a couple other automation companies. At the end of the day we’re dealing with a commodity product. The assembly process had to be efficient; it had to be fully autonomous with no manual intervention allowed in order to reduce costs.”
For the award-winning “origami-style package,” Pack-Smart had to deal with thirteen unique dividers at a speed of 600 units per minute within a precision of half a millimetre.
“The challenges in that particular project were really more material-related, because we’re dealing with paperboard which in reality is not flat,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “It has a tendency to warp. The collaboration between the companies really required coming up with the right recipe that would create this package that was quite unique. It created a lot of buzz in the industry and it helped us create a strong partnership with the customer.”
When it comes to future plans for growth and improvement of the automation process, Pack-Smart has some definite goals.
“Advancements are always really important for our customers and for our companies because we’re often involved in projects with our customers where we work on technologies that don’t [yet] exist,” says Dlugosh-Ostap.
When company leaders in the industry come up with a new concept that calls for Pack-Smart to “break some rules” and develop different ways of reaching the solution, Pack-Smart’s motion control and multi-axis service systems and coordinated motion controllers are very important tools for their technologies, along with additive manufacturing either in prototyping or even the final form of products.
“These are some of the next generation parts of our products,” Dlugosh-Ostap says. “The most important part of our future business is RFID and NFC technology. As a company we have our own platform called Delta X which tracks all the data and allows for encoding chips, reading data reporting, and so on. This is what’s really next for our company: integrating NFC and RFID technologies within our systems.”
That leads to integrating the production floor with MES or ERP systems where they either draw data from systems like SAP or Oracle, or business solutions where they feed that information through the production floor, but whatever Pack-Smart embraces, supporting its customers is both a priority and a point of pride.
“What COVID has done to us, with limited travels and with the demand and complexity of our projects continuing to increase, we have to be able to support our customers globally without being there for them physically,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “Whether that’s adding additional functionalities within our systems that allow us to troubleshoot remotely, or updating our equipment without actually being physically on site.”
These impressive accomplishments have resulted in the company having close to 2,000 solutions in 26 countries. “Most of our customers run in a 24/7 or 24/6 environment, so we have to be able to support them and in order to meet their production demands.”
Adding layers of remote diagnostics and using augmented reality tools are other challenges Pack-Smart has had to overcome. “We’re living in a world that’s changing rapidly,” Dlugosh-Ostap says. “Our customers are having challenges globally maintaining the workforce. There’s not much certainty anymore when it comes to workforce. We have to train more rapidly because our customers are expecting results quicker and we’re adding layers of technology within the Delta X suite of applications that allow us to train our customers and become productive while using some new technologies.”
Using mixed reality technologies within the Pack-Smart systems has also helped customers to communicate better along with additive manufacturing capabilities that allow customers to actually print replacement parts locally.
Ultimately, “We’re a company that’s always eager to enter uncharted territories, and we’re always eager to raise the bar when it comes to automation,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “We’ve been around for almost a quarter of a century and we’ve been fortunate right from the beginning, working with challenger brands that were extremely ambitious. Throughout those years we’ve always had those exciting projects.”
Whether it’s AOL CDs or advanced SIM card production for Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecommunications company, Pack-Smart has the skills, experience and ingenuity to solve the challenge.
“Working with those companies makes you better every time you complete a project, so that’s really what we do,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “We enjoy working on those projects with motivated, driven people who aren’t afraid to solve complex problems.”
Pack-Smart has always been part of those exciting projects, he adds, and because those brands are demanding, the work obviously comes with a lot of responsibility. They’re not leaders without a good reason: They push hard, which in turn, makes Pack-Smart employees support one another.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we work hard to get those answers,” says Dlugosh-Ostap. “We want to make sure everyone on the team has the support they need to achieve the results that are needed.”