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Differentiation in the packaging machine industry

To answer the demand for competitive products and services, companies are under constant pressure to adapt – especially in export markets. This is a major challenge, especially given the increasing complexity of machines and equipment, and customer requests for made-to-measure solutions. A system developed by the Bremen-based Steinbeis Transfer Center i/i/d (Institute of Integrated Design) now offers companies ways to achieve differentiation, with a rapid-response, precise, intuitive new user interface and a modular machine program.

In the German state of Bavaria, not far from the idyllic lake of Chiemsee, is a small packaging machine maker called somic. A family-owned company, somic constructs machinery and equipment for making packaging used in the food and beverage, confectionary and pharmaceutical industries. somic machines are exported worldwide, and the company’s core business is in highly efficient, flexible wrap-around packers and tray packers. somic also builds pack inserters and carton assembly units. Its machines produce all kinds of packaging, ranging from sachets to folding boxes, foldable cartons, cans, thermoformed packs, jars, bottles and tubes.

The complexity and level of customization of the machines somic makes has intensified in recent years. This means control systems and the machines’ operators face a rising number of demands. So somic decided to focus on outstanding user interface design as a key tool to differentiate itself from the competition and enhance company branding. The company invited the Steinbeis experts from Bremen to work on an initial project to look into the development of an underlying system for creating a new, language-independent interface – for use worldwide in a number of product ranges made by the company.

The interface developed for somic is fast, intuitive to use, and remarkably simple to navigate. Navigation is reliable, information is clear, structures are user-friendly and processes are comprehensible. Operators now need less training, so changeover times are shorter, resulting in significantly more efficient and reliable control of processes and machines. Especially when under pressure, operators need to feel as if the system is helping them to master difficulties quickly. Different user levels mean that the system only displays information relevant to the current user. In times of globalization, interfaces that can be used in an operator’s native language and employ universally recognized icons result in significant quality advantages, and thus competitive edge. The increasing complexity and customization of machines meant that the machine software had to be modular and adaptable to configuration needs.

It also had to provide nearlimitless options for arranging standardized mechanical and electronic elements. Finally, it had to cater to customer-specific groups of functions and individual templates, thus allowing somic to react quickly to a variety of customer requirements. Now, no two machines end up being the same. They are configured individually to match functional needs. A second project with the i/i/d involved creating a uniform appearance for machines and equipment which had to be unique to somic. The result was a new housing for all kinds of packaging machines. The housing is made of aluminum segments screwed together, with room between for polycarbonate panels and doors. The design and appearance of the housing adds a clear, premium look to the machines and clearly reflects the improvement in terms of functionality, transparency, flexibility, compactness and accessibility.

The results of both projects were successfully launched at a 2009 trade fair in Nuremberg, allowing somic to stand out from the competition on two fronts. The brand image of the company has also been integrated into its corporate design, reinforced by the unmistakable interface, which marks a clear departure from conventional Windows-style icons. Simply by looking at a machine or its screen, users can immediately tell that it was made by somic.

The company’s clients were extremely impressed by the new interface and machine frames. And as both new developments will gradually be rolled out to other parts of the product range, future development costs will be lower for somic. The development department has already been supplied with a design manual to allow it to make quick adaptations in the future by itself. After all, continuous change and optimization is already one of somic’s cornerstones.

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