Digitalized and automated processes are now part of everyday life in many areas of the chemical industry. But there is one aspect that has been previously neglected: packaging. At least that’s what Felix Weger says, one of the three founders of the startup Packwise, which aims to combine industrial packaging with modern technology. To achieve this, the startup has developed a monitoring system for IBCs – plastic and steel containers used for example by chemical and food companies to transport and store liquid and free-flowing substances. In an interview with 5-HT, product developer Felix Weger and key account and project manager Sophia Becker, explain how companies can use the Packwise Smart Cap to collect detailed information about their IBCs – which enables more intelligent and sustainable operations.
What is the problem with the way IBCs are currently used in the industry?
Felix Weger: IBCs have long been used as disposable packaging: They were shipped, unloaded at the customer and then disposed of. Over the years, however, the containers have become increasingly stable, so that they can actually be recycled without any problems. Approximately ten million IBCs are filled in Germany every year. Recycling a single IBC already saves up to 96 kg of CO2 – a considerable amount that could be reduced. In addition, it is of course also associated with costs for a company if it has to buy new containers again and again.
What has prevented companies from recycling their IBCs so far?
Felix Weger: The processes are very complex. Even if a company decides to recycle its IBCs, it is first and foremost dependent on feedback from the customer. As a result, up to a hundred empty IBCs are accumulated before the company can collect them. As a result, IBCs are not used for up to 80 percent of their lifetime. We make it possible to plan this process better: if you know exactly when a container is going to be empty, you can organise recycling more efficiently and therefore use less packaging material for the same amount of goods.
What is the idea of Packwise?
Felix Weger: We create transparency by tracking IBCs. This provides companies more control over their packaging and enables them to better manage their processes. Currently, the potential functions of packaging are not even being used – it’s just a matter of getting things safely from A to B. In production, on the other hand, there are already sensors everywhere to ensure continuous monitoring. With Packwise we extend this way of working to transport and as an interface to the customer.
How does monitoring of IBCs work with Packwise?
Sophia Becker: For monitoring, we have developed the sensor-based Packwise Smart Cap, which is compatible with IBCs from various manufacturers and in different sizes. The Packwise Smart Cap can be simply plugged onto the IBC according to the Plug & Play principle and it is immediately networked. This is a simple, practical solution where nothing has to be changed on the packaging itself.
What data can be measured with the Packwise Smart Cap?
Felix Weger: Which data should be collected can be determined according to the needs of the company. For example, we can measure level, location, acceleration, temperature or inclination. We can also carry out measurements based on movement if the customer is particularly interested in what happens during the transport of a container – for example, if there are unexpected movements or vibrations.
What can this data be used for?
Sophia Becker: On the one hand, our customers can optimize their circulation processes with the Packwise Smart Cap, because they know more accurately when a container becomes empty and then has to be collected and prepared. This allows logistical processes to be optimized. This not only saves CO2, but also costs. On the other hand, monitoring makes the packaging an interface to the customer: If, as a chemicals manufacturer, I regularly deliver a product to a customer and can see from the level measurement at the relevant IBCs whether the customer still has enough in stock or whether his stock is gradually running out, I can recognize early on when I need to send replenishments. In this way, inventory management can be optimized.
How will this data be made available to the user?
Sophia Becker: The user can manage all IBCs equipped with the Packwise Smart Cap via a web application. This software visualizes all collected data. In certain cases, the user can also have notifications sent to him, depending on which information is relevant for him – whether he is particularly interested in knowing when an IBC has arrived at the customer’s location or when the fill level drops below a certain level. Some processes can also be automated via the software. For example, it can be set up so that an automatic reorder is initiated when an IBC is empty.
Why was Packwise founded?
Felix Weger: In 2017 we founded Packwise together with Gesche Weger and René Bernhardt. Before that, I had managed two factories that produce IBCs, first in England and then in Dresden. This allowed me to experience the complex process first-hand: we organized the collection and recycling of IBCs for our customers, and that was very costly. In order to better organize these recycling processes, we first set up a marketplace for IBCs with our startup – a kind of eBay for used IBCs. This taught us a lot about the market, but in the meantime our core business has shifted to tracking IBCs and making recycling processes even more efficient.
What stage of development are you currently in?
Felix Weger: We are currently in the pilot phase. Tracking IBCs is something completely new for every user – which is why we discuss with our customers individually which data they actually want to see. In doing so, we learn a lot about the different ways in which the data can be used. We are also always happy to welcome new companies who want to try out our system. Participation in the pilot phase does not mean a large investment. It is important to us that our prices are competitive as long as quality does not suffer. In April 2020, series production will start, for which we will cooperate with the company Diehl from Nürnberg. Therefore, we use the decades of experience of an established group for production, but still remain agile as a young company.
What is your vision for the future?
Felix Weger: First of all, we want to grow as a company – first in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and England, but in the long term globally. In three to seven years, industrial packaging will basically be networked and digital. We are the first to bring a device with the optimal sensor technology for IBCs to the market, so it is exciting for us to be the ones to create this value. The aspect of sustainability is also particularly important to us: sustainable products must firstly actually save CO2, secondly they should not impair or, better still, increase quality, and thirdly they must be financially attractive. We fulfill all these points with Packwise. In this way we can make a major contribution to the sustainable development of the chemical industry.