Automated primary and secondary packaging: Impacting the customer experience

Robot Tech

Primary and secondary packaging

Automated primary and secondary packaging: Impacting the customer experience

Catherine Bernier
Content Manager
Content for Cobot

Primary and secondary packaging represent your customers’ first experience with your product. Learn how others are perfecting the art of packaging.

In today's highly competitive manufacturing landscape, the importance of packaging goes well beyond mere wrapping. Primary and secondary packaging serve as the frontline in product delivery, protection, and brand representation. From ensuring product integrity during transport to meeting ever-stringent regulations, these packaging stages are integral to the success of most manufacturing operations.

This article provides a comprehensive guide for leaders considering the move to automated packaging. From exploring the types of robots suited for primary and secondary packaging to breaking down the costs and ROI, we will delve into the critical aspects that will help you make an informed decision.

What is primary and secondary packaging?

Primary packaging is the material that comes in direct contact with the product and is essential for preserving its quality and safety. Secondary packaging, on the other hand, groups individual packages together and serves as an additional protective layer during storage and transport. Together, they provide: 

  • Product safety 
  • Logistical efficiency 
  • Customer satisfaction

It’s imperative to consider adopting technology to optimize these packaging tasks to the highest standards.

Why manufacturers are transitioning to automated packaging processes

As manufacturers face increasing economic pressures, they must look for innovative methods to keep pace with demand while ensuring quality and reducing operational costs. This is where automation, particularly through industrial robotics, comes into play.

Automating primary and secondary packaging processes with industrial robots promises an array of benefits:

  • Improved speed
  • Efficiency 
  • Cost reductions
  • Enhanced worker safety

Robotic systems offer unparalleled precision, reliability, and flexibility. These characteristics are increasingly crucial as manufacturers contend with pressures like customization challenges, short product life cycles, and variable demand.

Moreover, in an era where sustainability and eco-conscious practices are not just trends but mandates, automation provides an avenue for more responsible production. From reducing material waste to lowering energy consumption, robotic automation aligns with the broader environmental stewardship goals.

Benefits of automating primary and secondary packaging

Increased speed and efficiency

Speed matters in today's fast-paced market. Higher throughput enables manufacturers to:

  • Scale production up and down flexibly
  • Service more customers
  • Meet sharp changes in customer demand

Automated systems, especially robots, are typically faster than manual packaging methods. This speed means your products get packaged faster, and you can quickly meet market demand.

Improved accuracy and reduced error rate

Mistakes in packaging can be costly. Wrong labels or poor sealing can lead to returned products or even recalls. Robots are highly precise and consistent. They reduce the chance of errors, saving both time and money.

Enhanced worker safety

Packaging can involve repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks. Robots can handle these jobs 24/7 and restrict the need to expose employees to potential risks, making the workplace safer.

Challenges of automating primary and secondary packaging

Automating primary and secondary packaging processes presents a set of challenges that manufacturers need to address for successful implementation. These include:

  • Material compatibility
  • Product variation
  • Integration with existing manual or automated systems

Material compatibility

Automation systems need to be compatible with the materials used in packaging, which can range from plastics and metals to fragile glass. Ensuring that robots can handle these materials without damage is crucial. Special grippers are often the key to proper material handling.

Product variation

Manufacturing lines that handle a wide range of products may struggle with automation due to varying sizes, shapes, and packaging requirements. Robots will need to be highly adaptable or reprogrammable to deal with this product diversity.

Integration with existing systems

Many manufacturers already have some level of automation or specific manual procedures in place. Integrating new robotic systems successfully requires proper coordination with these systems. This may include taking on additional tasks such as:

  • Reprogramming existing systems
  • Training and retraining
  • Updating existing policies and procedures

Primary packaging automation with industrial robotics

packaging robot in action


Primary packaging is the first layer that wraps your product. It's the box your smartphone comes in or the bottle holding your soda. In manufacturing, primary packaging is crucial. It directly touches the product and keeps it safe and fresh. It's not just about containment; it's also about the customer's first experience with your brand.

Types of robots suited for primary packaging

Articulated robots

These robots are versatile with multiple joints, making them highly flexible. They can rotate, lift, and extend, making them ideal for tasks like picking, placing, and even complex movements like twisting caps onto bottles.

These robots most commonly come in two types:

In form and function, these robots are similar. The same mechanical construction gives them the flexibility and dexterity to perform complex motion paths. The primary difference is that collaborative robots are designed to work with and around people. They have unique safety features like speed and force limitations to limit employee risk. 

Six-axis industrial robots can be much larger and faster but should never be operating in the range of human workers. Manufacturers should consider implementing proper safeguards with these and all other robot systems.

SCARA robots

SCARA stands for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm. These robots are known for their speed and precision, making them ideal for high-speed tasks like sorting, placing, and labeling.

SCARA robots’ biggest limitation is their reach. These robots won’t be good fits for tasks that require a large range of motion. Additionally, their design limits their flexibility. They won’t be able to take complex paths of motion like articulated robots.

Delta robots

Delta robots are extremely fast and precise, often used for applications where products move on a conveyor belt at high speeds. They are best for quick pick-and-place tasks and can adapt to different product shapes and sizes.

These robots are also limited to tight working envelopes and simple motion paths. However, for the right application, manufacturers can get the most out of the delta’s unmatched speed capabilities. 

You can achieve high-speed, accurate, and safe operations by choosing the right type of robot for your primary packaging needs.

Secondary packaging automation with industrial robotics

Secondary packaging is the external layer of packaging used to group primary-packaged products together for storage, transportation, and retail. Unlike primary packaging, which is directly in contact with the product, secondary packaging is an additional protective layer and aids in logistical efficiency. Given its role in distribution and shelf presence, getting it right is critical for operational success.

Types of robots suited for secondary packaging

Several types of robots are particularly well-suited for secondary packaging tasks.

Gantry robots

Gantry robots are often used for pick-and-place tasks and are suitable for environments where floor space is a concern. Their overhead design allows for efficient use of space and easy integration into existing manufacturing setups.

With nearly limitless range and unmatched payload capacity, gantry robots are the strongest choice for the heaviest duty secondary packaging applications.

Articulated robots

Articulated robots are great for both primary and secondary packaging applications. These robots are highly versatile which makes them a great fit for secondary packaging applications. Industrial six-axis robots have the size and payload capacity to handle the largest packaging applications. Cobots are great fits for those tasks that require working alongside employees.

Costs and financial considerations



Getting started with robotic automation requires a significant initial investment. The costs include the robot hardware, the software, installation, and possibly modifications to your factory floor. 

For a comprehensive primary or secondary packaging robot system, you can expect to invest anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 or more, depending on various factors such as the type of robot, complexity of tasks, and other accessories or modifications needed.

Evaluating payback periods and long-term benefits through ROI analysis

It's crucial to view the initial costs as an investment. Return on Investment (ROI) calculation helps to estimate how long it will take for the benefits of automation to outweigh the initial costs. For example, let us consider an initial investment of $100,000 for robotic packaging, saving you $5,000 per month in labor costs:

ROI = (Net Savings / Initial Investment) x 100

ROI = ($5,000 x 12 months / $100,000) x 100

ROI = 60%

In this example, the system would pay for itself in approximately 1.7 years. This timeline is known as the payback period. Most manufacturers look for payback periods between 12 and 36 months. It is essential to factor in other benefits, such as increased production, higher quality, and reduced error rates, when calculating ROI.

While this is a highly simplified example, the ROI and payback period are vital metrics that provide a complete picture of the financial benefits of automating your packaging processes. Consider both to make a well-informed decision. Additionally, consider qualitative improvements in your decision, such as increased worker safety and morale.

Maintenance, training, and other costs to anticipate

While robots can cut labor costs, they come with their own expenses. Regular maintenance is essential and can cost 3-5% of the initial investment annually. Staff training is another expense to consider for ensuring smooth operation and troubleshooting.

Potential financial support: Exploring grants, subsidies, or tax benefits

Financial incentives from governments and industry bodies may be available to companies looking to adopt automation. These incentives can offset some of the initial costs and improve the ROI/payback calculations. Research any offerings from your local and national government organizations to determine how you might qualify. 

The potential of robotic automation in packaging

To stay competitive, manufacturers must adapt, and automation through robotics in primary and secondary packaging is a compelling avenue for adaptation. The benefits are numerous, from cost-savings and efficiency gains to future-proofing your operations. Automation is an investment that not only stands to improve your bottom line but can also position your business for future success.

What’s next?

You may be ready to take the next step toward automating your primary and secondary packaging processes, but where do you start?

The HowToRobot platform connects buyers of automation with a variety of suppliers in a streamlined, easy-to-use environment. 

Post your project on HowToRobot today for free, and begin receiving offers from vetted, relevant  automation vendors from our supplier network.