Subscribe Login

Boxing With Giants: Italy's Packing Robots Are Not Just Cardboard Cutouts

By Dayeeta Das
Share this article

Amazon's new recruit comes from a medieval walled town in central Italy and can box and seal at least 600 items of different shapes and sizes every hour. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

That recruit is the CartonWrap, brainchild of CMC, a small firm that is just one of 630 Italian companies making automated packaging machines - one of Italy's fastest growing industries, raking in nearly €8 billion in 2018, or about a quarter of the world market.

Machinery is Italy's top export, worth almost €50 billion ($57 billion) last year and a rare bright spot for a stagnant economy plagued by low productivity and high unemployment.

Automated Packaging

And leading the pack is - automated packaging - growing nine times faster than the economy as a whole, according to the trade association UCIMA.

"We doubled our turnover in the last three years and I think we will double it again in the next three years," said CMC Chief Executive Francesco Ponti.


His father, Giuseppe, a technician with a local packaging company, founded CMC in 1980 in a domestic garage not far from the frescoed 16th century palazzi of Città di Castello.

It now employs 300 people and has revenues of €50 million - thanks mainly to CartonWrap, which measures goods coming down a conveyor belt through a scanner and wraps each in a custom-made box.

Both Amazon and Walmart are customers, though Ponti said client relationships were confidential. Others include the Italian fashion group Gucci, the French retailer Leclerc and the Dutch online shop

Faster And Cleaner

At up to 1,000 boxes per hour, CartonWrap machines not only pack much faster than humans; they also save money by reducing packaging waste, CMC says.


"We were doing it manually but the problem was handling the volumes," Tim Fronzek, co-founder of the German online retailer, which dispatches up to 25,000 items a day, told a CMC customer presentation.

"The machines have allowed us to manage the packaging process more efficiently, and process all outbound shipments in just a few hours with the help of two or three employees."

The machines may not eat lunch but they do need breaks, for on-site technicians to fix problems and clean away the excess hot glue that can clog the machine.


Production capacity is also limited - CMC can only make five or six machines a month, though it plans to double that soon.


"Scale is a problem for our industry and consolidation is already under way," said Maurizio Marchesini, chairman of Marchesini Group, which specialises in packaging for pharmaceutical products.

While Italian and German companies dominate the automated packaging market, Chinese competition is growing.

The German robotics firm Kuka and the Italian Romaco group have both been bought by Chinese firms in the last three years - and across industrialised countries, humans will soon become redundant on many packaging lines.

Back at CMC, Francesco Ponti is relaxed.


"There are no more people who want to do this job by hand," he said.

"If automation grows, the (number of) people who work in automation grow, and the quality of their work will be much better than it is today."

News by Reuters, edited by ESM. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.

Get the week's top grocery retail news

The most important stories from European grocery retail direct to your inbox every Thursday

Processing your request...

Thanks! please check your email to confirm your subscription.

By signing up you are agreeing to our terms & conditions and privacy policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.