Four students from University of Florida Gainesville left PACK EXPO Las Vegas a winner. The students; Justin Simmons, Kent “Max” Kolegue, Colleen Watson and Natasha Najdovski, won first prize in the PMMI U Student Packaging Solutions Contest, sponsored by exhibitor B&R Industrial Automation Corp.

The first-place team shares $4,000 in scholarship funds from the PMMI Education & Training Foundation. The second- and third-place teams, from California Polytechnic Institute and Purdue University at Calumet, respectively, also receive scholarship prizes: $2,000 for second place, and $1,000 for third place. But it’s more than scholarship funds that will benefit the students, according to B&R President Marc Ostertag. “This is a great vehicle to introduce bright young minds to packaging, and machine builders and users to the talent pool,” he says.

The contest began when student teams from nine schools accepted the challenge to devise a packaging solution for corn starch: Cal Poly, Clemson University, Purdue University at Calumet, University of Wisconsin-Stout, University of Florida – Gainesville and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.

“The students’ assignment was to design and recommend a packaging machinery system for a contract packaging company that orients, fills, caps and checkweighs rigid plastic packages of corn starch. They had to be certain that when executing the filling, there would be minimal product giveaway and powder contamination of the package exterior,” says PMMI Vice President Education & Workforce Development Maria Ferrante.

Using industry resources including Packexpo.com, the students began researching solutions in July. Last week, they went to PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 to finalize their research, meet with solutions providers and present their conclusions to a panel of three judges: Scott Macario and Paul Redwood, Church & Dwight; and Lot To, Unilever.

Ostertag announced the judges’ decision at the B&R Industrial Automation Corp. booth on site at PACK EXPO.