The economy is looking up, but it still is placing stresses and demands on packaging machinery, industry thought leaders said at a recent PMMI conference. More...


The economy is looking up, but it still is placing stresses and demands on packaging machinery, industry thought leaders told members of the trade press at a conference Feb. 16 near Chicago under the auspices of PMMI.

In addition to updates, changes, and publicity surrounding the upcoming PMMI Pack Expo show set for Chicago starting in late October, the PMMI held two panel discussions. Prior to the panels, PMMI president and CEO Chuck Yuska outlined four themes for the two-hour conference: the economy, food safety, sustainability and private label.

Six representatives from machinery builders addressed industry trends. Machinery vendor managers are a great resource to gauge the pulse of the industry, particularly in consumer packaged goods, where end users may keep such things close to the vest.

Pro Mach’s Jack Aguero noted that they are not seeing the delays to the purchase orders in 2010 that they saw in 2009, a year that he characterized as marked by retrofits and upgrades. In other words, it was a year lacking in major capital expenditures. He also suggested that the heightened interest in small-cap projects reflected a repositioning of brands through modifications of machinery producing those packages.

Retailer trends also were discussed. PMMI VP Matt Croson said he had observed at last year’s Pack Expo that retailers have begun sending groups to the show, which they had not done in the past.

Brian Barr of Heat and Control described retailers bringing their private label capability in-house and away from contract packagers due to cost pressures. He also said that another effect of the economy was to reduce the maximum acceptable return on investment to one year.

Robert Koch of Multivac said equipment was being called on to do more. He observed that more pressure was being placed on equipment with applications where ingredients or flavorings are added just ahead of sealing. This requires more room on the machinery to accommodate these added features and attachments.

A second panel discussion centered on food safety and the reality of recalls.

Food products do not offer the profit margins of products like pharmaceuticals, said Robert Hibbert of the law firm of K&L Gates. This means food consumers probably will have to absorb the cost of track-and-trace, he said.

It is frustrating as both an industry observer and a consumer to see the continuing amount of large-scale and crucial product recalls. Despite all the technology advances in materials, machinery, automation, management and training, QA and QC, human error remains the largest root cause for recalls-and one that is virtually impossible to eliminate.

More information can be found at Packaging Strategies.