What is the outlook for growth in packaging machinery?
PMMI's 2005 purchasing trends survey of some 450 buyers predicts an overall 7 percent growth in packaging machinery sales in North America to an estimated $5.91 billion. That compares to the 3 to 5 percent annual growth of recent years. The largest surge in purchasing comes from the pharmaceutical—medical sector, which expects a 12 percent increase, followed by beverage equipment at about 10 percent, food packaging by 7 percent, and converters and printers predict by 4 percent.
From a performance standpoint, what is the chief concern of equipment buyers?
Historically, customers wanted faster speeds. Now, the focus is on changeover. In the last decade, manufacturers of packaged products have dramatically increased the number of items or SKUs that they offer. A soup company, for example, now offers product in metal cans, cups, plastic jars, pouches, and so on. Today, the average packaging line undergoes four changeovers in an eight—hour period.
What other trends will you see in equipment at Pack Expo Las Vegas?
You'll see more onboard diagnosis and continued implementation of "mechatronics"—the blending of electronics and mechanical technology—in packaging machinery. By 2010, it is said that 60 percent of packaging equipment cost will be for electronic components: servos, controllers, sensors, machine vision.
How much progress is the industry making in developing open standards?
Equipment users want more information on their packaging operations. However, many users are still wary about giving machinery suppliers access to their internal networks for diagnostics. In terms of open systems, packaging equipment manufacturers build what their customers want, and when it comes to communications protocols, it still boils down to Rockwell standards in the U.S. and Siemens in Europe. The Open Modular Architect Controls (OMAC) initiative for establishing universal standards for controls has not had the following that its founders had hoped. Perhaps more success will come with the Make2Pack effort that is starting.
Do you see growing concern for greater security in packaging?
Yes. Pack Expo Las Vegas will have two pavilions focusing on this issue—one on security, and the other on RFID.
To what extent do packaging designers consult equipment suppliers on innovative concepts?
This doesn't happen enough. Quite often, packaging machinery builders are brought in late in the cycle. A food manufacturer may not know at the outset what format a new product will take such as a can or pouch. As soon as that format is determined, the equipment supplier should be consulted for input on features that the customer may want in the package.
What other challenges are packaging equipment suppliers facing today?
The key concern is how to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment. Not only has equipment produced abroad penetrated our domestic market, but equipment manufacturers in North America also are seeing their traditional customers expand overseas. In many cases, these customers want to deal with local equipment suppliers that can support their machines. Many domestic suppliers are still not set up to provide such services abroad.