Live at PackExpo

RFID, robotics, barrier films and branding drive boom

By Ahmed ElAmin in Chicago

- Last updated on GMT

Here in this windy US city, about 45,000 people are attending one
of the world's biggest packaging equipment exhibitions, which
kicked off yesterday.

A walk across this vast floor space here at the McCormick Place shows that exhibitors are producing machines, equipment, supplies to meet the needs of the market.

The exhibition, which features 2,300 exhibitors eager to make a sale, brings together new technologies and techniques under one roof. It also marks the fourth consecutive year of a boom in North American packaging machinery sales and exports.

The organisers, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), attribute the four year growth trend to efforts by end-users to improve packaging line productivity and reduce labour costs.

"Simply put, packaging machinery end-users are replacing older machines with new models with more advanced technology and innovative designs to increase production speeds and reduce labour costs," said Charles Yuska, PMMI's president and chief executive. "This is happening across the board - from domestic US and Canadian industries to the export markets - and the growth has been strong."

In line with that trend, exhibitors are making their pitches with an emphasis on increased automation, higher line speeds, and promises of cost savings.

Bob Risley, PMMI's chairman, yesterday said the four trends coursing affecting equipment sales are the increased use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, robotics, flexible packaging and means to protect brand integrity.

"Our clients are looking for complete systems solutions," he said at a press conference to mark PackExpo's opening.

According to a study by IDTechEx, 600 million RFID tags were sold in 2005 for all uses, with that number expected to grow to 1.3 billion this year. The forecast sales include 500 million case and pallet smart labels.

The broadening deployment of Electronic Product Code (EPC) in the RFID arena, rising interest in item level tagging and demands for tighter supply chains to prevent counterfeiting, theft and diversion continue to push the technology forward, according to a PMMI study.

Meanwhile another study shows that the growing use of robotic systems is driving equipment builders to deliver more turnkey systems, create more modular designs and automate inspection tasks.

Such features allow manufacturers to accelerate product changeover times and simplify integration with other plant equipment. The drive is being led by the growing trend towards new product introductions and evolving pack patterns and sizes.

"Delivering these variations in a timely manner requires flexibility and quick changeover that can often only be accomplished with automated equipment," the PMMI stated. "As a result, packagers are deploying more robotic systems, performing more tasks via software and demanding more tightly integrated machines, while keeping a firm rein on costs."

According to the Robotic Industry Association, sales of packaging and palletising robots rose by about 113 per cent between 2000 and 2005. There was a 15 per cent increase in sales between 2004 and 2005 alone.

Another trend affecting the market is the growing demand for barrier films and related packaging elements, according to a third PMMI study released yesterday at PackExpo.

Barrier films, one of the segments in the flexible packaging sector, is a means to extend shelf life and improve convenience for consumers.

Flexible packaging has grown to make up 17 per cent of the $127bn packaging market in the US, making it the second most used packaging type in the country.

A fourth trend affecting the industry is the growing use of innovative containers and materials for increased visual appeal and to project brand image. Such appeal is often reinforced these days with tactile surface treatments, inviting consumers to reach out and touch them.

Part of the trend is also driven by the need to guard brands against counterfeiting and theft.

The four trends are helping to drive equipment sales. North American packaging machinery shipments hit $5.8 billion in 2005, an 8.1 per cent increase over the previous year and the fourth consecutive year of growth.

In 2005 bottling line machinery grew by 25 per cent, followed by filling machinery for liquid products at 15 per cent. Turnover in the inspecting, detecting and checkweighing machinery market grew by 10 per cent and palletizing, depalletizing and pallet unitising machinery 11.1 per cent.

The PMMI forecasts turnover will top $6bn this year.

PackExpo runs until 2 November. Ahmed ElAmin, editor of FoodProductionDaily.com, will be present at the show. You can leave a message at ahmed.elamin@decisionnews.com or at the McCormick Place press centre. You can also leave a message at 847-671-6350, room 1021.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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