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Packaging revolution IS changing everything

"This changes everything." That line, taken from a recent crop of Chrysler ads, would have us believe the company's doing something revolutionary in its field.

I have my doubts. Wider wheel stance and cab forward design are interesting but do they really change everything? A large all-plastic family car selling for under $15 that carried a 10-year 150 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty - now that would change everything...that would be revolutionary! To me most of the features being touted by the automobile industry have a superficial business-as-usual character to them. On the other hand the packaging business is changing everything. Unlike the automotive industry this business is never content with mere cosmetic alterations to the status quo. A close reading of the ads and editorial in this publication reveals that packaging is continuously reinventing itself. It builds aluminum cans to replace steel ones. Multilayer plastic containers phase out (or are phased out by) composites and monolayer plastics. Packaging machinery builders develop expertise in vertical specialties then look upstream and downstream to spread their knowledge beyond the boundaries of their core specialties. Packaging is always pushing to improve - lighter faster more secure simpler less expensive more efficient. Generations of packaging developments build upon the framework of preceding art science and technology. In the frozen meals category for instance molded ovenable fiber trays replaced rigid plastic plates which supplanted crimp-formed paperboard trays which knocked out crimp-formed aluminum trays. But the vibrancy of packaging keeps the supplanted developments from dying as they find new uses in ever-widening markets. Computers and electronics For their part packaging machinery manufacturers have taken much of the time and guesswork out of set-ups and changeovers. Computer smarts and electronic precision are helping frazzled packaging managers keep their production lines operating at peak efficiencies. Systems and materials are abler and some of the latest technologies are bringing down operational and service call costs. On-board multilingual computer touchscreen diagnostics are commonplace and a growing number of packagers now have instant around-the-clock interactive Internet access to the technical service managers and engineers who built their systems. ISO 2000+ certification of machinery material and container manufacturing operations is growing. The once clear boundaries separating the packaging interests of glass metal paper and plastic materials have been obliterated by generations of cross-material packaging developments. Published packaging glossaries have been made obsolete by packaging changes that add alter and expand definitions faster than publishers can edit and revise them. The definition of glass has been expanded in recent years to include silica coatings on flexible and semi-rigid containers. "Can" no longer just means a cylindrical straight-walled metal container as paper plastics and composite cans (not to mention contoured wall and non-cylindrical footprint versions) abound. Plastics are combining with all other packaging materials and improving their performance. For glass there are plastic coatings labels closures and liners. Papers draw strength and water resistance from plastics as well as organoleptic barriers seal efficacy gloss scuff resistance and a host of other properties. Plastics prevent metal closures from backing off during shipment and prevent unwanted metallic reactions of foods and beverages in metal cans. To the traditional categories of bags bottles boxes cans cartons closures cups labels etc. packaging suppliers have added such categories as child-resistant/elder-friendly blisters fitments holograms thermochromic inks zippers dispensers slip sheets stand-up pouches pump dispensers and an array of container and packaging choices that defies characterization as anything more specific than "specialty packaging." Improved economics Not only are suppliers offering stronger lighter more appealing containers produced conveyed filled capped labeled and cased on faster more agile lines but the economics of those packages and systems is improving. There are more fundamental changes going on too. Old paradigms are dissolving. Venerable glass container maker Ball Corp. (Muncie IN) no longer makes glass bottles and jars; plastic containers is now its passion. Alcoa (Pittsburgh PA) the full name of which is the Aluminum Company of America until recently made both plastic and aluminum closures. Then it sold off one of the operations to Silgan Holdings Inc. (Stamford CT). Guess which one. Similarly American National Can Co. (Chicago IL) no longer makes food cans. And Reynolds Metals Co. (Richmond VA) which conceived the two-piece aluminum beverage can that has succeeded in totally wiping out the steel beverage can in the U.S. now appears poised to get out of the can business. The brown box maker many of us remember as Packaging Corp. of America has assumed a new identity as Pactiv Inc. (Evanston IL). It now is a specialty packaging producer with interests far beyond brown boxes including plastic films molded containers and protective packaging materials. Elsewhere ICI plc (London England) is turning over its polyester intermediates resin and films business to DuPont Co. (Wilmington DE) which promises to further improve efficiencies and lower PET packaging resin costs with two new polymerization techniques and more than 100 recent patents in the field. For packaging specifiers the continuous reinvention of packaging presents unparalleled opportunities to improve production and distribution control reduce the time it takes to get product to market and lower costs. It also presents a daunting challenge. How well you understand and define your current and future packaging needs continues to be an important predictor of packaging success. But increasingly your success will depend on how well you understand and can capitalize on the changing structure and technologies of packaging. c Ben Miyares is editor and publisher of the newsletter Packaging Management. He may be reached at 31408 Narragansett Lane Bay Village OH 44140. Telephone: 216/892-0998; Fax: 216/892-0208; e-mail:

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