Packaging trends to watch in 2011
Last year we asked automation consultant John Kowal to present 6 trends to anticipate in the coming year. Here's what Kowal, who is now packaging market development manager at B&R Industrial Automation, for another round of trends.
1. Slow economic rebound and new technology spur 'value' packaging machines
The trend was already evident at PACK EXPO: provide certain key packaging machine capabilities at a price point that makes them affordable to a new group of customers.
By morphing control into the touchscreen panel, with smart software control of AC drives and using new fabrication techniques, Omega Design Corporation has created a new value-priced niche for bottle unscramblers.
It's targeted at life sciences customers who don't require full servo functionality but do want to take advantage of Omega's patented, self-adjusting rotary pocket system.
In a similar game-changing move, Extreme Packaging Machinery introduced a 100 cpm servo shrink wrapper costing significantly less than conventional designs.
To accomplish this, Extreme's engineers also streamlined mechanical fabrication, and then replaced pneumatic cylinders, temperature controllers, PLC, HMI and all their separate software packages on its new wrapper series.
OEMs such as Extreme Packaging are reading the market to bundle functionalities that meet specific price points and application requirements.
2. Especially in a weak economy, some innovations are irresistable
Among the most sensational new packaging technologies introduced at PACK EXPO was Ilapak's fresh pizza vacuumizing system. It takes all but about 0.5% of the oxygen out of a fresh pizza prior to modified atmosphere packaging. And that turns a 1 to 2 day refrigerated shelf life into several months.
It's already a hit in Europe, turning local pizza makers into regional players, regional players into EU-wide brands, and store brands into high volume operations.
Everyone knows that a slow economy spurs dining at home. Yet, frozen pizza remains one of the most competitive and heavily discounted categories. Fresh pizza is the perfect opportunity for a new differentiator.
The potential to reshape consumer expectations, capture market share and recapture margins should have pizza makers beating a path to Ilapak's door in 2011.
3. It's an interpack year: anticipate innovation
Some people just don't believe it, but it's true. The European packaging machine industry follows a circadian rhythm based on the 3-year interpack fair cycle. It's not that they won't introduce innovations in between. But they use interpack to launch their major new platforms which are multi-year R&D programs.
You don't hear much pre-show buzz because they want to save the unveiling for the big event. That doesn't mean key customers aren't already field testing the technology in question a year or more in advance of the show. And that means more often than not, the show machine is a production machine rather than a prototype.
That's why, if you do one thing this May, go to interpack in Düsseldorf and see what's on the horizon. Register for interpack, book your air and your hotel as early as you can, and expect to be shocked by hotel prices. But don't let that stop you. Go.