A different kind of portal

While e-marketplaces, hubs, exchanges and portals cling to dear life now that funding sources have dried up, we’ve seen the quiet emergence of another type of so-called portal: Call it the “information portal.”

A true information portal has no buyers, no sellers, no trading, no e-commerce. Just information. Often such sites are created and maintained by a single supplier as a marketing vehicle. Nonetheless, such sites can offer useful, problem-solving information. Plus they’re far more user-focused than traditional corporate Web sites. (A brief rant: The word “portal” is a tired, inaccurate buzzword. Such sites are not so much doorways to other sites—as the word implies—as they are destinations unto themselves. And this is especially true for information portals, which are sites that focus on a specific topic. But “portal” is what they want to be called, so we shall oblige.)

Material handling The best example I’ve found of an information portal is at www.materialhandlinginfo.com, where users can learn how to identify and solve material handling problems in distribution, order fulfillment and manufacturing. Run by Eskay Corp. (Salt Lake City, UT), the site features a problem/solution section on issues related to floor space, productivity, errors, inventory, ergonomics and labor. There are four or five subtopics (each with its own problem/solution) listed in each of these sections. Though the solutions contain, as one would expect, extensive links to Eskay’s products, it’s tolerable because it’s done in the context of solving a specific problem from the user’s perspective. It’s clear from the way they’ve cross-linked a lot of information on the site that they’ve put a lot of thought into the material handling problems that users experience. The site also contains an extensive section of interactive worksheets on material handling transport, sortation, storage and picking systems. A section on case studies, tips for getting started with a material handling project and a first-rate glossary round out the site. The site is extremely easy to use and has one of the best “How to use this site” sections I’ve ever seen.

Navigating the other “web” Believe it or not, there is now a Web site—information portal, excuse me—dedicated exclusively to solving pesky web splicing problems that packagers and converters face on a daily basis. SplicingSolutions.com (www.splicingsolutions.com) is run by Adhesives Research (Glen Rock, PA), a supplier of pressure-sensitive adhesives and splicing tapes. The site includes step-by-step “how-to” guides with diagrams that help users understand how to make butt splices, overlap splices and various types of flying splices. While the site is more commercial than MaterialHandlingInfo.com, it contains some good basic information for anyone who has to splice webs of packaging material. Blow Molding Matters (www.blowmoldingmatters.com) offers news on rigid packaging containers and closures. The U.K.-based site tends to be European-centric, though it does have a special section for U.S.-oriented news. One drawback is that virtually all the news on the site appears to be supplier-oriented. Neverthless, sometimes a newsworthy breakthrough is offered that hasn’t, for whatever reason, yet been picked up by the mainstream packaging press. For example, on this site I learned Uniloy (www.uniloy.com) and Ontro (www.ontro.com) have produced a blow-molded, six-layer container that can heat the product inside to 80°F. The site also contains a supplier directory (U.K.-centric, from what I saw), a discussion forum and a wanted/for-sale section (both of the latter were sparsely populated).

Packworld.tv Packaging World magazine is finally doing in-plant video at www.packworld.tv. I say “finally” because six years ago when the Internet “happened,” the editors dreamed about the possibility of showing in-plant video on our Web site to accompany the stories we write. Now that enough of our readers and site visitors are equipped with high-speed Internet connections well-suited to viewing video clips, that day has come. When we publish a story with accompanying in-plant video, we produce a separate video clip for each machine we write about so you can view only the machine you’re interested in. Though management may grumble that we’ve expended—in time, equipment and software—a sum rivaling the GNP of a small island nation, I feel the result is well worth it. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

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