Packaging machinery OEMs and buyers of packaging machinery talk turkey at Ipack-Ima

Presented in conjunction with Ipack-Ima, the Italian packaging show just held February 14-18 in Milan, was a half-day event called Global Packaging Managers & Equipment Suppliers Forum.

Featured at this forum was a panel discussion organized by Ipack-Ima sponsors Ucima (the Italian Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Association) and ICE (the Italian Trade Commission). Four participants on the panel were global packaging managers who have machine-buying responsibilities at four packaged goods companies; the other three panel discussion participants were representatives from three packaging machinery manufacturers.

First up among the global packaging managers was Bob Collins (first photo), director of global packaging development in the healthcare business unit of Gillette Co.

“Even before Procter & Gamble acquired us, we were in 200 countries,” said Collins. “As our integration into Procter & Gamble proceeds, things only get all the more global in nature. We want machine suppliers to understand that our philosophy is to install one line in Boston and then ship it around the world. That way, consumers see the same package no matter where they encounter a Gillette product.”

According to Collins, sometimes it’s the retailer, not the consumer, who determines a package’s appearance. “If a retailer wants to enhance the shelf-readiness of a package, it’s likely that packaging machinery selection will be affected. So we insist on close communication between marketing, packaging development, purchasing, product development, engineering, and so on.

It’s rare, Collins said, that Gillette buys a “standard” machine, largely because the firm’s product/package combinations are so innovative and unique.

“Innovation isn’t cheap,” said Collins, “and we recognize that we must fund part of the innovation we need in the equipment we ask for. Our size makes it a little easier to do that.”

Also among the packaging machinery builders on the panel was Bob Risley (second photo), president of Materials Handling Systems and current chairman of the board at the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute. Risley told the Forum audience that he sees a trend emerging in the packaging machinery building community.

“Packaging machinery OEMs are combining technical excellence with improved marketplace insights into where their customers needs are headed,” said Risley. Even so, he acknowledged that there are no guarantees of success.

“We worked once with Motts on a project involving a tube for apple sauce, kind of like the tubed products you’re seeing in yogurt and other categories,” Risley said. “Our contribution was to be in the handling of the packs, and we joint-ventured with them on the project. But at the end of the day, both parties decided it was not a viable packaging format. Handling that hot apple sauce in a tube was so much more challenging than handling a tube of yogurt. Eventually the project was shelved.”

Joseph McDilda (third photo), director of packaging R&D at General Mills, said that one of the hurdles keeping buyers and builders of packaging equipment from forming better relationships is the simple fact that there aren’t enough venues where packaging innovation can be discussed. He commended Ucima and ICE for sponsoring the February 13 Forum.

“I’d like to see more discussion of environmental issues,” McDilda continued, “which I think will grow in importance significantly in the next few years. Look at packaging made from renewable resources, for example. Will these new materials run the same way on existing packaging equipment or will machinery modifications be called for?”

McDilda emphasized that packaging machinery suppliers seeking an improved relationship with General Mills had better know something about the state of the company if they hope to meet its needs.

“Many of our products internationally are packaged in largely manual operations,” said McDilda. “We need to drive that cost out and bring a more global packaging perspective to these units.”

Ucima president Giovanni Caffarelli reminded the packaged goods companies on the panel that their sheer size can sometimes make relationship-building difficult.

“When a new product is coming out, who is the individual who shapes its package and decides what packaging machinery is needed?” asked Caffarelli. “We machinery suppliers need to be involved at the product development stage. We might even need an office inside a multinational company like a General Mills or a Unilever or a Barilla. Otherwise we stay on the outside and can’t be as effective in providing solutions.”

Unilever’s Dave Penrith (fourth photo), global packaging and machinery manager, applauded the Forum sponsors not only for organizing the February 13 event in Milan but also for commissioning the Prometeia study. “It’s a document we can use to move forward in building better relationships,” said Penrith. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had that.”

Penrith also urged packaging machinery builders to be careful about unleashing sophisticated engineering marvels upon their customers if such devices are not designed with day-to-day operational reliability and user friendliness squarely in mind. “Don’t just push novelties out the door,” said Penrith. “Own your product for its life. And whatever you do, don’t forget that we know your machines a lot longer than you do.”

For a related Ipack-Ima story, please click here.

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