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Time to collaborate

Discussions of orchestral music and opera often include talk of a leitmotif, a recurring melody or theme driving the piece forward.

The leitmotif I’m hearing in packaging circles these days has everything to do with collaboration. It’s an approach that may help drive packaging forward.

It started in Milan at Italy’s biennial packaging show, Ipack-Ima, where a one-day conference was devoted to the question of how food processing and packaging technologies could help solve the problem of world hunger. Packaging will clearly play a central role. But if any one message emerged from this event, it was this: Growing, processing, packaging, storage, and distribution methods must all be optimally aligned with financing considerations, governmental policies, and educational initiatives if meaningful progress will ever be made in the fight against world hunger. In other words, collaboration is the key.

Leaving Milan and its futuristic Fieramilano exhibition facility, I found myself back in Chicago at the Packaging Automation Forum, now in its fourth year and organized jointly by this magazine and sister publication Automation World. Among the speakers was Murugan Govindasamy, senior manager global manufacturing service at pharma giant Pfizer. Once again, collaboration was a central theme of Govindasamy’s presentation, which focused on how better cooperation within pharmaceutical companies themselves and with outside suppliers would result in a greatly streamlined pharmaceutical packaging machinery scene. “We never talk to each other,” said Govindasamy. “Engineering sees automation from one perspective, IT has a different view, and production wants it done a third way. And then when you factor in outside suppliers like machine builders and automation technology suppliers, you add yet more competing perspectives to the mix. How many times have we ever sat down together to build a machine or to design automation? Why do we not rely more on a standardized approach?”

Back in the office the week after the Packaging Automation Forum, again I encountered the collaboration theme. This time it came in an announcement from ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, which has set up two new committees to develop standards for tackling the increasingly costly problem of counterfeiting. I asked Mike O’Neil of the North American Security Products Organization (NASPO), a nonprofit group created to certify security products organizations through the identification of best practices in the security field, what he thought of the ISO announcement. He says it’s music to his ears.

“It creates a table at which people can sit down—brand owners, solution providers, law enforcement people—and look at the problem holistically so that solutions can be developed in a much more collaborative manner than in the past,” says O’Neil. “There are too many silos of information out there. What’s really needed is an exchange of ideas. Solutions emerging from the documents arena may find applications in packaging. Or something from packaging may prove useful in combating currency fraud. But until people sit down at that table together, they don’t really know what they have to offer each other.”

As leitmotifs go, the sound of collaboration among packaging professionals is no string section gliding along a Puccini melody. But it’s still a theme worth listening for as you seek opportunities in the packaging arena.

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