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'Flexibility' sought in machinery at Pack Expo 96

Versatile machines that will allow manufacturers multiple packaging options was one of the frequent answers in Packaging World's second exclusive survey of Pack Expo registrants. Large buying teams and longer visits are also planned this year.

Charts 2, 3 and 4
Charts 2, 3 and 4

Although a few people admitted they'll still be searching for high-speed, dedicated packaging machines, the vast majority of Packaging World survey respondents want flexible and versatile equipment.

That was easily the clearest message in a telephone survey of readers who had already registered to attend Pack Expo 96, scheduled for Nov. 17 to 21, at Chicago's Mc-Cormick Place, and sponsored by the Packaging Machinery Manu-facturers Institute (Arlington, VA). A preview of the show begins on page 36.

The research was conducted for PW by Frambach & Co. (Elm Grove, WI) a fulfillment and telemarketing consultancy. Although the survey sample was small, the people contacted represent a wide variety of companies from quite small to very large. This diverse cross-section may mirror quite closely the attendance at Pack Expo.

We're also showing some specific comments from these attendees. Comments in answer to the question, "What is your primary objective at the show?" will be displayed along with our listing of Pack Expo exhibitors in our 23 product categories (see page 42). We also asked our participants "What improvements in packaging machinery would you like to see in the future?" Some answers to that question are shown here with the results of the survey.

Looking for specifics

The PW survey asked registrants about their primary objective at Pack Expo 96, especially whether they sought specific machines, a turnkey line, an integrated system or even all three (Chart 1).

Not surprisingly, 71% of all respondents indicated their objective was to evaluate individual machines. Still, some 13% were planning to look for a complete turnkey packaging line. About 4% said their primary goal was to look for integrated systems for their plants, and the balance, about 12%, said they had plans to look for individual machines and integrated systems and even turnkey packaging lines.

Our survey also asked the respondents to identify the types of machines they sought in three different ways, and some of the answers are a bit surprising. For example, we asked whether they sought semi-automatic, automatic or true state-of-the-art equipment. Since each smaller company response carries the same weight as each large company, we truly expected semi-automatic and automatic equipment to log similar results.

However, four in 10 respondents (Chart 2) say that the equipment they seek will be automatic, while just 26% say they're looking for semi-automatic machines. Meanwhile, more than a third (34%) really want cutting-edge equipment.

In some ways this contrasts to the answers we heard when we inquired about the machinery output and adjustability. As noted above, flexible equipment was an overwhelming winner (Chart 3), when we gave respondents two choices of equipment types: flexible/moderate-output, or high-output/nonadjustable.

Finally, we got little consensus when we asked participants their preferences to equipment by type of operation (Chart 4). A full third had no preference, and 20% favored pneumatic machines. The remaining participants were evenly divided between mechanical and electronic operation, 23% each.

Important features

From a selection of nine answers, the PW survey inquired about the two most important features in selection of a machine (Chart 5). The answers pretty much follow up on the "flexibility" objective that so many respondents say they'll demand.

Earning the greatest number of mentions was "quick changeover" at 23% of all responses. Not far behind was "flexibility" and "speed," each with 19% of mentions. Another often-selected answer was "accuracy," with 17% of selections. Then came "price" at 10%, while "technical service of the manufacturer," "operator-friendliness," "solid construction" and "sophisticated controls" each earned single-digit percentages.

Almost as much as anywhere else, the subject of machine features elicited many unsolicited comments from the participants. Said the engineering manager for a snack company, "The point is you want as much flexibility as you can get without sacrificing too much speed. And," he added, "we always look at the price."

A packaging designer for an automotive products maker sounded a warning: "If these two things [speed and quick changeover] are not available, it can kill a project." This participant failed to answer the question regarding flexible/ moderate output vs high-output/ nonadjustable. Management, she said, "wants flexible and high-output."

Another participant couldn't pick among the answers. This vice president of operations for a beverage company said, "You look for all of it. What's going to make the best fit [to your plant] is critical."

A senior engineer with an office products manufacturer noted that "due to our kind of business, quick changeover is now a must." That was also echoed by a package development engineer with a personal care products maker: "Quick changeover is always very important. Flexibility is more important now than in the past."

Technical service rated top according to the president of a contract packager. "I'm looking for support from the local distributor," he said. "I don't want to have to fly someone in [from across the country] to fix it."

Types of machines

When these individuals filled out registration forms from PMMI, they were asked which specific types of machinery, materials and supplies they were interested in evaluating. Among those who responded to our survey, some 77% of participants said they'd be looking for labeling and coding equipment. That's not surprising because they're used in virtually all packaging lines.

What did surprise PW is that the same percentage of participants planned to search out cartoning equipment. Meanwhile, case packing equipment was mentioned by 57% of the survey sample. This could be caused by the looseness of terminology among packagers and suppliers in identifying equipment for folding cartons vs equipment for corrugated cases. All too often, a corrugated box is called a "carton," so there may have been some confusion in separating these distinct different types of machines.

Next, in order of mentions among equipment, was conveying equipment (70%), followed by form/fill/seal machines (57%) and filling and closing equipment (53.3%). Wrapping machines was identified by 46.6%, and bagging equipment tied with palletizing/ depalletizing equipment, being mentioned on 40% of the respondents' shopping lists.

On the non-machinery side, half of the participants were interested in containers and packages, and 57% will be looking at packaging materials.

Staying longer at the show

Most of the respondents to our survey (47%) told us they plan to spend two days at Pack Expo 96 (Chart 6). That's similar to '94, when about 45% also were planning for two days at Pack Expo 94. What's markedly different this year is in the percentages of attendees who are planning shorter or longer stays.

This year, just 17% told us they were planning to spend a single day at the show. In contrast, two years ago, over 39% thought one day at Pack Expo 94 would be sufficient. In fact, in '94, just a bit over 17% were planning three or more days at the show. This year, these numbers have been almost totally reversed.

Our research shows that 37% of our respondents are planning three or more days at Pack Expo 96, while just 17% plan to visit the show for a single day. The difference is even more pronounced when you look at the results of those attendees who plan to be at Pack Expo 96 more than three days. Those expecting to stay four or more days this year represents a full 13% of the respondents. Two years ago, the percentage was just a bit over 4%.

Some, of course, were still undecided in August when this research was conducted. Several answered "two, possibly three," or "one day certainly, maybe more." A few of the respondents indicated that the length of time at Pack Expo 96 would be somewhat dependent on other plans. "We have a conflict. We'd like to spend more than a day if we can work it out." Another noted that his company also plans to attend the Private Label Manufacturers Assn. exposition (see page 122), so his plans were uncertain.

Groups still popular

Despite the range in size of the companies whose packaging people we interviewed, attendance at Pack Expo 96 still is largely a group affair. Only 3% of the respondents indicated they would be the only person from their location attending the show (Chart 7). That's down from over 9% in '94. Another 20% indicated that two people from their plant or office would attend.

Nearly a full third (30%) said they would be accompanied by two or three other workers from their locations. The balance of respondents, 47%, said that more than four people would attend Pack Expo 96.

Some companies headquartered in the Chicago area planned to send sizable contingents because of the convenience of the location. An automotive parts manufacturer would probably send "30 to 40 from our company, at least six from my location alone," according to a special projects coordinator. The director of manufacturing for a Chicago area bakery simply answered "several, because we can pop over pretty easily." Similarly, a cosmetics company based in the Chicago area would probably have 10 people at the show, reports one of its packaging development engineers.

However, major companies far from Chicago will also be participating with large teams. One major wholesale baker in the East predicted that "six or seven workers, maybe more," would attend. He also noted that his office alone sent 12 people to interpack 96 in Dsseldorf this past May.

The packaging manager for a major Southeast soft drink manufacturer predicted that some 50 employees would be attending Pack Expo 96, the largest number that was identified in this survey. Meanwhile, a mid-size Philadelphia-area pharmaceutical company president said that his plant would send about 10 to the show. An engineer from a plant making pet foods in the plains states responded with a similar number.

The superintendent of a snack plant in North Carolina estimated that seven or eight were planning to attend. And the packaging manager for a dairy in Minnesota estimated that about "a dozen" would attend Pack Expo from his location.

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