The wrap-up: All in a day's work

Reader inquiries are an interesting part of a packaging editor's workweek.

I suspect that being a technical editor at Packaging World is very much like being a senior editor at most magazines.

There's more to our job than meets the eye because there's more to editorial than writing stories, conducting interviews, visiting plants, attending tradeshows, and sitting in on seminars and press conferences.

There's also some reader assistance involved.

It is one of those tasks that go with the editorial territory. Not just tracking down an article or issue, though we get those, but a request from someone who's looking for something. Like the guy who I spoke to in April who wanted to find a replacement part for his portable sealer that was made in Taiwan.

I start with the obvious: "Did you contact the OEM?"

"Yes, but I don't speak Chinese," was his reply in a tone that implied he was really counting on me to come up with something.

Now we were getting somewhere, more or less. After Googling, I found a lead or two for him, much to our mutual relief.

This is typical of the random, out-of-the-blue inquiries from readers and others who find my name at our Web site.

Sometimes they are way out of left field, like this easy-to-answer one I received in May: "Do you carry Brick Making Machinery like Italika, Strom, FMC or others? Please let me know, so that I can RFQ."

Frankly, I couldn't carry a load of bricks, much less brick-making machinery. I let him know that we weren't that kind of magazine, and wished him good luck.

These seem to run is spurts. I can go several weeks without one of these inquiries, when all of a sudden I've got three in a week. I try and return every such call or e-mail and give someone a few minutes of my time. It's free for them, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. About half relate to straightforward machinery or container questions. For nearly all of these, I simply point them to our archive-rich Web site and provide a key word or two to search. I often walk them through the process verbally.

For those looking for a contract packager, and I refer them to the Contract Packaging Web site at

The tough ones are those who have come to a dead end. I've heard some doozies over the years, and I wish I had a better memory to recall more than the most recent inquiries. One example was a reader who wanted to orient and collate dental X-ray film, the kind the dentist places into your mouth. Those are the little X-ray plates that feel like they are huge in your mouth, but in reality measure 1" x 1.5". He wanted to automate the mind-numbing experience of two workers' directing them into boxes. I provided several vendor suggestions.

Another reader wanted his company's glass bottles of ready-to-drink coffees to indicate visually if the glass was broken by using some sort of shrink-sleeve film with mesh qualities. I offered several ideas, mainly R&D concepts, and also suggested he may want to bolster his secondary packaging or consider plastic bottles.

An 'eggstra' special inquiry

There is one inquiry, however, that stands above the rest. It was an e-mail about two years' back from a young lady in the United Kingdom. Her name was Charmaine.

Her class assignment was to create an Easter-egg carton that included finger puppets and wanted my help. She hooked me in when she signed her e-mail with XXs and OOs. That took me by surprise and was a first for me in a professional capacity. She probably has a career in marketing ahead of her.

After some thought, I did what any self-respecting editor would do in such a situation: I called in the professionals. I lassoed in Dave and Jen from our art department who added much to the creativity. We came up with a clear carton for shelf impact, along with a suggestion for holographic materials for eye-catching graphics, and even ideas for the finger puppet characters. I felt pretty good about the response we sent off, even though I didn't hear back from Charmaine. Until a year later. That was when I received another e-mail from her, what I'm sure was an exact duplicate of that previous assignment right down to the XXs and OOs.

It was déjà vu all over again.

I kind of felt let down, but maybe she thought we had been so helpful that she would tap our expertise again?
Alas, in the real world, some questions may never be answered.


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