Pack Expo International 2014 reportMeeting South Asian packaging’s future in ChicagoIn 1914 – one hundred years ago – poet Carl Sandburg began his homage to ‘Chicago’ —
“Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the
Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders…”
What a difference a century can make! Ask so of any visitor to this architecturally proud city that wants the world to admire its skyline, lakefront parks and charms, and ubiquitous public sculpture and art – and perhaps to forget its rust belt steel mills on the city’s edge.Compact in-line sterilization for cups, which is dedicated mainly to the dairy industryYes, there is still industry and manufacturing in this city and its suburbs, but what the visitor hewing closely to tourist paths during Pack Expo International saw instead is the likes of an Art Institute currently adorned with a banner thanking the globe for voting it the best museum in the world, hundreds of theatre venues and daily cultural performances ranging from comedy shows to modern dance to opera and more, and thousands of restaurants for gourmets and gourmands alike serving cuisines from across the world.
‘Posh’ was the word one first-time visitor from India to Pack Expo International used to summarize his impression of Chicago. The shine of the city seemed to infuse into Pack Expo International 2014’s halls with a glitz industrial-style. Robots galore peppered the aisles in between labyrinths of high speed automated packaging lines. At first glance these machine innovations were in the category of ‘better mousetraps’ and not breakthroughs akin to a newly engineered species. Taking a closer more granular look and what we saw was an industry, like several others, now being re-invented by the internet of everything, nanotechnology, cloud computing and remote solutions and the potential of big data and more, changing the way business is done.
Over the course of four days that straddled the US election day, 48,000 visitors were reported to be visiting the 2,400-plus companies and organizations occupying 1.2 million net square feet of exhibit space. This was a 7% increase over the last Pack Expo International Show in Chicago in 2012 and seemed to signal that the days of anaemic trade shows during the global recession were long over.
High tech offerings
The first time ever coupling of Pack Expo International with a Pharma Expo show went a long way towards bulking up attendance and buzz and also bringing more high tech offerings to the halls. We saw, for example, many vendors of testing technologies (X-ray, vacuum decay, spectroscopic assays, flow metering and monitoring, thermal imaging, high voltage leak testing, high speed visual inspection and more) that had pharma or food applications or both. Several larger companies chose to have exhibits both in the packaging halls and the pharma halls.
Similarly, many vendors were keen to explain their offerings in terms of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European, Middle Eastern, and African (EMEA) regulatory compliance. This came up often in conversations with exhibitors as to when and how they expected South Asian packagers to embrace their product offerings. If not regulatory compliance per se, several exhibitors currently without a footprint in South Asia seemed to think that it would be their multinational partners and customers who would get them there. For example, Steve Lipps, vice president of sales and marketing for employee-owned US-based Douglas Machine (www.douglas-machine.com) that offers mid to high speed automation for secondary packaging said, “We work with international companies like Nestle, Pepsico and Kraft that know to source our equipment. We expect that we will get into South Asia and other developing areas via these customers when they need to produce higher volumes in those areas.”
Unofficial reports were that as much as 20% of floor traffic at the show was international—mainly Latin American. The exhibits though seemed exclusively geared to the North American audience, with many vendors showing equipment they had recently unveiled at Europe’s interpack. Yet, if you think that Pack Expo International’s 21st century focus and uber-automated solutions have a long time yet to go before they will have impact on South Asia packaging you should probably re-think this in light of the South Asia students and South Asian engineers and salesmen who came to the show to learn or find new opportunities.
Consider three Indian graduate students attending Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), arguably one of the leading schools in the US for packaging science studies—Palvinder Chawla from near Delhi, Harshal Jagdhane from Mumbai and Sumeet Khedhar, also from Mumbai. These young men weren’t thinking of how to combine manual labour with low throughput machines or whatever next step you might imagine to be on South Asian packaging’s horizon.
Jagdhane, for example, is right on board with the rapid growth of the pharmaceutical industry in India saying, “I’m interested in pharmaceutical packaging because it is very important for humans to get it right. If medicines and machines are not working properly it has human impact.” Equally future-focused, Khehdar explains that his interest is in enhancing properties of biopolymers for packaging to take waste out of the equation. Chawla, who had first studied printing and packaging in India as an undergraduate, expressed his ardent wish that others from South Asia could see the many innovations they encountered at the show thinking that this would make a difference. That sentiment was echoed by members of the entourage from The South India Corrugated Manufactured Box Association of Chennai. They reported they had journeyed to this show to see what they could apply in India now – today.
Original equipment manufacturers
So too with Pakistani engineer Rafey Shahid of Qanare Engineering who was clearly making the rounds at the show to find original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that could use his company’s services. He was impressed by the many automation offerings that were collecting data for machine and process improvements that he reports aren’t a focus yet in South Asia, though he hopes for this to change soon.
As you can read in the boxes below, every Pack Expo International exhibitor we spoke with took the South Asian Packaging market very seriously — whether they are long-established in the region or currently making their first forays to gain a foothold. The only ones who seemed surprised at Packaging South Asia magazine’s statistic that the industry is growing 10 to 15% every year were the three RIT graduate students. They countered that they understood that South Asia’s packaging growth was actually more along the lines of 20% every year.
It took a century to make Sandburg’s description of Chicago seem quaint but it’s likely we will all need to adjust our sense of time to the pace of change afforded by today’s technologies. It’s not too hard to imagine that in relatively short order the innovations on display at future Pack Expo International shows will have equal impact in Mumbai or Karachi as Chicago. Won’t we be saying — “What a difference a decade can make!”?