Attending a trade show or educational conference is not unlike drinking from a fire hose. While you're happy to have survived the experience, often you're left with only a flavor of what really happened.
So it was with Pack Expo Las Vegas at the end of September. There was a lot happening at the show. I'll give you a small sample.
Container manufacturers were talking big. Bulk and intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) seem to be selling well, while smaller, tote-size products have leveled off in sales.
And while growth in the IBC market is not spectacular, it is steady. Recent research from the Freedonia Group (Cleveland, Ohio), indicates growth is projected to be about 3.7% annually, hitting $6 billion by 2009. The joker in the deck with all things plastic is what will happen with resin prices.
Resin used in the manufacturer of pallets and containers continues to climb. The storms of late summer and early fall kept the pressure on an industry already experiencing unprecedented costs. Pallet and container manufacturers told me resin prices have gone up another 30% to 40% since August.
Part of the fun of the Pack Expo show is seeking out things that at first blush might not seem to fit your definition of material handling or transport packaging. Some are products just out of the prototype stage; others are better described as solutions looking for a problem.
Just about the time you think there can't be any more applications for radio frequency identification (RFID), you meet someone like Rick Garber of Colder Products (St. Paul, Minn.). The company's basic product line is quick couplings and fittings for plastic tubing. Garber, however, sees a bigger picture; one that includes RFID.
"Incorporating RFID into packaging operations creates revenue opportunities," said Garber. "Using RFID where you don't have lineof-sight reading capabilities is one example." Garber illustrates his point with package closures and couplings into which he has inserted a circular RFID inlay like none you've seen. It looks more like a faucet washer encased in plastic. "The tag is programmed with unique product information," said Garber, "so that before the final connection of the coupling's insert and body is made, information is automatically exchanged."
Another new application of RFID was showcased by Lantech (Louisville, Ky.). Lantech started working with Exel (Columbus, Ohio), to create a stretch-wrapping machine that employed RFID. Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, N.Y.) provided the RFID hardware. According to William Caudill, Lantech's product manager, the stretch wrapper has an integrated RFID antenna and reader. The antenna is mounted externally and travels up and down with the roll carriage to read the tags on the load as it spins. The reader is integrated into the machine's mast and chassis to collect the data.
The system turns on and off during the wrap cycle and reads nearby tags only, eliminating misreads from passing lift trucks carrying loads that also have RFID tags. "We can get 20% better tag reading efficiency [than portal systems] by rotating the load in front of the reader," said Caudill.
When one pallet won't do, stack 'em and use two, was the approach for Rhino (Detroit Lakes, Minn.). "Custom pallets and approaches are the way many of our customers think these days," said Doug Christians of Rhino. "We had to create a two-tiered pallet for this customer to store six, 80-pound electronic voting machines. And all six machines had to be linked so they could be programmed at the same time."
To accomplish this, the company used the pallet's aluminum arms to hide and protect machine wiring. The voting machine programmer then connected the main wire to a jack and was able to program all six machines consecutively.
"We see more people looking at the pallet as an asset," said Christians, "and customized pallets are the solution they want. They involve integrating transport packaging items in applications unseen before."
Innovation, news and fun. All good reasons to attend a trade show.