Something for Nothing

Nov. 1, 2007
People prowl the aisles of trade shows looking for lots of thingsmostly free things. Most show-goers look for answers, assuming they know the questions.

People prowl the aisles of trade shows looking for lots of things—mostly free things. Most show-goers look for answers, assuming they know the questions. Remember, free advice is worth every penny you pay for it. I try to be non-materialistic. Take only notes; leave only footprints—the green approach to trade-show attendance.

I went to this year’s packaging show, Pack Expo Las Vegas, with a mission: Find ways the transport packaging community can contribute to solving any facet of material handling’s looming problem: the employee crunch. As often happens at many trade shows, the really cool stuff was found in the back of the room and in the corners where the cheap booths are. This is where innovation thrives—where it’s either too hot or too cold, too crowded or not crowded at all. Typically, it’s where people with big ideas but little money set up shop. It’s also where you’ll find the booths of educational institutions.

As Marketing 101 tells us, put the word “free” anyplace on your show booth, and you’ll draw a crowd. That was the case for Bonnie Mccubbin and Ralph Rupert from the Center for Unit Load Design, Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va). Ralph is director of the center; Bonnie takes care of the details. A sign asked: “Are you interested in getting a graduate degree in packaging, tuition free?” I had to circle around, vulture-like, several times before I could ask them what the “tuition free” thing was all about.

“It’s true,” said Ralph. “Full-stipend openings for our spring and fall 2008 packaging graduate students.” The story is that the center has received a huge grant to apply to the business of generating more masters and Ph.D. candidates within the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products at the school. It’s looking for students with backgrounds in wood science, packaging, industrial engineering and related fields.

“We have various funded projects in pallet design, packaging, material handling and unit load design,” said Ralph. Graduates of the center’s program are unique within the material handling industry. It’s easy to see how there will be a critical need for people with this kind of education in the near future. Understanding how transport packaging and unit load designs integrate with an array of material handling machinery and technologies is a skill few have yet many companies will need.

Ralph said there are currently research projects underway at the center to discover the dynamics of load distribution on pallets as well as pallet durability in material handling systems. They are also investigating stretch-wrapping performance and the all-important global aspects of pallet shipping efficiencies.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in something free that can deliver long-term benefits and make a difference, give Ralph or Bonnie a call at 540- 231-7106 for more information on this worthy program.

As Harvard Professor Derek Bok said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

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