Pack Expo 2021 was an excellent experience for me and the rest of the Slideways team. After over a year of being locked down, it was energizing to interact in person. Though Slideways exhibited in the 2020 Virtual Pack Expo, it was missing the spontaneity that comes with a face-to-face conversation. This year at Pack Expo, casual chats lead to discussions of opportunities that would have likely been missed during a virtual meeting.
While the show was massive with Pack Expo reporting over 23,000 attendees and 1,500 exhibitors, there were four themes that I observed throughout the show:
1. People were eager to get out and see applications in real life
Seeing machinery in real life is important for understanding the scale and functionality of complex packaging machinery. The pandemic has created new challenges and attendees were on the hunt for solutions. Visitors to the Slideways booth had specific problems they were prepared to discuss. I had quality, high-level conversations with booth visitors to a degree I have not experienced at past shows. Other exhibitors I spoke to reported the same.
2. Robotics and automation were more prevalent than ever on all types of packaging machinery
The cost, capability, and accessibility of automation have taken off. Robotics is seen as a key tool for combating the shortage of labor in production environments. I saw robots, servos, and vision systems moving cans, bottles, and baked goods. Durable products and delicate products were handled by end-of-arm tools such as robotic fingers, pneumatic-driven fingers, and suction cups. Products were picked up, oriented, and put down with amazing speed and accuracy. It’s clear that this technology can deliver increased efficiency for end-users of all types of machinery.
3. Outsourcing of key resources has gained acceptance
As with so many manufacturing jobs, experienced technical staff is retiring at faster rates than the available incoming workforce. For CPG organizations that need to increase their technical staffing capacity, specialized third-party contractors are an important new resource. Even with an in-house engineering department available, some visitors to the Slideways booth still asked for technical advice about component design and raw material selection. Another example I saw was with our booth neighbor, PS Technical Resources, who offers services from contract maintenance technicians to project management.
4. Safety protocols were taken seriously but did not hinder business
Everyone was cognizant of safety protocols with universal mask-wearing and frequent hand sanitizing. Despite these prominent safety measures, the virus was not the first thing on everyone’s minds. It was clear that discovering the latest technologies and networking were the top priorities. For the most part, it was business as usual.
5. Bonus takeaway
Don't put your week's allotment of gambling money on the New England Patriots to beat the New Orleans Saints an hour after arriving in Las Vegas.
Pack Expo 2021 brought many new innovations and solutions to the public. It could not have gone better for Slideways. Still, I’m looking forward to an event where we can see everyone’s faces. I hope to see you at Pack Expo International in October 2022!