Oct 24, 2017

Key Takeaways on the Future of Packaging from PACK EXPO 2017

If the 2017 PACK EXPO in Las Vegas is any indicator, the packaging industry will continue to thrive.
The annual PACK EXPO show is the largest packaging event in North America and, with 900,000 square feet of exhibition space, 2,000 exhibitors, and more than 30,000 attendees, this was the place to witness the future of packaging.
The show primarily focuses on packaging equipment, packaging materials, material handling, and supply chain. Most exhibitors are packaging equipment manufacturers, displaying everything from robotic case packers to bottle sorters to automatic, high-speed burrito makers.
However, PACK EXPO has grown to include a wide range of exhibitors outside of the traditional packaging equipment segment. Menasha partnered with its sister company, ORBIS, to secure a prime booth spot in the Reusable Packaging Association section of the exhibit hall.
Kevin Hall, Menasha’s Director of Business Development – Contract Packaging, had an opportunity to both work and walk the show. Here’s a look at some of his key takeaways:

Takeaway #1: eCommerce and Last Mile Delivery are Hot Topics 

Whether it’s brands, retailers, or packaging companies, it was easy to see that eCommerce and last mile delivery are on everyone’s mind. A significant amount of attention, in both booth space and in on-site seminars, was dedicated to these issues. Even traditional retail packaging companies and retail packaging suppliers were displaying solutions for the rapidly growing eCommerce channel.
Customized package size equipment, on-demand digital printing, and automated pick-pack equipment were showcased throughout the expo. Last-mile delivery solutions that allow couriers to expedite the critical final step of the supply chain were prominently displayed. One highlight of the show was a live drone delivery demo that occupied a full 15,000 square feet of the expo floor and showed how drones can easily be used to augment, not replace, the standard courier delivery system. And, with drone delivery comes a whole new demand on the package itself.
Menasha also recognizes the exponential growth and opportunities in eCommerce, having recently developed an internal eCom solutions group. Get more insight into eCommerce trends in our article, Entering the Age of eCommerce with the Right Supply Chain Strategy.

Takeaway #2: Retail Isn’t Dead! 

While eCommerce is certainly getting a lot of well-deserved attention, the clear majority of fast moving consumer goods are still sold through traditional retail brick-and-mortars. That dominance was certainly well represented at PACK EXPO. Temporary retail displays, permanent store fixtures, traditional high speed packaging equipment, and traditional delivery systems still made up the majority of expo space.
New technologies like IoT-enabled (“Internet of Things”) integrated packaging lines are bringing legacy packaging systems into the modern data era. These systems connect a company’s data systems with the actual, physical equipment and allow things like changeovers, preventative maintenance, production reporting, line scheduling, load planning, forecasting, and troubleshooting to be more efficient and effective.
It’s clear that retail is changing … but it’s certainly not going away.

Takeaway #3: Welcome the Rise of the Robots

Robotic packaging solutions have been a popular exhibit at PACK EXPO for many years, but the interest level of attendees and sophistication of the solutions has risen significantly. With labor costs rising at historic rates, CPGs, manufacturers, and contract packagers alike are hungry for automation solutions that can reduce our dependence on labor.
Until recently, robotic solutions were infeasible for contract packagers because of a combination of very high initial costs and very long, complex adjustments needed whenever the product or package changed. Both of those barriers are being torn down. According to one packaging robotics exhibitor, “the line representing the rising cost of labor and the line representing the declining cost of robotic solutions have crossed, making robotics more attractive every year.”
Additionally, robotics systems have advanced to the point where they are able to automatically reprogram themselves to meet changes in production schedule. So, instead of having to shut the line down, reprogram and re-tool the robot, then start it back up on a product change; the robot can now sense that a new product has been fed, load the new program for that product, and change its own tooling as needed.
While robotics and automation certainly aren’t applicable to every plant, line, and product, these solutions offer, companies like Menasha see these innovations as opportunities to lower our costs and provide better solutions to our customers.
Menasha is committed to investing in and planning for the future of packaging and retail merchandising. Learn more about our end-to-end solutions, including contract packaging, and print and design capabilities, as well as smart displays.