A study conducted by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) predicts aggregate growth of 7% this year in overall equipment sales. Packagers, says PMMI, have newfound optimism about business prospects which is manifesting itself in capitalequipment budgets. Moreover, PMMI expects equipment purchases to be up in all eight of the market segments it monitors.

PMMI credits both renewed business confidence and higher rates of capacity utilization for the spurt in sales. A third of respondents to the PMMI study planned to spend more on packaging equipment this year than last. Last year, packagers that planned no change in their machinery spending were in the majority. The shift lends further support to the idea that the cautious, indecisive mood of the past few years is giving way to more optimism and resoluteness, says PMMI. And another third of respondents expect purchases of packaging machinery this year could exceed their original budget estimates if the economy cooperates.

The biggest jumps in forecasts are in the areas of pharmaceuticals and medical products, followed by beverages, personal-care products, and foods. PMMI says packagers in these areas are particularly under the gun to replace older machines with new models and boost efficiency, productivity, speed, or flexibility. Reduction in maintenance costs is a significant motivator as well.

Some 20% of those polled said they were buying new equipment to increase their capacity. Another 12% were gearing up to accommodate the expected addition of new products and SKUs. Companies are also installing more automated packaging machines as a way to reduce labor costs. Evolution of new packaging is a catalyst for machinery demand as well, as are the requirements of superstores and retail chains.

One result of superstore influence is a proliferation of product varieties, sizes, and configurations. This is forcing packagers to operate an increasing number of packaging runs per line, says PMMI. The result is a need for more flexibility in handling several packaging formats with quicker changeovers.

Pack Expo Las Vegas kicks off with over 900 exhibitors in five packaging technology pavilions. Sponsored by PMMI, the show is billed as the year's largest and most comprehensive packaging event in the western hemisphere.

Taking place Sept. 26-28 in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the show will highlight advances from across the packaging industry, including labeling and coding technologies, brand-building materials, robotics and active and protective packaging solutions.

Making its debut at Pack Expo is the Contract Packaging Pavilion, offering a showcase of the latest contract packaging services for consumer and industrial-goods manufacturers. A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Pavilion will return, as will a Packaging Security Pavilion. The Containers & Materials Pavilion, one of the most well-received pavilions to debut at the show in 2003, will make its second appearance. With over 133 material and containers suppliers, the pavilion highlights packaging materials such as plastics, resins, films, glass, metal, coatings/treatments, additives, rubber, textiles, and woven materials.

The Showcase of Packaging Innovations, featuring winners of the ClearChoice and AmeriStar Awards as well as finalists in the National Paperboard Packaging Competition, will be one of the show's attractions. These awards, sponsored by such prominent packaging associations as the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP) and the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), are among the most prestigious in the industry.

In addition, the Food Processing Machinery Expo (FPM EXPO) will again colocate with Pack Expo. FPM Expo will focus on the newest developments in processing technology to meet the challenges faced by the industry's food and beverage manufacturers.

Among the technical presentations of note at the Pack Expo conference sessions is one by Kraft Foods. At 2:45 Monday, Sept. 26, Kraft will discuss how it worked with a team of packaging machinery manufacturers to develop an awardwinning packaging line, yielding millions of dollars for the bottom line. This bonus session is open to all conference registrants. But attendees must register for this complimentary session.

Also of interest are keynote sessions that include one on Monday at 8:30, where John A. Delfausse, vice president, Package Development at Aveda, speaks on packaging sustainability. On Tuesday at 8:30, Helmut Traitler, vice president, Packaging at Nestec Ltd., discusses Nestlè's innovative approach to sustainable and differentiated packaging. Finally, on Wednesday at 8:30 Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal will talk about the EPC and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

More information about the show is available at PMMI.org