"Things are looking good," says Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) Director of Member Services Matt Croson. Croson's comment sums up the attitude that attendees of PMMI's PackExpo International show are likely to find at the event's 1,600 booths.

"We know there was a $1.5 billion backlog in packaging equipment orders at the end of last year," says Croson. "The industry has worked through that and now are looking at new projects. And following an international show like PackExpo you generally see growth in the area of 5 to 7%."

PMMI's premier event in Chicago is the largest show of its kind in the Western hemisphere. RFID is one of the big themes, with its own special pavilion hosting providers of RFID technology, systems integrators, and firms that offer "bolt-on" RFID units for packaging equipment. They expect to see attendees who are upgrading into RFID-enabled packaging lines capable of printing or applying primary package, multipack, case and pallet tags, online. On display will be machines able to verify the presence of preplaced tags, write and validate electronic product code (EPC) on tags, as well as smart packaging machines that use RFID to adjust operational settings.

Secure packaging is another theme and gets a special Packaging Security Resource Center. The center is billed as bringing together professionals from packaging-security technology companies, service providers and government stakeholders. One reason security is a hot button is heightened awareness from the FDA's anticounterfeiting task force for ensuring the safety of the drug supply. To this end, the center features an FDA/USDA Information Center where attendees can demo the FDA Packaging Security Technology Database. Also new this year is a Confectionery Pavilion hosting machinery for meeting the needs of consumers with a sweet tooth.

There will also be a number of prizewinning packaging designs on hand. The Glass Packaging Institute's Clear Choice Award recognizes product manufacturers that package their products in glass. This year's recipients demonstrate how the material can reinforce brand, advance strategic positioning and meet the needs of consumers. Selected from such categories as cosmetics, fragrance, food and beverage, winners are honored for designs that contribute to the success of everyday products.

The National Paperboard Packaging Competition showcases original paperboard packaging design and technology in the folding-carton industry. Sponsored annually by the Paperboard Packaging Council, this competition rewards packaging excellence and creativity in such areas as technical achievement, innovation, craftsmanship and overall appearance.

Finally, the AmeriStar Awards from the Institute of Packaging Professionals honor the most innovative packages of the year in 15 categories that include food, beverage, household products, electronics, medical devices, and industrial/commercial.

The PackExpo conference schedule reflects these same priorities with tracks on RFID, operations, security, plastics, materials, robotics, flexible packaging, and closures. Speakers in the RFID track will focus on tagging basics, smart labeling, process improvement through RFID, low-cost RFID tags, and a progress report from the MIT packaging special interest group on RFID.

Topics in the security track will include anticounterfeiting, new FDA rules that apply to safety on packaging machines, and package tracking. Sessions dealing with plastics will cover UV barriers on PET containers, laser coding of PET bottles within blow-molding machines, and advances in shelf-stable plastic containers for foods and beverages. Other sessions on packaging materials deal with in-plant digital color label printing, microwave packaging, innovations in metal food cans, and online inspections of tort pouches.

A track on robotics kicks off with a session on offline simulation and programming of palletizing robots, followed by advice on justifying the cost of robotic packaging systems. Also covered are robotic end effectors and advice about implementing robotic palletizing systems.

PackExpo runs Nov. 7 through 11 at Chicago's McCormick Place. Links to a registration page can be found at packexpo.com.