The Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) expects purchases of automation equipment for packaging to rise about 2.4% overall this year. That's not as high as the percentage rise seen in 2005, but still considered healthy.

Makers of personal-care products, beverages, and converters/printers will likely be responsible for the largest increases. Packagers in areas that include paper products, textiles, soft goods, and other nondurables expect to buy about that same amount of automation equipment as last year.

Interestingly, automation purchases aren't being driven by demand for packaged goods alone. Packagers say they are trying to keep down the number of production-line personnel because of accelerating wages and benefit costs. Automation aids in this endeavor. And often, plans for new packaging aren't revealed to plant managers till close to product launch time, says PMMI. So automation helps in the scramble to get up and running for fast-approaching deadlines.

These factors are putting automation suppliers in an optimistic mood as the Pack Expo show kicks off in Chicago's McCormick Place on Oct. 29. Running through Nov. 2, the show is expected to attract 50,000 attendees and some 1,600 exhibitors. Considered the premier exhibition for the latest developments in packaging technology, Pack Expo will showcase advances in packaging machinery, converting machinery, materials, packages and containers, and components.

This year a brand-protection pavilion will focus on packaging initiatives and technologies to protect against bioterrorism, package tampering, counterfeiting, and product adulteration. Contract manufacturing and containers/packaging materials pavilions are dedicated to the latest innovations in materials, containers, and converting machinery. And an RFID pavilion will display technologies to upgrade conventional lines into RFID-enabled packaging lines capable of applying multipack, case, and pallet tags online.

A Showcase of Packaging Innovations will feature an array of the latest, award-winning packages from around the world. The first-ever Pack Expo Selects program will identify and display creative commercial packages and containers designed, developed, or executed by show exhibitors.

Conference sessions are organized into tracks that include RFID opportunities, materials/containers advances, safety issues, management strategies, improving operations, brand protection, sustainability strategies, and total cost of ownership (TCO). Harris E. DeLoach Jr., Chairman, President and CEO of Sonoco Products Co. will keynote the conference on Monday morning, Oct. 30th, with a presentation entitled, "Packaging: A Change Agent in Change."

In this presentation, DeLoach will make the case that the packaging industry must transform itself from being viewed simply as suppliers into partners capable of meeting rapidly changing customer demands.

Keynoting the conference on Tues. morning is Dennis McGrew, President and CEO of Nature-Works LLC with a presentation titled "Creating a Sustainable Future: Growing the Bio-Resin Market in a Greening Economy."

As leader of one of the founding companies of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, McGrew will address the definition of sustainable packaging, insights on the new "green consumer," and what is required for a new material to be globally competitive in both cost and performance.

Wed. morning's keynote speaker will be Matt Kistler, Vice President, Package and Product Innovations, Sam's Club, and Amy Zettlemoyer, Director of Packaging, Sam's Club. Their presentation titled "The Wal-Mart/Sam's Club Packaging Vision" will outline the underlying principles Wal-Mart uses to stay abreast of consumer and environmental trends. They will also offer insight into some of the packaging innovations being implemented by the world's largest retailer of packaged goods.

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