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Good news was easy to find at this show

Packaging Digest's editors had a very busy and newsworthy visit to PACK EXPO Las Vegas. By any measure, it was a solidly successful show, drawing a total of 33,154 visitors and exhibitors, up from 28,423 in 2003. By noon on the first day of the show, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute was reporting that visitor attendance had broken its record set two years prior. But it wasn't just in the numbers that we could measure success: The prevailing mood was upbeat, positive and proud.

In terms of product introductions, vendors are clearly listening to their customers' needs for improved machine flexibility, easy changeovers and minimal downtime. Many machinery suppliers say their customers are quite satisfied with existing machine speeds, but want more versatility to handle shorter runs and multiple package formats. Some suppliers are focusing on engineering services, custom orders and guaranteed delivery schedules. Customers are now more often looking to their machinery vendors for full line integration services, so partnerships between compatible machine companies are becoming more common, we've found.

Materials suppliers were also highly visible at this show, with new offerings from renewable, compostable resins to smart technologies. RFID seemed to be on the tip of almost everyone's tongue, and the RFID Pavilion was a busy area of the convention hall. But brand security and anti-counterfeiting technologies also showed a high profile.

Any way you look at it, however, this is definitely The Year of the Customer As King. Suppliers are listening closely to customers' needs and refocusing efforts to meet those criteria.

Buoying this enthusiasm may be the fact that machinery sales have finally started clicking heartily. According to the PMMI Shipments and Outlook Study, released in late September, U.S. packaging machinery sales increased 9.3 percent in 2004, to a value of $5.344 billion (see www.packagingdigest.com/info/shipments04). While 2002 and 2003 saw modest sales growth, the industry is only now following through with accelerated strength in recovering from the sharp downturn of 2001.

"Though steadily rising prices of steel and other raw materials no doubt played somewhat of a role in helping to propel the dollar value higher in 2004, their inflationary impact was not of sufficient magnitude to downplay the significance of the final result: that the industry's solid growth was indeed genuine," PMMI's report states. The forecast looks ahead through 2007 and predicts that manufacturers will continue to increase spending for new machinery and equipment primarily for productivity improvements and, to a lesser extent, for selective expansionary purposes.

Looking ahead to PACK EXPO International in 2006, Charles D. Yuska, president of PMMI, announced that the show will be co-locating with the Converting & Package Printing Expo (CPP Expo), which held its inaugural run during PACK EXPO Las Vegas, but at a separate venue. "By adding this emerging converting show, along with the existing Food Processing Machinery Expo co-location, PMMI is trying to bring the entire supply chain together," says Yuska.

And, when Chicago's McCormick Place opens its new West Hall in 2008, just think what additional possibilities that may offer.

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