It's a New YearTime to Ask, What Does the Future Hold?

January is always a good time for introspection or reflection. The month is an excellent opportunity for assessing past accomplishments or failings, resolving to improve, and guessing about the future.

People working in the converting industry should devote time in January to these pursuits so they can ensure success in the new year. In this column, we can examine some trends in the packaging industry in an attempt to predict the future (and perhaps eliminate some of the guesswork).

Packaging definitely has grown in the past few years and undoubtedly will continue this growth trend in coming years. Increasingly, more items are becoming available in packages. Items that have been in packages for years are undergoing improvements so they have longer shelf lives, more attraction for the consumer, etc.

In some less developed parts of the world, packaging only now is coming of age. In such areas, the growth rate of the packaging industry will eclipse that of the US. Globally, packaging is a huge industry.

Much future packaging growth will occur simply because of the global distribution of products. With proper packaging, sales of an item made in the US are possible in remote areas of the world. Likewise, exotic items made in places such as Asia now can be available in the US because of the technological advances in packaging.

Anyone working in the packaging industry who does not consider the global aspects of his business definitely will miss an important future trend.

In most areas of the world, people are living longer. As the population ages, packages must be user-friendly to this segment of the market. Older eyes do not see as well as younger ones, and older fingers are less nimble and less agile than younger ones. Combining user-friendliness for older people while retaining the necessary child-resistant characteristics always will be a challenge.

A definite impact on the packaging industry is the need for environmental concerns. Obviously these differ in various parts of the world. Currently, the European countries have very stringent regulations concerning source reduction, recycling, repulpability, and similar issues.

One doesn't need a crystal ball to see that these regulations will spread to other areas. None of the products used in the manufacture of a packaging material and the manufacturing process itself should have a negative impact on the environment. This covers areas as diverse as adhesives, coatings, and inks supplied in water to plastic films made from monomers that are as benign as possible.

Prevention of theft, counterfeiting, and adulteration of product within a package are areas that will continue to be as important tomorrow as they were yesterday. In a related area, concerns about terrorism may play a role in future packaging.

Performance, performance, and performance have always been significant factors when designing a package. With the trend toward packaging almost anything under the sun, new packaging films, new adhesives, and new concepts to assemble a package will be significant.

Instead of protecting contents for one year, packages may need to last for two years. Instead of needing a seal strength of 15 lb/in., packages may need a seal strength of 100 lb/in. Requirements for chemical resistance, heat resistance, and similar properties will increase. Lower costs must accompany all improvements.

These are just some of things on which to reflect as another year begins.

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