CHICAGO — Returning to the Windy City after four years, Pack Expo 2022 saw heavy show floor traffic as 44,000 attendees and 2,200 exhibitors got down to business Oct. 23-26 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The activity is very good,” said Tom Egan, vice president of industry services for PMMI, which stages Pack Expo. “Our last show here was 2018. The pandemic stopped us from having the show live in 2020”,

Egan said a primary draw for attendees and exhibitors alike was the need to find solutions for handling automation, workforce issues and enabling businesses greater flexibility in the current challenging economic climate and supply chain situation. Automation — and its related issues involving robotics and cybersecurity — intersects with labor not only regarding right-sizing staffing but also issues such as whether or not to allow employees remote access to systems, he said.

Another trend influencing packaging suppliers and the businesses they serve is the increasing overlap between companies’ sustainability goals and their quest for production efficiencies.

“Part of advancing their businesses is absolutely the sustainability initiatives they have. Automated systems can play in to that,” Egan said. “The packaging that is being used in the U.S. and globally now has really undergone and continues to undergo a change as it relates to sustainability initiatives, size initiatives and changing SKU requirements.”

With ever-increasing options to capture — and even more importantly, analyze — data collected throughout the entire production process, identifying even tiny, incremental areas to reduce materials can pay big dividends over the long haul.

“If you’re cutting down even by a little bit the amount of material that you’re utilizing in terms of bringing that machine to the marketplace, it’s a little bit over millions of packages,” Egan said. “There ae constant incremental improvements in material usage or in a sustainable initiative within a material. There’s constant incremental improvement in finding a little different way of handling a product or to make the line as efficient as possible.”