Everyone wants a place they can call home, and for the recession ravaged converting industry, the inaugural ICE USA exhibition earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., provided a much-needed reassurance that it still matters. Matters enough, in fact, to warrant a dedicated, highly focused international trade show and conference that, based on the three-day event’s positive glow and feedback, provides a compelling testament to the industry’s remarkable resilience in the face of prolonged economic adversity.
Drawing over 250 exhibitors to the spanking new North Concourse building of the Orange County Convention Center, the North American edition of the International Converting
Exposition (ICE) was in many ways a giant leap of faith for its organizers, U.K.-based Mack-Brook Exhibitions, betting that the converting industry still had enough life left in it to support an ambitious new venture first conceived at the height of the recent Great Recession.
For the lion’s share of the North American package converting sector, the last few years have been cruel to the extreme, as their big-time CPG (consumer packaged goods) customers dramatically cut back their investment in new converting machinery and processes as part of their own cost-slashing measures—leaving many converting machinery and materials suppliers either barely clinging to life or simply vanishing out in the cold.
But for those companies that have managed to pull through, the lively Orlando show—drawing visitors from nearly 30 countries—served up a heartwarming mix of multiple solid sales leads that you just cannot get from little regional tabletop exhibits or by piggybacking onto a larger multi-segmented exhibition such as PACK EXPO, to use an example.
“I do not recall getting as many good sales leads from an entire show as I did just in the first few opening hours of ICE USA,” said beaming Bob Pasquale, president of the New Jersey-based web converting, processing and handling equipment manufacturer New Era Converting Machinery Inc.
Like many of its industry counterparts, New Era has had a tough go of it in the last couple of years, Pasquale confided, but with the U.S. dollar recently currently at near record-low levels, the company’s exporting business has suddenly began to soar far beyond his wildest expectations.
“I may be in a minority in this country to be saying this, but I really could not be happier about a low U.S. dollar,” Pasquale told Canadian Packaging during a rare break in the action at the company’s expansive show display. “We are now getting orders and inquiries from all over the world, countries that wouldn’t even cross my mind a just little while ago, and the low dollar is absolutely a key factor, no doubt about it.
“So in some ways, the new business we’ll be getting from being at this show is really like an icing on the cake, but it’s about time,” he reflected. It may yet well be premature to declare the converting sector as being completely out of the woods, but ICE USA has certainly hit all the right notes by not only generating a positive back-to-business vibe, but also by displaying a broad range of new generation technologies for value-added paper, plastic and foil converting applications, while attracting some notable industry newcomers clearly excited by new business opportunities offered in the regalvanized converting marketplace.
From the likes of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Advanced Photonix, Inc. (API), whose pioneering Terrahertz thickness measurement technology has been used to detect surface defects on space shuttles and high-tech military aircraft, to German machine vision specialists ISRA, a common presence on automobile assembly lines all over the world, the implicit promise of anticipated growth in the converting business is arguably the strongest indicator of a better, brighter near-term future for what only recently seemed like a sunset industry in a terminal freefall.
Given that fate and fortune always have a way of favoring the brave, there is plenty to feel good about in the brave new that is now unfolding for the North American package converters.
George Guidoni is the Editor of Canadian Packaging magazine.