Let's face it - new technology is the number one reason machinery and equipment companies exhibit at NPE. They want to show their customers - and potential customers - just what's new and why they need it if they want to be on the cutting edge of competitiveness and business growth.
While I've heard several comments lately in the run-up to the show about how NPE isn't what it used to be in terms of showcasing "revolutionary" technology, it's still the place where new technology - however incremental - is presented and where industry people come to get new ideas.
There's nothing like watching a live demonstration of a high-speed molding machine running a high-volume, high-speed mold that can rain parts, complete with automation to make you know that you need machine for your business! The machinery companies know that a static display doesn't do a whole lot for sales. Machinery suppliers know that demonstrating innovation by running a mold in their molding presses to actually show its capabilities is the way to go. It's always one of the big highlights for NPE, even as people stand in lines that wrap around the booth and down the aisle to get that great polycarbonate snack tray or maybe even a lawn chair!
Aside from that, machinery suppliers find that the results of these demonstrations can be quite good. Yes, some molders still buy equipment right off the showroom floor - every machinery supplier's goal - just like the old days when molding technology was evolving by leaps and bounds.
A number of years ago, I helped Dick Landis write the History of Landis Plastics (now part of Berry Plastics, Landis was named to the 2012 Plastics Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted on Sunday of the show week). One of my favorite stories that he told me was how the company got out of the proprietary plastic wall tile molding business and into packaging. Ceramic wall tile from Italy was becoming big among consumers for home decorating in the late 1950s, and Landis could see the handwriting on the wall. Those 4"x4" plastic wall tiles would soon be obsolete. (Of course, they haven't seen my mother's kitchen and bath - it's a monument to the plastic wall tile industry!! It clings to her walls - just barely in some spots - to this day.)
Landis began trying to come up with a business to replace the waning plastic wall tile demand. Despite its diminishing market, the product did have one positive effect on Landis: the company had become really good at molding thin, flat products. A salesman for Landis' proprietary plastic walls told them about a new coffee can - the 401 can - that was a replacement for the old key-style method of opening coffee cans. (If you don't remember these, don't worry - you didn't miss anything except for a few tin cuts.) Now, Folgers wanted to make a tin lid that could be opened with a conventional can opener, and then resealed with a plastic lid to keep the coffee fresh.
Soon Henry Landis, Dick's father, was meeting with Folgers and that company agreed to let Landis mold the lids. They even paid for the first molds (what a novel idea!) - 8 cavities each. The four-inch round coffee can lids were a good fit for Landis Plastics' capabilities. However, plastics processing wasn't as evolved back in the early 1960s as it is today, and the company's molding machines didn't have reciprocating screws.
In 1964, Henry and Dick Landis attended the Chicago Plastics Exposition. Since Landis Plastics was located in Chicago, it was an easy trip. That's where they saw their first reciprocating screw molding machine from Toronto-based Husky. "The small, 100-ton clamp- pressure machine ran a four-cavity mold with a .401 diameter lid that could produce plastic coffee can lids at the incredible speed of a 4-second cycle, which was revolutionary to say the least," Dick Landis told me.
"When I saw that machine running at the Chicago show in 1964, I immediately ordered four of them on the spot," he said. "These new machines meant that each machine could mold lids at the rate of 900 shots per hour on a 4-second cycle in a 4-cavity mold, allowing us to produce a total of 3600 lids per hour on one Husky machine."
The rest, as they say, is history.
So when you attend NPE in April, take a look at all the really cool equipment, watch it run, get a free plastic gadget or two. But beyond that, consider the technology you are watching and how it might just give your company the boost it really needs to become more competitive and grow. It worked for Landis Plastics. It just might work for you!