There’s definitely growth in the packaging-machinery sector, says Paula Feldman, director of business intelligence for the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI, www.pmmi.org), Reston, Va. However, for the most recent four-month period about which PMMI has data, “the growth pattern fluctuates between faster and slower,” Feldman says.
“December 2011 was slow and January 2012 showed real pickup. February showed slow growth. And March shows growth beginning to pick up speed once again.” Feldman says.
For the rest of 2012, Feldman predicts that in the third quarter, but more likely the fourth, packaging machinery orders will level out. She bases her forecast on the economy improving and the U.S. presidential election occurring.
But Feldman has no such forecast for what she considers one of the biggest challenges facing packaging machinery: the lack of a skilled labor force in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and end user companies.
“It’s the most powerful thing I keep hearing over and over from our members. Some companies are reaching a critical place with this,” Feldman says. For example, one PMMI member has 15 available positions, but cannot fill them with people who understand machinery’s communications systems, she says.
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Trying to shrink the skills shortage, PMMI works closely with OEMs and end users by going to colleges. “We’re seeing a pretty good trend with colleges and members,” she says. Just beginning is the high-school phase, in which PMMI, OEMs and end users speak with 11th and 12th graders. “We’re looking for individuals who are willing to work in this field,” Feldman adds. (Click here for Keith Campbell’s comments on filling that workforce gap.)
That collaboration between OEMs and end users is one promising thing Feldman sees in the packaging-machinery sector—and one thing that’s also on her wish list of sector needs.
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C. Kenna Amos, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.