PPMA Show 2021 gives sector chance to focus on positive opportunities ahead

In welcome news for the industry, the PPMA Show returns to the NEC Birmingham this year after the pandemic caused the 2020 edition to be postponed – the first time the event hadn’t taken place since being founded in 1988. Here, Scott McKenna, deputy chief operating officer & exhibitions and membership officer, PPMA, answers Packaging Scotland’s questions about what visitors can expect this year and why the return of face-to-face interaction is so important.

Q) How important is it to be resuming face-to-face exhibitions again after all the trials and tribulations of the past 15 months?

A) Face-to-face exhibitions are vital for the exchange of information and ideas, even more so in our industry where people want to see, in person, the latest machinery, and moving parts and learn about the latest innovations.

We know that the last 15 months or so have been challenging and we feel it’s important to help our visitors focus on the positive opportunities that lie ahead.

The PPMA Show 2021 is our first major exhibition in two years and will bring together thousands of combined years of expertise and the greatest gathering of exhibitors willing to answer questions and demonstrate their latest technology.


Scott McKenna

Q) What feedback have you had from exhibitors/visitors to the decision to press ahead with this year’s event?

A) We carried out extensive research with our visitors, the end user community, to which we received very positive feedback. Over 70% said their companies would be willing for them to attend the exhibition and they themselves were keen to return to the NEC this year for a face-to-face event.

Most of our exhibitors are members of the PPMA so we have very good relationships with them and maintain two-way dialogue with them. We’ve kept them up to date throughout the pandemic and have had a great deal of feedback from them about the decision to go ahead with the show.

We are working very closely with the NEC to ensure that the necessary Covid-19 controls are in place, without compromising the overall event experience. This could mean some alterations to the omnidirectional floorplan and onsite catering provisions, but it will remain a large-scale exhibition. The safety and wellbeing of our visitors and exhibitor’s community is paramount to us, so we want them to rest assured that we’re working very hard behind the scenes to ensure a Covid-secure event.

Q) What can visitors expect from PPMA Show 2021? Who should attend the event?

A) First and foremost, there will be lots of innovation, two years’ worth of it. To date we have 280 exhibitors confirmed from across the processing, packaging, robotics and industrial vision sectors, all wanting to showcase their latest innovations, many of which will be shown for the first time ever in the UK.

Engineers, purchasers, specifiers of this type of industrial equipment will be able to gain new insights and knowledge on ways to enhance production and cost efficiencies and how to move forward and help sustain recovery of their businesses.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to find and meet with existing and potential suppliers, soak up inspiration and the latest trends, watch the latest machinery in action from a broad range of brands, while also expanding their network. There is a lot to discover at the PPMA Show and attendance to the show is free of charge, so there’s no reason not to miss it.

Q) Sustainable packaging is sure to be a key theme this year – how do you think the conversation around sustainability in the sector has evolved since the last PPMA exhibition in 2019?

A) Sustainable packaging and energy efficient packaging machinery are in higher demand than ever, while reducing waste and resources is a big priority for consumers. The industry is certainly stepping up to the plate and promising more eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Sustainability presents an opportunity for machinery manufacturing to change and develop. For example, a process such as heat sealing – a very convenient way of joining things together, which can be done at speed – has been adapted in response to consumer demand to use the new materials that are being produced such as recycled and plant-based materials. People want to use the new materials, but they don’t want to change the way they use them. So, the packaging machinery sector must work out how to modify their equipment so that they can best run the new materials. This involves design change or in some cases a complete change of mindset. For example, one member has modified the temperature and pressure they apply to heat-sealed bagging and banding to accommodate the new plastic free materials for pouches, bags and banding.

Visitors to the PPMA Show 2021 will be able to experience these latest developments in sustainable machinery and manufacturing.

Q) What other key trends do you expect to be prominent this year?

A) Automation continues to be a key trend. There are several new reasons to automate now and while the UK is struggling for labour due to wages going up, there is a greater justification for automation, including:

Firstly, one level of automation leads to another, for example if you are automating your end of line, you will need to automate your inspection system to keep up.

Secondly, all of a sudden there are now safety reasons, which mean you can’t have people close to each other anymore, therefore, presenting the opportunity for an automated workflow.

Both of these situations will drive purchasing because companies are going to have to buy new machinery to help with their automation. One example could be cobots (collaborative robots), which  are cost-effective, safe and flexible to deploy making automation a simple solution – for example one person can now work with an automated machine next to them where previously it would have been another person. This then frees up the other person to work in another area or on another job.

Q) What challenges/opportunities has the Covid-19 pandemic presented for firms in the packaging machinery industry?

A) Keeping production lines going in the last 15 months or so has been a huge challenge for our members, who have had to adapt and change the ways they work to keep their machines running in the manufacturing environment to comply with Covid protocols.

In addition, Brexit and border controls have also presented a challenge for members with regards to obtaining parts for machinery. However, the PPMA has been very supportive in helping its members understand the requirements for the movement of people and goods in the production environment.

Q) What can you tell us at this stage about the speakers/seminar programme?

A) We’re changing the way we deliver our speaker and seminar content this year. We’ll be using shorter, punchier TED-style talk content enabling us to bring a greater variety of topics to the show, which will be presented on screens around the show floor. The content will also be available on PPMA TV, available to view both during and after the event.

Q) How can exhibitors stand out at a busy show like PPMA? Is it important to have new products and innovations to showcase?

A) Visitors come to PPMA shows to see working machinery so, that’s a key thing for exhibitors to have on their stands.

We understand that visitors may be spending less time at the exhibition this year, due to the current situation and therefore will want to pre-plan their visit in detail so their time at the show is more focused. With this in mind, we’ve created a bookmark system on the website for them to plan in advance the stands they want to visit. This means it’s really important for exhibitors to offer as much information in their show profile as they can in advance for visitors to see. Exhibitors can also take full advantage of our enhanced show website where they can upload presentations, videos and brochures in advance of the show.

Q) What opportunities will be available for networking?

A) As always, networking is a key reason for attending face-to-face events. The exchange of information and ideas among peers is important in learning about the latest products, trends and to grow businesses. This will be particularly important this year due to the absence of live events and face-to-face interaction. Visitors to this year’s show will be able network organically, talking to exhibitors and other delegates as they walk around the show floor

• PPMA Show 2021 will take place at the NEC Birmingham from September 28-30. For more information and to register for free, visit: https://www.ppmashow.co.uk/