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Back and Better Together

By M. Diane McCormick

May 24, 2021

When the world slowed down for a pandemic, boxmaking sped up. Boxmakers put the pedal to the metal, extracting ever-higher efficiencies and throughput from their processes to meet soaring demand.

Now, they’re ready for the leap into a post-pandemic economy in which warp speed and unceasing demand are the norm. SuperCorrExpo 2021, delayed in 2020 and returning for the first time since 2016, is the springboard for diving into that churning, revitalizing economy.

“Like everyone, our lives have been turned upside down,” says Brett Jaffe, CEO of Ohio Blow Pipe and C&M Conveyor. “We’re an essential industry and an essential supplier to the industry, and that allowed us to keep running during times when most businesses were forced to change their operating practices. As e-commerce has accelerated, our industry is in a growth period that it appears will last well into the future.”

The 2021 edition of SuperCorrExpo, the Western Hemisphere’s biggest showcase for the corrugated packaging-focused trade, brings back a live exposition packed with new technology and innovations that drive efficiencies and keep the workplace safe and healthy.

Under strict safety precautions, SuperCorrExpo 2021 offers a mix of engaging new events and classic, information-packed favorites. And because it’s all packed into one of the first live expos staged in almost two years, SuperCorrExpo 2021 offers the chance to rebuild personal networks fed but hardly nourished by virtual connections.

Technology and Innovations

When COVID-19 accelerated the e-commerce trend already underway, the boxmaking industry accelerated along with it.

“What was going to take five or 10 years got compressed into one or two years,” says Jay Carman, president and CEO of StandFast Packaging Group and current AICC Chair. “E-commerce was growing a lot, but it grew exponentially because of the pandemic.”


Now, SuperCorrExpo—a huge event that has “grown over the years just as the industry and AICC have grown,” says Carman—will showcase the wealth of ideas emerging from the lockdown.

While the big machinery that vendors bring to SuperCorrExpo takes center stage, Carman notes that the supporting players, such as software, and ancillary products like conveyors promise new heights in throughput, sustainability, and product quality. “We’re getting into palletization and robots and automation, which is huge,” says Carman. “It’s amazing to see how this industry has grown and evolved with technology and capability over the years.”

Eye-popping print capabilities, dryers that speed the process, and die cutters that streamline scoring and folding also get their time in the sun, notes Carman. Even a nuanced innovation “can yield a lot of efficiencies. SuperCorrExpo is a great forum when you’re trying to stay up on the industry, get that edge, and help your customers’ quality and throughput,” he says.

Other industry leaders are eager to see or show the machinery and software that invigorates the unboxing experience—another trend accelerated by the pandemic. “Retailers will have a big focus, design-wise, on making packaging as unique as they can so there is still some branding coming to customers even if those people aren’t physically in their stores,” says Cassi Malone, customer service manager for Corrugated Supplies Co. and a member of AICC’s Emerging Leaders (EL) program.

Inside-out printing is part of that trend, adds Dave Burgess, sales director for JB Machinery. “The retailer doesn’t want the public to know they just shipped a Rolex watch, but they want the buyer, when they open that box, to have a premium unboxing experience,” he says.

A Vibrant Marketplace

Before a previous SuperCorrExpo, SMC Packaging Group worked a pre-show deal to buy a machine right off the exhibition floor. The equipment manufacturer didn’t have to ship it back home, and SMC Packaging Group got a new pretested machine for its Springfield, Missouri, plant.


Now, SMC Packaging is entering its 50th year and promoting its evolution, says Chair and CEO Kevin Ausburn. The company made major capital investments recently, and as always, SuperCorrExpo will offer an opportunity to reconnect with the makers of that machinery. Seeing suppliers on the expo floor “plants the seed that their quality remains consistent,” Ausburn says. “You get more and more comfortable with their ability to service your needs after the sale. You develop a long-term relationship with the supplier and maintain contacts with all the different manufacturers that call on us anyway.”

SuperCorrExpo provides a platform for boxmakers and suppliers to share trends and ideas—more crucial than ever after months of isolation. AICC Associate members are prepared to show the machinery, services, and supports that help boxmakers keep pace with skyrocketing demand. “We’re trying to support the marketplace, as there’s higher demand for these products,” says Jaffe. “We provide efficiencies so our customers can get greater throughput in their business. Our innovative designs, products, and solutions help our customers optimize the output within the same footprint, while improving safety and costs.”

In the post-pandemic economy, health and safety take on new importance, and vendors are prepared to address that concern, too. While workplace safety has long been a top priority for boxmakers, the pandemic heightened awareness of air quality and basic preventive measures to improve workforce health and, in turn, boost productivity. “With the elevated awareness regarding airborne particulates and their relationship to employees’ health, productivity improvements, and the happiness of employees, many companies are looking for ways to better take care of the air their employees are breathing,” says Jaffe, who will be showing Ohio Blow Pipe’s new AIRSCREEN Micro, an ambient air cleaner that filters molecular particulates such as dust and viruses that include COVID-19, at SuperCorrExpo.

Exciting Events

When JB Machinery has a new product, it’s submitted to the Innovator of the Year Award competition. The company’s KleenPlate 3.0 auto plate wash and print defect eliminator is a past winner, and unveilings of further innovations are possible at SuperCorrExpo 2021, hints Burgess. The Innovator of the Year Award is “a great door opener” for introducing state-of-the-art innovations to new audiences, he says.

That kind of exposure, he adds, is “the essence of SuperCorrExpo. It’s a great place to show your new products.”

Malone is looking forward to another exciting new feature—the 2021 Box Manufacturing Olympics. For the first time, the TAPPI CorrPak and AICC Package Design Competition are combining into one power-packed competition for the finest creations from producers and suppliers in corrugated, folding carton, and rigid box. Judges will scrutinize entries for innovations in 43 categories, including structure, printing, combined techniques, digital, e-commerce, and student. With submissions from around the globe, the displays are sure to be dazzling. “I’m always amazed by what people can dream up and then turn into reality,” says Malone.

Malone is also eager to hear the powerhouse array of speakers lined up for SuperCorrExpo 2021. They include Peter G. Watson, president and CEO of Greif Inc. His thoughts on servant leadership, she anticipates, will offer just the kind of knowledge that ELs are constantly seeking. “What thought processes do we need to get to that next level?” she says. “Everyone’s eventually looking to get into that next executive position. It’s always interesting to hear different leadership perspectives.”

Ending the Networking Drought

After a long stretch of isolation and its first cousin—virtual meetings—SuperCorrExpo 2021 convenes the globe’s boxmakers and suppliers for the face-to-face encounters they’ve been hungry for. Industry leaders agree that expos bring people together to strengthen networks built over the years.

“You’re not just on a customer-supplier level,” says Burgess. “You’re on a friendship level. It gives you an unfair advantage to at least getting in to present your product. What you do with it then is entirely up to you, but it does give you the opportunity to open the door.”

SuperCorrExpo cultivates mutually beneficial relationships between boxmakers and suppliers, agrees Carman. “You get to know these guys pretty well over the years,” he says. “We’re trying to support them, and they’re trying to support us. We’re all vested in trying to improve the industry.”

Jaffe says his team has done very well with remote meetings, but “nothing beats face-to-face meetings and deepening our long-term and new relationships.” For industry leaders who rarely have the time to talk or connect, especially during the pandemic, SuperCorrExpo offers “a great venue that allows us to meet at strategic levels and share what’s new while strengthening our relationships. With this pent-up demand, I feel this will be an exciting time to meet with many industry experts and supplier partners,” Jaffe says.

The EL sessions at AICC conferences, including SuperCorrExpo, convene young professionals for training and idea-sharing, equipping them to sustain the industry into the future. Malone is looking forward to meeting the EL cohort again, after more than a year of virtual programs, trainings, happy hours, and networking. “It’s really good to get in person and see everybody again,” she says.

While expos might be best known as the places where boxmakers learn what’s new in machinery and software, suppliers use conferences such as SuperCorrExpo as listening posts. Customers speak up, and vendors turn those conversations into the next innovations in throughput, material handling, and workplace environment. The dialogue elevates the entire industry. “There are many things we can do over the internet, but a lot of the collaboration and idea generation and true voice of the customer requires coming together, where people can see and hear and feel the excitement,” says Jaffe. “An expo can reveal the energy of trends moving in the marketplace, where gaps are present, and where customers desire solutions. That’s much more difficult to do via web calls and remote locations.”

AICC members and suppliers are eager to reconnect, share best practices, and attend educational sessions, says Ausburn. “One of the benefits of SuperCorrExpo is learning from each other what works and doesn’t work,” he says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Making personal contact with peers is a big reason for attending national meetings, Ausburn adds, and since pandemic conditions have lifted, “there’s a lot of pent-up demand to get out and see people.”

‘Come on Down’

As the boxmaking industry emerges from the pandemic, every company will have stories to tell of obstacles overcome and innovations cultivated. C&M Conveyor and Ohio Blow Pipe recently combined into a singular ownership, and the reconfigured entity is now gaining the synergies that will provide a multitude of comprehensive solutions for customers. SuperCorrExpo will be the first time the two industry-leading companies will display in the same booth, demonstrating the technology and service advancements to support boxmakers. There will be a few surprises, Jaffe promises.

“We’re excited about revealing the great changes to the organization, while maintaining the customer service we’re known for,” he says. “Both businesses have a storied history and great reputations for robust systems, innovative products, and world-class installations, and we’re proud to put them on display at SuperCorrExpo.”

In large part, boxmakers and suppliers have spent the last 18 months focused on meeting the moment. They have risen to the occasion and met demand, but a lot of treading water has been going on.

Now, SuperCorrExpo 2021 offers the chance to look ahead and think strategically. “This is an opportunity for us to take a deep breath and see

that we’re doing well,” says Carman. “We’re adjusting. Now, we have to

think about what our next move is or what we need to do in addition to what we’re doing. We’re getting there now, but SuperCorrExpo gives us an opportunity to get out of our four

walls, sit back, and see things from a different perspective.”

As boxmakers and suppliers strive for the efficiencies and breakthroughs that take the industry to the next level, Burgess has a simple message for everyone. “Come on down,” he says. “A lot of people will use the opportunity to show some new products. Let’s try like hell to put together a great trade show.”

width=119M. Diane McCormick is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer.