Conversing on Centuries, Computers, and Converting

The three words in the title seem to have no relationship or connection. Or do they? As we begin 2001, we start a new century. Since centuries comprise a millennium, the beginning of this century is also the beginning of a new millennium. Because no year zero existed, this is the true start for both these events. Maybe this is good, because one year ago we were all involved with the hype about Y2K—the nonevent. Now we can concentrate fully on the real new century and millennium.

The initial but rudimentary computers that led to the technology revolution we enjoy today began around World War II. Intensification of this effort occurred only in the last 20 years or so. Each day computer technology seems to advance almost as much as all previous developments combined.

Converting as we know it today began around the time of World War I. With the proliferation of hot melt adhesives and coatings, coextrusions, UV and EB curing, and other improvements, the flexible packaging industry and other components of converting have advanced considerably.

The relationship among "centuries, computers, and converting" requires the addition of another "C" word to the series: challenge.

In this new millennium, people in the converting industry must accept the challenges resulting from the advances in computer technology as well as all other new technology. The small size of the converting industry means that it will never enjoy the fruits of R&D devoted specifically to it. No company directly involved in converting can afford the time and money necessary to develop an adhesive, coating, piece of equipment, etc., that will provide a quantum leap forward in the industry.

The quantum leap will come instead from use of a technology initially developed for another industry. Some brilliant individual in the converting industry within the next century or two will take chemistry such as a novel protective coating for automobile seat covers and adapt it for the converting industry, making obsolete all present chemistry or equipment for converting as we know it today.

The chemical modification of something from another industry may involve molecular modification of a polymer backbone, nano- technology, or any of hundreds of developments that are becoming increasingly available for use by innovative individuals every day.

Finding such developments undoubtedly will come from perusal of various Internet sites with a computer. Cyberspace already is finding use for e-commerce in the chemical industry. The next logical extension is R&D.

Computers also are going to reduce the need for technical service calls or eliminate them. Plant personnel that are having problems with some aspect of converting will simply transmit information directly from the coater to technical service engineers located at the supplier. These engineers will evaluate the information using their extensive database of problems stored in their computers to find an answer quickly.

Generalized converting industry information will be available to everyone. This is already happening through placement of data on the Internet that normally is made available through technical meetings and publications.

Also, tiny chips placed in laminated or coated materials will allow product manufacturers to trace them after production. These chips could transmit information to the producer about transportation, storage, and conditions of use. Such information would be useful to alert potential users to problems. Another use would be gathering information for market research.

The challenge of the new century for converters: You must take advantage of opportunities to move the industry forward using the daily technology offered by computers. If you do, the converting industry will one day be as advanced as every other sector of society that relies on technology.


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