Gearing Up for the Old Normal

With 2020 in a rear-view mirror, likely adorned with a face mask, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve learned and what’s in store.


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Is everyone ready to put 2020 behind them? Wait … is this even the year 2020? When do we close the books on this new normal? And what’s been normal about it anyway? Things are changing regularly, we are all being flexible and adapting to new challenges, but what’s with this line about “building the plane while we’re flying it”? Have you heard this expression? I never did until the Coronavirus-induced lockdown. Look, I understand what it means, but as a literal person I know I am not booking passage on such an aircraft.

Ready for the Old Normal

Sorry for my feeble attempt at being glib. As I sat down to craft this editorial, my main mission was to convey to the audience of Plastics Technology the editorial plans we have in store for you in 2021. I don’t know about you, but for me—more than ever in my lifetime—I can’t think about the future now without reflecting on the past. 

And the immediate past has been the most chaotic, uncertain, unpredictable, and unsettling period in my lifetime. Scary too. Full disclosure: I have a controlling type of personality (note the deliberate omission of the word “freak” that some tend to use to identify the controllers among us); and since March, all of our lives have been inherently impossible to control.

So … we adapt. We adapt because we have no choice. We try hard to remain optimistic. We remain optimistic because, well, what’s the point of the alternatives? We at Plastics Technology and parent company Gardner Business Media (GBM) adapted this year with the cancellation of our annual Molding and Extrusion conferences. We launched an interactive webinar series called Tech Days featuring live presentations from technology leaders in a wide range of disciplines. And it has resonated with our audience of processors, as nearly 2000 individuals have registered to attend these events. Sister publications at GBM in moldmaking, metalworking, additive manufacturing, and composites have made similar adjustments. As has the Society of Plastics Engineers with ANTEC and its other live events; and, frankly, so have some of our competitors in the plastics trade press. We’ve all, well, built the plane while we were flying it.

These are pretty big adjustments, but there have been smaller ones too. I have an inventory of face masks. Likely you do too. Do you have one in your car that dangles from your rear-view mirror? I do. And countless times I have parked my car and made my way to the front door of whatever store I was going to, only to scurry back to snap up my dangling mask. And by the way, I also have a package of extra masks in my glove box, along with travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer.

I’ve been working from home exclusively for more than 10 years, so the lockdown, in its various iterations, hasn’t impacted me that much there, save for plant visits that have been put on hold or the occasional claustrophobic feeling of being “trapped.” Still, I’m on camera more than ever, owing to the changing manner in which we in the editorial business deliver information, and the fact that I’ve been moderating a Tech Days session every Thursday afternoon since early October. So that means I need to actually comply with my personal grooming routine and make certain adjustments to my office décor (replacing, for example, some Seinfeld-related wall “art” with some Plastics Technology swag).

Seven paragraphs into this—time to circle back to our editorial plans for 2021. There will be a series of articles beginning in January on adjustments you as plastics processors might be considering as we emerge from this new normal. We’ll be addressing themes such as Industry 4.0, advanced automation, additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), cross-training, reshoring, and others. I’m sure none of these topics are altogether new to you, but my suspicion is you will be looking at them more carefully as part of a business and technology strategy that you’ve likely revisited many times since the emergence of COVID-19.

And, of course, throughout the coming year there will be ample coverage of NPE2021, the triennial plastics industry trade show, May 17–21 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. In fact, we’ll be linking the topics referenced above to things that will be exhibited on the show floor in Orlando.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year. I’m more flexible, adaptable, optimistic, and open to change then I ever thought I was before. Good things. But I’m ready to get back to the old normal.