Virginia Tech professor hopes shortage woes can fuel change

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - An expert at Virginia Tech is giving us insights into how the baby formula shortage issue might change the industry for the better.

Associate Professor Laszlo Horvath is the director for Virginia Tech’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. The research and testing facility is the industrial outreach arm of the Department of Sustainable biomaterials.

Now, he’s the first to admit that kids might not grow up dreaming about studying or working in this field. But Horvath said the infant formula shortage, and other shortages we’ve experienced during the pandemic, show just how important it can be.

Horvath explained that for baby formula, for example, even when formula production restarts, materials for packaging all kinds of things are getting harder to obtain.

Plastic is more expensive, not to mention record-breaking oil and gas prices.

In his classes, he’s challenging students to design packaging using fewer materials, for lower prices, while maintaining quality.

“We always had this challenge because of sustainability initiatives, but now it’s much more important that we need to use our resources better,” he said, “because we don’t know when we’re going to get more resources or if we can even obtain the ones we are having.”

Horvath said these issues are also showing companies that diversifying their supply sources is not just a goal, but a necessity, as is finding ways to pivot if you suddenly have to change how you ship a product.

He said because of everything that’s happened, he’s seeing more companies make changes.

“Companies are diversifying their supply chain, which is more expensive, but then it’s much more expensive to shut down the supply for a week because you run out of glue or you run out of plastic or you run out of tape.”

Horvath says bottom line - for the formula shortage - it will get better. It will take time, though.

He hopes more people see the value in packaging design and shipment and that this will inspire future students to come up with creative solutions.

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