Tthe world has awakened to the reality that B2B activity is far larger and more important than business-to-consumer activity.

Bruce A. Thalacker

Nine months ago, you would have thought that the global economy was driven totally by the dot-coms and their business-to-consumer operations. The fact that the world has awakened during that short time to the reality that business-to-business activity and potential is far larger and more important than business-to-consumer activity attests to how fast things are changing.

What does this mean for the pressure sensitive tape industry? For one thing, we will spend less time discussing what will be and more time creating what is. Forecasts for long-range planning will be irrelevant. Long range has already shrunk from five years to three to, well, we may soon be thinking in terms of months, not years.

It seems that there is not a day that goes by without acquisitions among distributors -- the primary sales channel for our tapes -- in the United States and Europe. It doesn't even make sense to name examples here because it will be old news by the time you read it.

However, where once we thought U.S. distributors would soon be leading the global distribution charge by acquiring companies across the pond, the tables already have been turned by Hagemeyer swallowing Cameron & Barkley, Valley Safety and TriState Electric. We are in a truly global economy, and no one should assume the United States is going to dominate this industry.

Consolidation is taking place among manufacturers, too. We can expect mergers, acquisitions and alliances to occur on a global basis, especially as both manufacturing and distribution expand into China, India and other high-potential areas. The prospect for vertical integration through the merging of distribution companies and manufacturing is high, as companies decide to focus business activity.

Tied in with this, of course, is the emphasis on "faster, shorter." Product life cycles are becoming shorter. Just because tape is mostly sold for industrial purposes doesn't mean that it is "old." We're looking at new materials, new functions, and both higher and lower temperature tolerances. We're looking at innovation. Tapes will be found in applications that traditionally were never considered to be "tape" applications.

Delivering these products to a source is becoming more of a challenge than ever. We'll see more custom-made tapes for specific functions and far greater demand for just-in-time delivery and manufacturing. Collaborative operations like Covisint won't just specify delivery parameters in a contract, they will expect the supply chain to work seamlessly -- to the minute -- the logistics, the information flow and the cash flow.

We can't fool ourselves that we have plenty of time to set up our e-business systems. When a GE or Boeing suggests that you will be fully capable to electronically communicate, design, ship, track, invoice, and manage inventory and manufacturing, it's a pretty big incentive to do so.

You can bet that the pressure sensitive tape industry is poised to take advantage of all this change. What better industry than ours to put it all together?