Life has a tendency to thwart the best laid plans. That’s why the best plans often turn out to be Plan B.

Only last year, after touring the site of Solyndra, a solar module manufacturer, President Obama touted the bright future of the solar power industry. Last month that same manufacturer filed for bankruptcy.

So much for predictions. In this era of constant change, only those who can adapt quickly will survive to see what tomorrow brings. This issue of MH&L is a good example of life’s unpredictability. Although we didn’t plan for every feature in this issue to have a common theme when we put it on our editorial calendar last year, it just happened that they all address adaptability.

Take our cover story about Pack Expo 2012 (pg. 20), for example. Although this feature is mostly a packaging technology roundup, I did get some insights from Jorge Izquierdo, vice president of marketing and development for Pack Expo, about the supply chain forces that shaped this event’s themes.

He told me the people likely to be drawn to this year’s event are the survivors of organizational downsizing. Their companies’ engineering staffs have been downsized and now they must work closer with their packaging and equipment suppliers to develop new solutions. Without such consultation among supply chain partners, mistakes get made in isolation.

As Jim Tompkins says in his feature on system integration (pg. 30), it’s good to make mistakes, as long as you make them quickly, learn from them and move on. Izquierdo gave me a good example of such adaptability from the packaging world, where sustainability is all the rage. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are incorporating more and more recycled paperboard into their transport packaging. As they do, they realize that this material behaves differently from virgin paperboard. They can see it in their material handling systems.

One of the problems with recycled corrugated packaging is its porosity. In packaging equipment that uses vacuum pressure to handle these containers, the higher the porosity, the more vacuum pressure required to hold them. To make things worse, that porosity can change throughout the day, requiring periodic adjustments. Izquierdo says equipment manufacturers are working on ways for the equipment to adjust automatically to these changes in material without production shutdowns.

Tompkins gave me another good example of adaptability from the world of retail. In some retail DCs a warehouse control system manages dynamic labor allocation based on the orders being released. Labor in picking zones, quality assurance stations, packing stations, and shipping lanes is adjusted throughout the day. This allows for increased DC productivity and enhanced throughput.

Even a lift truck fleet manager must learn to adapt to changes in his company’s workflows. As you’ll read in our feature on page 33, there’s a desire for shorter equipment leases and more use of short-term rental to maximize lift truck utilization. These managers are also learning from the expensive mistake of poor equipment rotation and the resulting overtime charges.

I hope you get a chance to read through this issue of MH&L cover to cover if you’re planning to attend Pack Expo. It will put you in the right frame of mind when talking to exhibitors. And if by chance you’re reading it in the airport and your flight to Vegas gets cancelled, you can test your adaptability skills while revising your itinerary.