As part of the build-up to Total Processing & Packaging, the overseas press were invited to see the latest and greatest the UK packaging industry has to offer, as Mary Murphy reports

The very best of British packaging manufacture and innovation was unveiled to the world at a recent Inward Mission of 23 overseas journalists. Supported by Trade Partners UK – a Government supported Inward Mission Scheme* – the mission was designed to drive exports and to encourage overseas visitors to view innovative UK packaging and processing developments at Total Processing & Packaging 2004.

Taking the theme innovation and integration, representatives of both the UK’s packaging machinery market and the materials sector combined to prove that the UK can claim world class status in a number of key manufacturing areas.

Identifying the drivers behind packaging machinery development into the 21st century, Andrew Manly, general secretary of the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association, pointed to servo drives, intelligent controls, fast changeover, on-line inspection, flow meters, and preventive/planned maintenance.

He described a PPMA program called E-zee Maintenance, a preventative programme aimed at minimising the number of expensive failures in packaging machinery. The development of Software programs should herald a new dawn for diagnostic fault finding, control networks and maintenance management, Manly said.

The need for intelligent controls was taken up by the UK’s Lock Inspection Systems. Chairman Mike Randall described the company’s recently launched triple frequency metal detector – the MET 30+ 3f .

This operates at three crystal frequencies (low, medium and high) with the detector’s Automatic Frequency Selection facility choosing the optimum frequency for a particular application. For example, when inspecting dry biscuits the detector will automatically select high frequency, whereas for a product wrapped in metallised film it will operate at low frequency.

The need for continual innovations in the labelling market was underlined by Keith Martin, export sales manager, Harland Machine Systems, who described how the company’s latest machinery developments will help the continual drive for thinner and less costly pressure-sensitive label stock.

The soon to be launched LaserSoft Technology for online PS-labelling is a product identification system integrated into the end-user’s supply chain. It uses digital technologies to deliver on demand capabilities and once completed the system will print labels on-line, die cut them, insert an RFID tag and then apply the completed label onto a product at high speed.

Benefits will include reduced material costs and significant improvements in the ability of customers to rapidly change labels on the production line.

Graham Hayes, chairman, Bradman-Lake, described the increasing role of robotic systems: “In 2003, it is robotics that set the pace in cartoning development.” He paid particular attention to the robotic Bradman-Lake LJ Toploader that is said to be one of the fastest in the world and provides completely integrated, fully automated lines for high-speed unit and multiple packaging.

A new generation product from TNA Europe, the world’s leading vffs machinery manufacturer for the snack market, was introduced by managing director Alf Taylor. The Roflo distribution system does away with vibratory controls and is claimed to handle products such as potato chips and other snacks with only 15% of the force of vibratory feeders. This means that product flows as a single entity with little movement of product particles while the product does not leave the pan surface, a common occurrence with vibratory systems.

  According to Rexam’s marketing director Nick Bird, the £3.1bn company is on a mission to bring yet further consolidation to a number of material sectors. He singled out both the European glass market and the US bevcan sector saying that “consolidation will bring greater control, so that capacity can be better matched to demand.”

Bird described some of the many opportunities he sees ahead for Rexam’s businesses. Due to such issues as an ageing population, a concern for health and wellness, a passion for convenience and time pressures, he believes that marketers are now more than ever calling for product differentiation through the development of novel and innovative packaging concepts.

The need to build long term relationships with customers was another highlight and Bird described a £7M investment in the US bevcan division to redefine business processes. A key part of the strategy is the use of E-nablement technologies and Coca-Cola is the first to benefit from a secure web-based on line ordering system. The system allows Coca-Cola to place orders, track invoices and give real time feedback.