Companies developing new plastic packaging, looking to improve existing pack performance or requiring polymer formulation "from scratch" for particular packaging applications can now call on a new, expert service provided by scientists at Sheffield University.

FaraPack Polymers, backed by the Faraday Packaging Partnership and the University’s commercial enterprise arm, Sheffield University Enterprises Ltd (SUEL), was officially launched on July 13.

Clients – whether retailers, brand owners, packaging companies or material suppliers – will benefit from the expertise of 41 polymer scientists and 120 researchers drawn from 7 different University departments, all of whom contribute expertise and research findings on an ongoing basis to the University’s world-renowned Polymer Centre.

Malcolm Butler, manager of both FaraPack Polymers and the Polymer Centre, says the service’s key functions will include helping clients with short-term development of new plastic packs and materials, undertaking lab analysis and testing, providing advice and “new solutions to old plastic packaging problems”, and carrying out materials research, including synthesising “novel smart polymers” for special applications. All services will be available to both Faraday Packaging Partnership members and non-members, with users charged for scientists’ time “per day” and “per sample”.

Butler elaborates: “Most universities are well geared towards research lasting a few days or 12 months plus, but less so for projects of perhaps a few weeks’ duration. We hope FaraPack Polymers will bridge this gap – providing everything from feasibility studies, to prevent brand owners, for instance, having to order thousands of tonnes of a polymer speculatively without being sure a pack will function correctly, to in-situ monitoring of new structures. Our Polymer Centre, backed by complementary expertise from Leeds, Durham and Bradford Universities, offers Europe’s leading polymer scientist ‘cluster’, supported by state-of-the art testing equipment.”

Formed in June 2001, the Polymer Centre has itself developed significant expertise in such specialist areas as nanotechnolgy, smart packaging, thin film formulation, and acousto-magnetic shielding for delicate packaged electrical components.

Butler adds: “Alongside providing scientific expertise, FaraPack Polymers will encourage collaboration between different players in the plastic packaging chain to foster innovation. I cannot remember one occasion when a small group of academics and industrialists have brainstormed here on a polymer-related matter when the client has not left with 20-30 new ideas for potential working up.”