Well wrapped up

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Machine

Well wrapped up
With cash tight, users of packaging machinery want even better value for money in their purchases - as well as everything else. Rod Addy reports

If you've read Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, you'll be familiar with the outlook for the impecunious Mr Micawber, namely: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result: happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result: misery."

Every day that goes by in the food industry finds people counting the pennies more carefully than the day before and this holds true in the packaging machinery arena as much as elsewhere. In fact, many of the major trends in this market boil down to a desire to save on not only money, but time, waste, energy use and even space.

That's assuming people are even prepared to fork out for the machinery in the first place. Peter Mellon, md of global packaging machinery firm Reiser, which has UK offices in Milton Keynes, says: "Companies are becoming more careful, taking time before they make an investment. Activity is not now at the same level as the past three years."

Richard Kitchen, head of sales and marketing at cartoner and sleever specialist T Freemantle, based in Scunthorpe, north Lincolnshire, echoes his sentiments: "There has been an immediate slowdown in the [UK] market, though we have global supply, so the impact on our turnover has been negligible. Either people have already got cartoners or sleevers or they are not looking to increase their volume of machinery."

Simon Croker, director at Enterpack, based in Towcester, Northamptonshire, observes: "The percentage of leasing is increasing. About 80% of what we do is on lease now, whereas it was 50/50 before. I'm not saying people haven't got the money; they're just not willing to part with it."

However, Mellon says even when times are tough, substantial pockets of interest can be identified. "Companies still need to invest in packaging and products. There's still a lot going on in terms of new products for us."

Take Reiser's deal with Dutch packaging firm Repak to market and sell its packaging machinery in the UK from July. Repak's machines perform multiple form, fill and seal packaging tasks for processors in several sectors with several different materials.

Within this market, machines that cut waste are proving popular, influenced by retailers' demands for less packaging in response to consumer concerns. "Our biggest selling feature is a rapid air forming system, giving the same sealing quality with less packaging," says Mellon. "Customers can downgrade material thickness by up to 20%."

Croker is responding to strong demand for similar solutions to reduce packaging waste. The company's Enterpack 200, 300 and 350BL sealing machines are semi-automated, requiring one person to operate. "Our machine provides consistent sealing. Its blades trim film tight to the tray, which is the kind of thing the supermarkets are demanding."

Likewise, Packaging Automation's Eco-Cut tray sealer is another weapon in the war on packaging waste. Again, high quality sealing and efficient use of materials are core strengths. This piece of kit boasts a film saving of up to 33%, as it can accommodate thinner gauge film.

Not only does it use less material, but the Eco-Cut also saves on time, another resource that's at a premium in the industry. One customer which took part in initial trials of the machine reported its capacity to seal 8,200 trays from just one roll of film, compared with 4,440 trays for a standard tray sealer.

Time saving benefits are an essential element of the current generation of packaging machines, according to Chris Buxton, chief executive of the Process and Packaging Machinery Association. He cites everything from "the increase in speed and accuracy of labelling" to equipment that will work with "new materials that will operate at higher speeds" as features of the trend.

Speed is something Reiser offers in abundance through Repak's products. "They can form [thermoform] packaging so fast - 0.15 seconds - it doesn't have time to cool," says Mellon. Standard machines run at 12 cycles per minute, whereas Repak's units, available in small, medium or large configurations, run at 15 or more.

PFM Packaging Machinery's (PFM's) form, fill and seal high speed bagger, the Comet, capable of 180 bags per minute, is a classic example of this time saving trend. Sales director Chris Bolton calls the Comet "a compact, yet fast and versatile machine that marks PFM's arrival in the high speed bagging market". The machine will be unveiled for the first time at the Process and Packaging Machinery Association's (PPMA) show, which takes place at Birmingham's NEC September 30 to October 2.

But processors don't stop there. Not content with clamping down on waste and making the best use of time, they also want to make the most efficient use of space. "Customers are constantly looking for smaller and more compact machines, because they want to automate, but machines sometimes take up more room than people," says Kitchen. Here, Enterpack has some advantages. "Take a conventional microwave and turn it on its side - that's the size of one of our smaller machines, so it's very compact," says Croker. Automated Packaging Systems' new table top bagger is "about saving space and ergonomics", claims market development manager Kat Biggs. "It takes up less than one square metre." Biggs says it would be ideal for processing small bagged sweets.

While retailers may be leaning on manufacturers to increase efficiency by saving space, time, money and especially waste, their tactics differ widely on how this can be achieved. Consequently, flexibility remains the watchword, with machines having to handle varying sizes of packaging.

"People don't buy a machine to package one product," says Mellon. "They're looking to do multiple things in multiple sizes. We're seeing a trend towards smaller packages and portion sizes. Supermarkets are moving more to serve smaller families and the single person on shelves, with, for example, smaller portions of meat products and freshly cut salads. Food on the go is huge at the moment, so there's a demand for innovative packaging to fit round that."

Never has the imperative to increase efficiency and make savings across the board been stronger than it is in the current economic climate. The challenge for packaging machinery engineers and suppliers is to keep ahead of the curve and continue to make it easier for processors to fulfil retailers' demands. From the sounds of things, they are doing so at the moment. FM


  • Automated Packaging Systems 01684 891400
  • Enterpack 01327 810011
  • Packaging Automation 01565 755000
  • PFM Packaging Machinery 01132 393401
  • Process and Packaging Machinery Association 0208 773 8111
  • Reiser UK 01908 585300
  • T Freemantle 01724 276908''

Related topics Packaging equipment

Related suppliers

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast