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Packaging Automation more than a manufacturer.

Riding primarily on the back of the consumer driven food retailing industry, heat sealing has become one of the fast developing areas within the packaging industry.

As social trends move inexorably further towards 'convenience' orientated lifestyles, with consequential increasing demand for ready-meals and related products, the role of heat sealing will continue to grow in importance.

Largely unaffected by the worst recession since the Thirties, the machine manufacturers and sealing materials suppliers continue to look for new techniques, methods and materials to capture an increasing share of an expanding market.

During the last five years Cheshire-based Packaging Automation Ltd - building on a 30 year track record of pioneering developments and some notable industry firsts - has emerged as UK's driving force in machinery development, pushing back technical frontiers and setting standards for others to follow.

Significantly the lofty recognition currently enjoyed by the company is largely attributed to an approach to the market which speaks volumes for the astute leadership of managing director Anthony Penn. Son of the firm's founder Arthur Penn, Anthony has applied the disciplines and experience from his highly qualified engineering background to the sales and marketing functions of the company.

"Our industry has developed to the point where selling machines like boxes has become totally inappropriate. The needs of food manufacturers, particularly those supplying the multiple retailers, have changed. It seemed perfectly natural to me that our approach to the marketplace should change to recognise those needs and service them."

By presenting the company as an organisation providing solutions, as opposed to standard products, with the crucial support of a rapid response service support operation, Packaging Automation is discovering a rapidly increasing demand for its particular skills.

Today over 30 percent of the company's current business is attributed to the product or system development work which gives the company almost consultancy status.

"By working alongside our clients to develop heat sealing solutions and maintaining very close relationships with tray, film and foil producers, we provide a better all-round hardware and support package," says Anthony Penn.

If all this sounds a bit like a familiar path trodden by the computer industry in recent times, then you'd be right.

"Lessons can always be learned from other industries," comments Mr Penn. "The rapid development of materials' technology, and the need to design machinery capable of utilising new materials, bore a striking similarity to the software/hardware relationship in the computing arena."

The success of acting on that simple observation is amply illustrated by the development and installation of the world's fastest heat sealer for Oldham-based Park Cake Bakery; a technically advanced system for packing a new range of ready meals for Kershaws of Southport enables the customer to utilise new materials which provide high impact, colourful graphics on pack and eliminate the need for the costly addition of an outer sleeve - two simple examples of completed projects directly attributable to PA's market approach.

Now firmly established in their new purpose-built factory in Knutsford, Cheshire, Packaging Automation's facilities are playing a key role in the development projects the company are undertaking. The introduction of live demonstration and clinical testing facilities, which allows the mixing and analysis of gases in any combination, will be of major long term benefit to PA. Indeed, recent internal research work in the facility has enabled PA to make significant advances, improving cycle times by 17 percent on gas flushing-based machines.

That development was partly driven by overseas markets. The company has already supplied gas flushing machines to food manufacturers in mainland Europe. In Holland, prepared vegetable and salad packs are being heat sealed on PA machines, whilst in France gas flushed sandwich packs with an eight day shelf life are being produced for service stations throughout the country.

Export sales director Nick Penn, who works alongside his brother Anthony, highlighted the importance of their breakthrough in cycle times when he said:" We see great potential in the sandwich and snack food market, especially on the continent where gas flush packing is a popular method. Our technical skills and ability to increase output should see us open a gap between ourselves and our competitors in this field."

While PA's determination to pursue the solutions route is now an unswerving commitment, customer care and service support are also regarded, at the very least, as equally important elements of the firm's total philosophy. Significantly, PA's 24-hour customer service policy is provided by production line engineers involved in the manufacturing process, whose knowledge and expertise of the design and build stages of the machines is carried through to the customer's site.

Food producers' problems in manufacturing terms essentially revolve around the service aspect, especially when they are packing for the major high street multiples. Very often, in that situation, the multiple will collect or expect delivery at specific times during the week, working to extremely tight schedules, on a 'just in time' basis. If that delivery slot is missed, because machines have not been operational, it can prove to be very costly to the processor.

Anthony Penn says:" Having production equipment breakdown at any time is a nightmare, especially when it occurs at the most inconvenient time. It is very much our responsibility to ensure that the manufacturers downtime is kept to an absolute minimum."

So just how much benefit can this modern day knight in shining armour provide to the food packaging equivalent of Maid Marion? A recent situation saw PA come to the rescue of a ready-meal manufacturer who experienced a breakdown in Italian-made heat packaging machines within hours of a nationwide Bank Holiday shutdown. With the parts unavailable from Italy for almost four weeks, production schedules were in tatters. PA stepped in and were able to install a temporary replacement in less than a week, complete with tooling. The company's flexible hire facility being of major assistance to the food manufacturer in this situation. "This was one of those occasions when we were delighted to show how flexible we can be, and to prove to a new customer how quickly we can respond to emergencies of this nature," says Anthony Penn.

Following the example from the top - Anthony Penn made sure that the emergency operation was organised by the first holiday day - PA staff worked all weekend to ensure completion. This level of service is typical of the commitment to the customer. By comparison it is a level of support that overseas machinery manufacturers cannot match, largely due to the geographical proximity to the UK and the structure of distributors and agents. Quite simply they cannot compete.

The 24-hour a day, 52 weeks a year after sales maintenance and repair service is an unusual, yet highly welcome customer care policy that is helping Packaging Automation strengthen its position still further as UK market leader in heat sealing packaging machinery.

"Our challenge will be in how effectively we can support our installations in their territories," comments Anthony Penn in a reference to his company's planned export drive.

For more information please contact: Packaging Automation Ltd, Montgomery Close, Parkgate Industrial Estate, Knutsford, Cheshire WA168XW. Tel:0565 755000 Fax:0565 751015.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Packaging Automation Ltd.
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Secondhand - not second best.
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