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True Innovation a Little Thin on the Ground at UK Packaging Show

While still a formidable forum for networking and business matching, totally new concepts and technology were somewhat hard to discern at this year's event, according to many of the attendees and exhibitors at Packaging Innovations 2017.

Photo: Eco-friendly packaging technology in action, courtesy of Automated Packaging Systems.
Eco-friendly packaging technology in action, courtesy of Automated Packaging Systems.
Photo: Eco-friendly packaging technology in action, courtesy of Automated Packaging Systems.
Eco-friendly packaging technology in action, courtesy of Automated Packaging Systems.

Reduced waste and improved efficiency were the overriding themes at this year's Packaging Innovations event. Overall, this saw the emphasis firmly placed on minimising packaging, while prioritising the use of recyclable materials. While such moves were partly down to an enhanced sense of responsibility on the part of a number of industry players, there was also a feeling that the sector needed to clean up its act in the face of the growing consumer disapproval with regard to its previous wasteful and environmentally damaging practices.

Despite being billed as Packaging Innovations, however, the general consensus at the Birmingham-hosted event was that new ideas were currently a little thin on the ground. Indeed, it was only the show's dedicated Innovation Showcase that seemed to have something genuinely fresh on offer.

This year, the Showcase saw 10 debutante products shortlisted and displayed, with show visitors encouraged to vote for their favourite. At the end of the day it was the Dosette, developed by Cheshire-based Unette, that appealed most to the punters at this particular packaging show.

Explaining the concept behind his company's winning product, David Rimmer, the Managing Director of Unette, said: "At heart, the Dosette is a simple but unique idea. When pressure is applied to its flexible packaging, it can deliver a single dose of product in either a droplet or a stream form."

A close runner-up in the Showcase came courtesy of Ohio-based Ranpak, with its proprietary Geami WrapPak. This honeycomb die-cut wrapping paper material, with a distinctive rustic look, was widely praised as a sustainable alternative to plastic bubblewrap.

Another serious contender for the number-one slot came from Macpac, the North of England-based thermoform packaging company behind the Surecel range of tamper-proof clam-shell blister-packs. Commenting on the success of the product, Chief Executive Graham Kershaw said: "The judges recognised the market opportunity represented by Surecel. Clam-shell blister-packs normally have to be cut open, but our system provides similar security, while utilising a hinged locking device. This can be opened without requiring any cutting, allowing for greater reusability."

Another of the event's more competitive elements – the Ecopack Challenge 2017 – was squarely aimed at addressing sustainability, one of the industry's clear priorities. This time, the top slot was taken by London-based Delipac, with its Delipac Cup and Delipac Foodboard products clearly impressing the judges.

Both products make use of eco-barrier packaging board, which eliminates the need for any polymer content. The 100% recyclable and degradable products still benefit from an effective moisture and grease barrier, while remaining self-sealing, making them suitable for use with hot or cold drinks and ice cream, as well as frozen and convenience foods.

Commenting on the challenge still facing the company, Chief Executive Paul Spring said: "We are the first to bring this innovative paper engineering to market. We must now make the global public, which has an acute interest in recycling, aware of our products."

Taking a different approach to tackling this particular problem was Utah-based Packsize, which is advocating on-demand packaging as a smarter alternative to the use of standardised containers. Expanding on the benefits of the concept, Merie Kirchgessler, the company's Area Manager, said: "As an alternative to carrying an inventory of a variety box sizes, our Z Fold corrugated board can be fed into a machine that will produce a box of the exact required size."

Photo: Innovative winner: Unette’s Dosette.
Innovative winner: Unette's Dosette.
Photo: Innovative winner: Unette’s Dosette.
Innovative winner: Unette's Dosette.
Photo: Geami WrapPak: A sustainable bubblewrap alternative.
Geami WrapPak: A sustainable bubblewrap alternative.
Photo: Geami WrapPak: A sustainable bubblewrap alternative.
Geami WrapPak: A sustainable bubblewrap alternative.

As part of its customisable box system, Packsize had on offer the iQ Fusion, which was said to be ideal for mail-order fulfilment and meeting light manufacturing packaging requirements. The iQ can also be used in combination with the company's PackNet Report system, dedicated production optimisation and packaging software said to cut materials and transport costs.

Should that spark a celebratory mood then the beer tasting and Spanish finger-food on offer over on Graphic Packaging International's stand would seem to be the logical next destination. Putting the spotlight on beer wasn't a purely hedonistic move, however, with the Atlanta-headquartered company a market leader in the provision of brew-friendly folding cartons, a sector with annual sales of about US$4.3 billion.

While the canned and bottle beer market is a major part of the company's portfolio, its stand also featured many of the innovative solutions it supplies to the bakery and confectionery sectors. On top of that, there was a chance to familiarise yourself with Fruitpack, a new sustainable mono-material developed for use in the fruits and vegetables sector.

Moving on to the event's dedicated Label&Print zone and Bradford-based Dantex, apparently Europe's largest supplier of letterpress and flexo plates, was keen to promote its new PicoColour Digital Press. The system has a printing width of 210mm and a running speed of 35m per minute, and is said to have a particular application in the labelling sector. The company also manufactures the Truepress L350 Label Press, which can output at levels up to 16.1 sq m per minute.

Over in Empack, the packaging technology exhibition that forms a sub-strand of Packaging Innovation, there was the constant chatter of machinery. Among the most active here was the SidePouch FAS SPrint Revolution, a food-packaging machine available from Ohio-based Automated Packaging Systems.

Introducing the company's current range, European Product Manager Steve Dougan said: "The SidePouch is capable of filling a variety of food-bag sizes of up to 600x410mm and we also have two new packaging accessories on offer. The first, the FastWrap, is a honeycomb bubble-wrap material suitable for interleaving and top filling.

"Then we have the AirPouch Express 3, a void-fill system that can speed up the hand-filling of boxes using ultra lightweight pouches, something that saves on shipping costs. It fills the pouches with air and seals at the point of packaging fulfilment, drastically reducing the storage space required for packaging materials."

Taking his company in a new direction was Matt Baldock, Business Manager of Edinburgh-based UNI Packaging. Outlining its new facility, he said: "While we have a strong reputation for supplying design and print solutions in food markets, we are now targetting the non-food sector with Digiflex, a digital printing system designed to offer considerable flexibility with regard to short print runs and copy changes."

Overall, despite the perceived lack of anything truly new, most attendees agreed the event had been broadly productive. Indeed, the experience of Helen Tobin, New Product Development Manager for Montagne Jeunesse International, a South Wales-based manufacturer of health and beauty care products, was typical of that of many attendees.

Assessing the benefits to her own business, she said: "We are currently looking for suppliers in a number of different fields. We came here as it provides a great opportunity to meet the kind of people we are interested in, while also giving us the opportunity to see what's new in the market. There is always a good spread of exhibitors here for us to network with, making it the perfect place for us to do business."

Photo: Packaging Innovations 2017: Repackaged ideas but fresh opportunities to network.
Packaging Innovations 2017: Repackaged ideas but fresh opportunities to network.
Photo: Packaging Innovations 2017: Repackaged ideas but fresh opportunities to network.
Packaging Innovations 2017: Repackaged ideas but fresh opportunities to network.

Packaging Innovations 2017 took place at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre from 1-2 March. The event attracted 340 exhibitors and featured more than 30 hours of presentations from leading figures within the packaging industry.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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