Annual event returned to Birmingham with a wide range of innovations on show. Fraser Rummens reports
THE buzz and whirr of machinery filled the NEC Birmingham recently as the PPMA Show returned for 2017.
Thousands of professionals from across the sector attended the processing and packaging machinery event over three days. 350 exhibitors representing some 1,500 brands showed off the latest innovations in fields including automation, robotics, coding and checkweighing.
The event also incorporated a series of seminars at its Learning Hub, which included a keynote speech on improving profitability from Martin Glenn, CEO of the Football Association. Packaging Scotland’s own Claire Moodie chaired a presentation to a packed room on busting the myths of robotics and automation, delivered by Jeremy Hadall, chief technologist in robotics and automation at the Manufacturing Technology Centre.
One of the most popular attractions at the show was the RoboKeeper, which challenged attendees to score a goal against a computer-controlled goalie in a penalty shootout. The hulking TITAN robot also returned, after proving incredibly popular at the 2014 show.
Among the exhibitors was Scottish bottling and packaging solutions provider, Peebles-based Evolution BPS. The firm was exhibiting at the show for the fourth time and sees the event as a good opportunity to branch out into new sectors.
Susan Brown, sales and marketing manager explained, “We are really keen to start to broaden our range into other sectors so while we are well established in the drinks, wines and spirits sector, we see PPMA as a good opportunity for getting an audience in the food sector, possibly exploring the feasibility of moving into the pharmaceutical, household and chemical sectors. Everybody is here so it’s a good way to meet people.
“We’ve got an inspection machine with us, which is a level control system. It examines for the fill level on the bottle but also detects cap presence and the example that we have here includes foam compensation.”
Susan added, “Our market, regardless of sector, is all of the UK and Ireland. We happen to be based in Peebles, which for us is a great location, because it’s very accessible. We’re covering the whole of the UK and Ireland so the NEC Birmingham is a great central spot and it seems to be well attended by the right people.”
Designer, manufacturer and installer of end of line packaging machinery Endoline launched its new slimline 251 case erector at the show. Grigory Belosky, international sales manager explained that the new one metre wide machine had been specially designed for integration with case packers and for applications with limited space. Grigory said the reaction had been “very positive” due to the footprint. Endoline was also demonstrating its new HMI (Human Machine Interface) SMART Screen, which is to launch in January 2018. The icon-based screen claims to “cut programming time by half” and has been developed with Industry 4.0 in mind.
One stand that drew a lot of attention was that of Walsall-based packaging distributor Allpack. A packing line was set up and attendees were challenged with packaging various items using Allpack’s products against the clock, with the overall winner receiving a day at Silverstone racing circuit.
Natalie Lee, customer care manager explained, “There’s a teddy bear, there’s a tub of biscuits, there’s a pallet pad and then there’s some leaflets and a bottle of water, so you have to package all that into one of our OxBox cartons. You have to seal it with E-Tape and then you pop it into a Gripmailer; you send it down the chute and then you get your time. “It’s just a different way of trying to help people remember us. We’ve been to the show so many times and it’s so hard to differentiate yourself. If you’ve just got your products stood there you’ve really got to make an effort to go out and get people in, whereas with this, people are drawn to us.”
Coding and marking specialist Rotech Machines was celebrating its twentieth anniversary year at the event, debuting a new brand identity along with a striking orange stand. The company was showing off its new offline RF Auto sleeve and carton friction feeder. Richard Pether, director explained that the system had been designed “to cope with the wide range of packaging formats” including ‘lift-the-flap style cartons and resealable pouches, which have portions of varying thicknesses.
Richard also emphasised the importance of face-to-face business that happens at the PPMA Show, “I think in the connected world where we think everybody can do things online, people still want to come along and touch the equipment and see it with their own eyes and I think people like to come and discuss an application face-to-face. Quite a lot of what we do is application specific and quite an important part of that is that you look someone in the eye and you know that, between you, you understand what you’re going to do to make the thing work and that’s just the sort of thing you do at an exhibition.”
Nigel Matthews, general manager of volumetric depositor and filling machine manufacturer Riggs Autopack said, “We’ve always been a member of the PPMA and we’ve always been happy to be a member. Traditionally it’s been a pretty good show for us. “It gives us a chance to invite existing customers to come and see us, to look at advancements, that perhaps wouldn’t come into our premises in Nelson because of their location. They also get to see the new technology that we’re doing. We get to see what other people are doing as well, which is important.”
Dr Russell Sion, managing director of Jenton Dimarco called the show the best he had been a part of in years. “The biggest single thing about being at a show like the PPMA Show is you get to meet people who didn’t know either we did this or that the technology was available. If somebody actually wants to find us they can find us on the Internet, but here your get to meet people who didn’t know you could do this and that is why this show is invaluable.”
Valerio Del Vecchio, head of marketing for the PPMA Group of Associations said that innovation, volume of sales and a new approach to automation, machine vision and robotics made it a good time to be involved with the “buoyant” processing and packaging industry. He said that the trend towards automation and robotics would continue, as it is “critical” for companies to be more efficient and more accurate.
Valerio also highlighted the importance of providing an “experience” to attendees and that the PPMA Show had to “go with the times”.
“This is a business-to-business show, it doesn’t mean people don’t want to have fun. Coming to a show is coming to have an experience so the experience can be the RoboKeeper, the TITAN robot; whatever makes you laugh and think. Interactivity is crucial; people want to get engaged. They don’t just want to be passers-by and do window-shopping; they want to see how things work. “It’s the largest show in 12 years. It went well above our expectations, selling space for the show doesn’t seem to be a problem; people feel confident. People still understand that business happens between people.
“One thing is to have a look at the machine and see how it works online, the other thing is to go and speak to the people, speak to the experts, with the engineers, with the salespeople and understand better. Business happens between people, not between computers.”