As a country, the UK finds the majority of its corrugated packaging producers based in the Midlands and the North. Of course, there are corrugated box manufacturers in every county in this fair land, yet the south-east of England is left rather thin when it comes to box making capacity! One of the leading sheet plant operations in the region is Challenge Packaging Ltd, a privately owned business.
Originally founded as a packaging merchant in 1984 in the town of East Grinstead, the company evolved to become a small sheet plant in 1990, with the installation of some second hand equipment. In 1995, they moved to a site in Ukfield, at which time they upgraded some of their equipment, adding more complex machinery. The business continued to grow, taking unit after unit in a small industrial estate. “We were growing really fast in those days and were always short of space,” recounts Simon Allen, Managing Director and co-owner. “I was joined in the business by Colin Prior, who is now a co-owner with me. Although we were growing fast, we never took our eye off the ball – we wanted to be well known for offering not only a complete packaging service, but a company that promoted quality and reliability. These are the pillars of our business to this day.”
New Site Beckons
It was in early 2013 that they reached capacity at the previous business units in Ukfield, and the owners decided it was time to make a serious move. “We wanted to get under one roof ideally,” recounts Simon Allen. “Fortunately, a factory came available in nearby Hailsham and we jumped at the opportunity; we successfully moved into what is now 110,000 sq ft of manufacturing space and offices. It is ideally located to service customers throughout the south of England.”
From the previous factory, Challenge brought with them a Latitude casemaker and some of the smaller equipment. In the following years, they added a BOBST flatbed die-cutter, a Vega speciality gluer and several pieces of equipment from Lamina. But the owners knew that automation was always going to be the key to getting the most out of their site. “Materials handling, pallet strapping and presentation, as well as dedicated storage for finished goods and easy despatch were the areas where we could really make a difference,” continues Simon Allen. “Having worked extensively with David Williams for over 20 years, we have been able to maximise production efficiency and throughput with extensive pieces of Emmepi Group equipment – not just conveyors, but also pallet strappers and wrappers and ancillary systems for some of our converting machines as well.”
Making a Difference
As an agile corrugated packaging manufacturer, Challenge has always looked at ways to make itself stand out in the market. “In the south-east, we have relatively high land costs, as manufacturing on large scales is not overly popular here; this means rental costs are quite high, but we dedicate quite a lot of space to stock and serve, so we can deliver just in time for our customers,” explains Simon Allen. “Our customers have the same cost pressures as we do, so we take some of the pain away from them, meaning they don’t have to store lots of corrugated boxes on their own site.”
He continues, “We have also invested heavily in design and innovation and our design suite is a silent salesman for sure. Interestingly, the one thing that has set us apart is our ability to produce duplex printed packaging, meaning print on both sides of the sheet or box. We had an old flexo machine that we would double pass the sheets, but this was time consuming, even if the results were very good. But you can imagine how excited we were when the first few OEMs started to market flexo rotary die-cutters that could print both sides in one pass. We were convinced of the need to invest, but the market is still developing, so we wanted a machine that suited our budget yet continue to handle the output as demand grows. We have known David Williams for a very long time – since his days at Edlon in fact. We have bought an awful lot of equipment from him, so when he sat down and showed us the Weipong Venus, we knew the machine was right for us.”
The Venus 1625 SSTK-B, manufactured by Weipong Machinery, was installed at the end of the summer. The machine, which is the first of its type in the UK, was sold by GTS Europe, the UK and Ireland agent for Weipong Machinery of China. It is configured to print three colours on the top and two on the bottom. The machine has been supplied with inter station IR dryers and to achieve best quality of print, it is equipped with Absolute carbon fibre chambers and anilox rolls from Sandon Global.
“It is not just about the ability to print in duplex mode, we were also looking for solutions that would help us reduce ink loss and improve print quality – the choice of anilox and chambers was very much part of the discussion process,” adds Simon Allen. “With sustainability properly back on brand owners’ agendas, we wanted to be able to showcase our ability to produce the highest quality of packaging with the lowest levels of waste, enhancing our own carbon footprint at the same time.”
“It is a bit of an over-used phrase, but this machine has been a real game changer for us,” says Simon Allen. “It is simple to run, offers good levels of output and we are really happy with the print quality. We continue to put it through its paces, but we know this machine is going to add significant amounts of revenue to our business and we believe it will offer a fast ROI.”
“As one of the first owners of a Weipong inside-outside printing machine in the UK, we are hugely proud of what Challenge Packaging are already achieving with this versatile machine,” says David Williams, Managing Director, GTS Europe. “Our thanks to the Weipong team for such a smooth installation and training phase, as well as to Simon Allen, Colin Prior, Martin Coppard and the entire team at Challenge who have embraced this new technology with open arms.”