A significant industry

The packaging industry is a large contributor to the manufacturing sector in the UK. The grocery sector alone represents about 70% of the UK packaging market, using over 10 million tonnes of packaging each year.

The type and quality of packaging materials can vary, presenting a major challenge to packaging machine design. Also, environmental legislation introduced standard requirements for thinner, lighter materials. Because of this, companies needed to find more efficient ways to produce packaging.

Carton board research

Our researchers collaborated with small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), end users and research associations involved in packaging, processing and pharmaceutical equipment. Together, they worked on improving the interaction between machines, the materials used, and the products.

Carton board is one of the most common materials used in packaging. It has distinct non-linear material properties and its behaviour varies with ambient temperature, humidity and moisture content. There is also a risk of delamination when it is folded. Our researchers recognised that understanding the manufacturing process and its effects on carton board was central to designing better equipment.

Our researchers looked at the non-linear mechanical properties and developed a realistic simulation of the machine operation, including failure prediction. The simulation helped to improve operating conditions for existing machines. It has led to the ability to better predict material behaviour and reduce instances of failure. It has also contributed to the development of better design procedures and helped companies move to thinner, lightweight packaging materials.

Industry benefits

Our research helped to solve a range of challenges faced by the packaging industry. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca reported improvements in the effectiveness of their packaging equipment. Packaging specialists Smithers Pira, and test instrument manufacturers Hanatek also reported on an increase in their sales.

Furthermore, our research has been used in a guide to help industrial professionals in the packaging sector assess and improve their operations.

REF submission

This research was part of our REF 2014 submission for Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering.