THERMOFORMING - Holfeld Plastics


THERMOFORMING - Holfeld Plastics
Strong growth and material science research is the backdrop to one
company’s future plans.SSteven Pacitti finds out why Irish eyes are smiling
ith a firm belief that his company will
The move five years ago from a 45,000sq ft
double its turnover within the next plant a few miles away to the new 220,000sq ft
five years, Edmund Holfeld is not facility, enabled the company to bring everything
playing games – despite having a contract to sup- into one location, from thermoforming to extruply games-maker Hasbro with PET packaging – sion, and from logistics to sales. And Cullen is a
and neither is he relying on the luck of the Irish firm believer in the art of extruding and thermoto see his Arklow-based firm through the eco- forming in-house.
nomic recession.
“It would be very difficult to make money in
After his family started life in Ireland in the thermoforming, situated in Ireland, if we did not
textiles business, Edmund formed Holfeld extrude,” Cullen says, alluding to the new rPET
Plastics in 1980, originally as a supplier of extruder that the company added this year.
clamshell packaging for cosmetics customers.
Company founder Edmund Holfeld cuts a
Now, with sales of €25 million ($30m), up 30 professional figure, straight-talking yet with a
per cent on last year,
wry sense of humour
Holfeld is aiming
that sums up the perhigh, and as such is
sonality of the busiattempting to build
ness. From his office
its business overseas
overlooking the proafter a previous
duction floor, Holfeld
reliance on the UK
keeps his finger on the
market, which continpulse of everything
ues to provide 80 per
that moves in and out
cent of company sales.
of the factory.
Operating out of a
“Automation and
former Irish fertiliser
robotics are key and
industry plant that
APET/rPET is the
the company moved
future,” he told Plasto in 2007, Holfeld
tics in Packaging.
started life producing
“Internal growth is
bespoke packaging
our focus so acquisiand over time found
tions are not top of the
itself entering differ“We also have perent sectors, includmission here for a
ing multimedia
20,000-tonne recycling
packaging, which it
unit – in-house recycontrolled a strong
cling is vital – but I
Food has become Holfeld Plastics’ biggest sector
market position in.
need finance. Baled
More recently the
company entered the thermoformed food pack- bottles are currently exported so we want to
aging business, specialising in small to medium invest in a recycling facility, where we would be
size runs below 50,000 units. Now, all but 5 per the only customer.”
It is certainly a far cry from the company’s
cent of the company’s business is in the food secearly days, when it was generating sales of £1
tor, focused on rPET and APET.
Says operations director John Cullen, who million ($1.5m) from just one customer. It
has worked for the company since 2004: “We became obvious that to survive the company
were originally into high-impact polystyrene needed to build up its customer base. It now has
(HIPS) but found ourselves getting involved with one manufacturing plant in Ireland, and sales
polypropylene (PP) for ready meal packaging, offices at Burton in the UK, and in Belgium.
The manufacturing site itself is an impresand then with PET. For example, Hasbro has
sive location. The surrounding sites are sadly not
switched from HIPS to PET in Ireland.”
Plastics in Packaging © 2012 Sayers Publishing Group • September
as established as they could be – a victim of the
economic downturn – but Holfeld’s plant is a veritable work of art, despite the fact that it was a
former fertiliser factory.
“The logistics building has an amazing ceiling,” points out Cullen. “We could not see at first
that the building was made of timber, because
fertiliser attacks steel.”
These days it is not enough to simply churn out
packaging as a converter safe in the belief that
existing customers will not go elsewhere for a
better deal or a new concept. Holfeld has taken
this on-board by ensuring it has key members of
staff that are experienced and well-versed in the
During our visit, Holfeld was keen to introduce its work with the R&D firm Citrox Biosciences, which has developed a plant extract
based on bioflavonoids, with antimicrobial and
antioxidant properties. “Citrox sources
bioflavonoids from extracts of oranges grown in
Spain,” explains R&D manager Dr. Pat Ward.
“It has already been used for washing fruit
and vegetables but has not been widely introduced due to the lower price of chlorine. However, as a natural non-toxic product it is popular
with organic fruit and vegetable producers.
We’ve conducted trials with fresh chicken pack-
Holfeld Plastics’ John Cullen
says that the company uses up to
85 per cent post-consumer flake
Pictured right: 1) The former fertiliser factory has a roof supported by timber; 2) The first PET machine
installed at the plant; 3) Commercial sheet is removed in rolls of 50kg; 4) A view from above the newest
extrusion system; 5) Holfeld’s latest thermoformer features ABB stacking; 6) Thermoforming takes
place across several machines
with the European Commission (EC) to develop
packaging materials. Innovation is a business
process,” explains Ward. “We work with universities and industrial partners to categorise raw
materials and develop manufacturing techniques, for example.”
Holfeld started working closely with the Irish
government and EC in 2005. Holseal, which is
one of the materials developed during this
process, has been commercialised and now represents a significant portion of the company’s
Holseal combines rPET with an outside layer
of modified PET to result in a mono PET material with enhanced sealing properties. This
results in a wider sealing processing window
than virgin APET.
“The sealing temperature can be reduced by
up to 40 deg C, while sealing through food juice
contamination on the sealing flange is much
improved compared to virgin APET. The use of
mono material, meanwhile, can bring efficiencies
to the recycling stream. The drive will come from
aged in Citrox coated trays and found that it neutralises the chicken juices. It results in 5 log
reductions in the numbers of bacteria such as
E.coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter.”
“Citrox is a generic name for a number of
products based on bioflavonoids, and we will
establish our active packaging products based on
these materials at some point between 2013 and
2014,” says Cullen, explaining how Holfeld has
an exclusive license to use Citrox in packaging
applications. “Just the addition of one or two
extra days of shelf life is massive in the fresh food
industry. We will target soft fruit first, followed
by red and white meat.”
By driving the business further and becoming a bigger manufacturer of active packaging,
Cullen is convinced that the company can offer a
competitive solution that will be accepted by the
“We have put a lot of money into material science, into expanded rPET and Holseal, for example.”
“We are in a very select group of European
SMEs that has coordinated three R&D projects
Plastics in Packaging © 2012 Sayers Publishing Group • September
A number of Benelux companies are currently
using rPET Holseal as it offers the transparency
they cannot get with PP.
“Holseal is used there for poultry.”
In 2010 an Intertek life cycle analysis of mushroom punnets found in favour of Holfeld’s rPET
packaging from a carbon dioxide emission perspective. In the interim, Holfeld has completed a
survey of its carbon footprint carried out by University College Dublin according to Publically
Available Specification (PAS) 2050 – the product
carbon footprinting standard. This survey has
undergone independent third party verification by
SGS United Kingdom. Holfeld now has a fully verified carbon footprint model for its packaging that
can calculate the global warming potential of the
full range of trays offered to customers.
Ward points out that there was a concerted
push for lighter and thinner packaging five years
ago in Phase 1 of the Courtauld Commitment.
However, focusing solely on removing packaging
can lead to higher rates of food wastage, with cur-
The shop floor
We all know how companies have to
continue to prove their sustainability
when it comes to their production
processes and also the way they
operate their facilities, and Holfeld’s
modern plant does not disappoint.
Six compressors line the logistics
building, providing compressed air
in addition to heat and hot water for
the factory from fitted heat exchangers.
Continuing the theme of
sustainability, depending on
customer specification, Holfeld can
use up to 85 per cent low carbon
footprint post-consumer flake.
Thermoforming takes place
across several high-spec machines.
“Our first European project was
with a thermoforming toolmaker
Regrind arrives at the plant every day while bottle flake comes from
post-consumer sources. Behind the truck (pictured above)
is the land Holfeld has permission to build a recycling unit on
and involved trying to make rPET a
serious competitor to the large inline PP producers. They had good
automation so we needed to find a
way to compete and take rPET
beyond just small and medium-size
production runs,” says John Cullen.
The extrusion facility houses a
single PP and several PET
extruders. These include two fully
certified Superclean post-consumer
rPET extrusion systems. These
Superclean extrusion systems are
FDA approved and registered with
the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA) in compliance with
Regulation EC 282/2008.
During a walk-through
demonstration of Holfeld’s new
Superclean rPET extrusion system,
Cullen illustrates how the primary
extruder leads to a high-spec filter
for initial cleaning and removal of
contaminants. This feeds to a
second extruder where a vacuum
removes volatiles as part of the
SuperClean process. Here it
transfers to the main die with a coex stream fed by a secondary
extruder. rPET or rPET/PE can be
efficiently produced on this line.
Bottle and bag flake comes to
Holfeld from approved UK and European recycling firms, which sort and
clean post-consumer PET bottle
On the company’s site is an area
adjacent to the Avoca River for which
it has planning permission for a
future recycling plant. It is here that
Holfeld hopes to one day deliver on
its closed loop promise.
The firm’s tool room features a
fully equipped and staffed tool
Plastics in Packaging © 2012 Sayers Publishing Group • September
design and manufacturing facility.
The staff running this department
are well-versed in the development
of reliable thermoforming tools that
can produce products at high cycle
Illustrating the art of de-nesting
of trays, the company’s design team
demonstrated a heart-shaped
container for baby food, which is a
complex tray but has a large space
for de-nesting thanks to solid design
work using CAD software.
A state-of-the-art laboratory
houses a range of systems conducting tests such as co-efficient of
friction, impact strength, tensile
strength, compression strength,
heat sealing, peel strength and seal
burst pressure.
Soft fruit is the first target for Holfeld's active packaging
rent statistics suggesting that every person in the
UK wastes 190kg of food per year.
“Subsequent phases of Courtauld take a more
holistic approach and are more focused on
decreasing carbon footprint and increased postconsumer recycled content. Holfeld’s range of
rPET packaging is ideally suited to helping signatories of Courtauld meet their environmental commitments.”
Although the aforementioned active packaging is the next focus for Holfeld, it is also developing high barrier rPET solutions that could
eliminate the need for non-polyester barrier layers such as EVOH or Nylon, which can cause
problems in the recycling stream. The company is
also continuing to develop expanded rPET, which
it has already launched in selected products under
the name rPET-eco with customers in mainland
“Regarding high-barrier rPET, we work with
a high-tech polyester R&D company in Continental Europe. High-barrier rPET could provide additional shelf-life in MAP applications compared
with standard rPET,” said Cullen.
Although secretive about the exact nature of
the high-barrier material, Ward admits that highbarrier polyester is used, which is fully compatible
with the recycling stream.
“We’ve also looked at microwaveable PET to
compete with PP, but have not launched anything
yet. We’ve boiled water in it,” explains Ward. “This
would be for use up to 130 deg C and provide
improved barrier relative to PP and HIPS.”
Converting food customers (red meat producers, for example) away from the comfort zone of
trays made from polyethylene and APET/PE, with
their wide processing window, to better performing materials remains a challenge. But converting
them to ‘new-fangled’ concepts such as foamed
rPET is a challenge yet to gather momentum.
Holfeld illustrated its ability to produce
foamed rPET with a green tray, featuring a layer
of LDPE for sealing, which is used by a customer
in The Netherlands for pork. Europe, generally,
moved away from old forms of foam packaging to
avoid flange contamination.
“Foam answers environmental criteria but not
fully commercial perhaps, yet. We are continually
looking at ways to enhance the manufacturing
process,” admits Cullen.
And as if to swim against the increasing tide of
bioplastics fervour, Cullen says: “A polyolefin and
a polyester satisfy most requirements in packaging. Applications for bioplastics need to be looked
at closely to evaluate fully the advantages they
offer. These advantages need to be weighed
against the potential to contaminate current recycling streams.
“Holfeld has conducted preliminary investigations into a number of bioplastics without finding
a suitable application so far, due to problems with
mechanical performance and cost premium.”
However, the company is confident that plastics made using ‘green’ raw materials, such as the
PlantBottle, will have a promising future.
“PET from cellulose is a good bet for the future
because it does not use food crops,” says Ward.
In the meantime, Holfeld is coping with
volatile resin prices by using supply agreements
to build up the trading conditions to the point
where the company has quarterly or half yearly
reviews. The key, Holfeld says, is regular communication and to keep customers informed of major
changes coming down the track.
The company will be informing customers of
much more than just price changes in the coming
months if its R&D work is anything to go by.
More information from Holfeld Plastics, Avoca River Park, Arklow,
County Wicklow, Ireland. Tel: 353 402 41234. Fax: 353 402 32553.
Plastics in Packaging © 2012 Sayers Publishing Group • September