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OPM invests with Martin Automatic to refine productivity

When one of the UK’s leading exponents of narrow web technology endorses a manufacturer’s design and engineering skills, the market needs to take notice, especially when he is the current President of FINAT.

For Chris Ellison, who co-owns OPM with his wife Susan, the only thing that matters is quality. It’s a common thread that runs through the entire company from people to technology, and from customer service to end-product. It is a mantra, which has served the company very well indeed. Established 40 years ago as an engineering concern, the Ellison’s acquired the business in 1988 and began to print plain and self-adhesive labels. Then, in 1999, they added filmic substrates, laminates, and multi-layer flexible packaging production to the OPM portfolio. In 2013, the company moved to its present 56,000 sq. ft. site in Leeds, since which time it has invested more than £5m in new technology. Today, the OPM Group employs 75 staff and will enjoy a sales turnover of almost £19m in 2018.

“Our focus is on added-value narrow to mid-web complex products supplied to niche markets – it’s a long-term strategy, and we gear our production capability accordingly,” he explained. Printing is carried out on a variety of Nilpeter and MPS presses and the production process includes automated MIS and pre-press systems, and 100% inspection of finished product. A broad portfolio of self-adhesive labels and flexible packaging is now delivered to more than 700 customers worldwide in sectors ranging from pharmaceutical, health, and beauty, home care, automotive, beverage, and food.

All OPM products are produced to ISO 9001:2015, BRC/IoP Global Standard Food Packaging Standards Grade AA, and PS9000:2016, and with food-safe low migration inks.

“We set high standards in all we do here, and that includes the training and development of our people, who are, after all, our greatest asset,” he explained, commenting that today’s market and technology require different skills from the emerging generation of workers. This was the reason OPM instigated its own in-house training programme in 2012. The quality of OPM staff has given Chris and Sue Ellison the confidence to allow key staff to lead, make decisions and manage the day to day running of the business effectively. “There is always a temptation to micro-manage,” she said, “but if you empower the people to run the business within budget, they feel and act as if it’s their own – this allows Chris and me to focus on the future strategy of OPM, driving technical innovation and direction of sales.”

The range of products manufactured at OPM is indicative of the company’s technical capability. They include multi-ply peel and reveal, peel and reseal labels, security, tamper evident, Braille, and tactile labels. In addition to printing multi colours, decorative features including scenting, glow in the dark, screen printing, cold and hot foiling, embossing and holograms are a selection of the added value techniques on offer. OPM’s flexible products include flow wraps, wet wipe wraps, high barrier laminations, lidding films, blister foils, pouches, and laminated sachets, all manufactured to exacting standards.

It was into this highly critical production environment that Martin Automatic was first asked to supply unwind and rewind technology back in 2016. Following discussions with other converters, who rated the operational ease and reliability of Martin technology in everyday production, Chris Ellison and his Technical Manager Jamie Hyde decided to work with the American manufacturer.

The cooperation was first class from day one, according to Hyde: “We were impressed that Martin listened carefully to what we were trying to achieve and came up with layout options and clear solutions. Then, we were left to make up our own minds, with the reassurance that Martin people were always available for consultation, and were clearly very knowledgeable.” Also receiving praise, was the way in which Martin technicians engaged with OPM’s operators to ensure they were completely onboard with the technology.

“We see Martin as the go-to supplier in this market now. Their design philosophy is simplicity and efficiency, and they’ve supported us throughout – it’s given our people a real sense of security,” said Ellison. The initial order for Martin equipment was two MBSF automatic unwind butt splicers (the ‘F’ stands for Film), and an LRD turret rewinders, fitted to one of OPM’s Nilpeter presses. One of the MBSF units is installed at right-angles to the press line to feed the second web. According to Jamie Hyde, there was an immediate improvement in productivity of around 25%, and the Martin equipment has made life far easier for the operators to the extent that he is under pressure from those who work the presses not fitted with Martin kit! “It’s the time it buys you to do other tasks - that’s a real hidden benefit,” he added, alluding to the ‘set and forget’ reliability that it offers.

Chris Ellison added: “We have a policy here of clarity and freedom of communication, and like to achieve that with our suppliers. Some appear to complicate matters unnecessarily – Martin Automatic doesn’t. We need consistency and reliability to serve our customers, and that’s exactly what they and their technology provide – no more, no less!” Based on the performance of the first package of Martin machinery, OPM has since installed a third MBS and a second LRD. OPM’s first MLS, Martin’s non-stop, compact unit for continuous full-speed unwinding of laminate and foil rolls, has been mounted on Nilpeter’s rail system. And in March 2018, another order was confirmed for two further MBS unwind splicers and another LRD. These are due for installation in summer 2018.

Currently producing around 34 million linear metres of material per annum, and with a current plant capacity of over 52 million, efficiency is key at all stages of production and requiring of continuous investment. Whether this is training, via its in-house Academy, the commitment to Lean Automated Manufacturing with TQM for zero-defect production, or the consistency of control over all aspects of the business, OPM has largely defined itself as a model company – and not just within the narrow web sector of print.

The way in which it has custom integrated the processes from job estimating through to shipping and fulfillment is testimony to its working relationship with, among others, Esko, AVT, Ultimate solutions, GMG Colour Management, and GSE Ink Dispensing. By harnessing the power of these diverse technologies into one potent force, OPM can be creative, innovative, and competitive.

Another of its proud initiatives is its ‘Zero Labels 2 Landfill’ scheme, which was recognised by the BPIF, and involved a close working relationship with Prismm Environmental Services. By auditing the system, processes and waste streams, and introducing a combination of segregation and onsite re-cycling technology, OPM has diverted waste from landfill. As Chris Ellison commented: “We take our green responsibility very seriously and are proud to assure our customers that their labels are produced with as little impact on the environment as possible.”

It’s all part of the company’s approach to preparing for the future. With today’s printing industry being so competitive, the value of training and skill development cannot be overstated. “We are constantly looking for new technology that will allow us to be innovative. This means working closely with our suppliers to find new and flexible solutions, and we value Martin Automatic’s input as a route to improving efficiency – it’s always good to work with market leading professionals. Martin’s automation has enhanced our business agility, creating efficiencies that save time freeing us to innovate, automate and grow our business,” explained Ellison.

Responding for Martin Automatic, Area Sales Manager for the UK and Ireland, Chris Chappel, commented: “We are obviously delighted to continue this successful partnership, and look forward to working with and supporting OPM with their long-term growth plans.”