Reaching out to new markets

The development of even safer roll handling systems has been assisted by the growth of packaging plants in developing countries, according to Stephen Weston, inventor, designer and managing director of Weston Handling Consultancy

The globalisation of the world’s packaging, printing and converting industries is well documented with UK & European SME type companies now following the lead of the multi-national packaging giants and setting up production facilities in the expanding economies of South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle & Far East and Asia.

In the 1970s and 80s when multi-nationals dipped their toes into low cost manufacturing in Asian & SE Asian countries, they often kept profitability up and manufacturing costs down by using old machinery in inadequate factories and ‘sweatshop’ conditions. However, today’s expansion is characterised by socially responsible companies setting up state-ofthe- art plants that operate under strict internationally recognised health and welfare guidelines that benefit both the company and the local economy.

As a result, manual handling has become a significant issue and roll handling in particular poses many problems not least because of the enormous variety of rolls that need handling in many industries.

Despite this, roll or reel handling is an area that few materials handling companies specialise in, despite the fact that it is one of the biggest niche markets in the world.

Dramatic change

When I first started visiting paper mills around the world in the late 1980s I worked in plants from the jungles of SE Asia to the shanty towns of South Africa where health and safety was not a priority. However, within five years of traveling in the region, I noticed a dramatic change. With heavy investment in modern plant and factories that could outperform and dramatically out price our home produced products came well educated indigenous staff that embraced the best practices of the industry.

That shift has continued and today, clean, modern and safe plants are springing up all over the world with the health and welfare of the workforce of paramount importance to all responsible manufacturers. This has led to a rapid reassessment of reel handling requirements which the materials handling industry has been slow to react to. The sheer scale of reel handling applications is huge. If you look around you, virtually every item of flexible material – paper, cardboard or plastic film – is manufactured and wound into reels and subsequently handled in reel form at many stages in its life cycle.

Because of the nature of large, heavy reels produced for example in paper mills and the small weight and dimensions of line-end rolls, for example on bottle labeling lines, the handling of the biggest and smallest reels are already catered for, either by heavy plant or manually with the assistance of trolleys and tables. However, considering the vast number of applications requiring the unwinding and winding of reels, to slit them and rewind them into smaller reels to print on them, laminate, die-cut, hot press, (into trays), convert them into bags, cartons and wallpaper – we can see just how varied the reel handling market is and yet how small the choice of handling equipment is.

Materials handling companies typically fall into one of two broad categories: heavy crane lifting or light stacker truck. Attachments for handling rolls are typically variations of lifting equipment used in other applications. However, they tend to be specialists in lifting equipment rather than in conversion plant.

Interactive solutions

Our strengths have been in designing equipment to interact with the plant – not just handle the lifting job. For example, unloading a set of rolls from one slitter and palletising them could include five or six steps (unloading, lifting, turning, wrapping, palletising and stacking) with for example, variations in reel and pallet sizes, floor plans, lift heights and height restrictions.

What we introduced into our RaSHCo reel handling and shaft-handling designs was a holistic approach with the concept of designing reel turners that interact with reel lifters as well as plant and operators.

Growing export market

With almost 90% of enquiries now coming from overseas for our RaSHCo reel handling designs, a commitment to these markets through local representation is the focus for our future strategy. With orders and enquiries coming from companies in Poland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine, we have appointed a new distributor in Poland to cover the Baltic states.

Similarly, we are currently working with the UK Trade & Investment team and talking to two US companies about distributorships and joint venture manufacturing in the Americas to handle orders and enquiries from this region.

Weston Handling Consultancy

T: +44 (0)161 705 2444