Millions more bottles on way from Nampak where their glass is very much half full
The Nampak factory in Foston produces 120 million milk bottles each year and is nearing the end of a £5m investment plan at the site. Oliver Astley reports.
YOU might not know the name but you have certainly purchased their products.
The Nampak factory, in Foston, produces plastic milk bottles for major dairies and their bottles find their way into countless supermarkets.
A total of 120 million plastic bottles a year are manufactured on the site at the Dove Valley Industrial Park, a figure that is set to jump in the next few months.
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The business is coming to the climax of a £5 million investment programme that will see it up production by 30 million bottles a year as a result of a long-term supply deal with Dairy Crest. For reasons that remain obscure, this is known as Project Puffer Fish.
Nampak is preparing to install three new production lines and it is in the midst of a recruitment programme that will see it increase its workforce by a third.
What it produces is an everyday product but one that offers low margins and so the business has to work hard to achieve as many efficiencies as possible to remain competitive and profitable.
Milk bottles are bulky and so there is no economic advantage to be had in producing them overseas where labour is cheaper because shipping them back to the UK would increase costs massively.
Approximately 30 people between them produce those 120 million bottles in Foston and the firm estimates that, with another 10 people, it would be able to make another 30 million each year at the factory. Each bottle brings in around 5p for the manufacturer.
Eric Collins, managing director of Nampak Plastics Europe, said: "The programme is a complete redevelopment and is about three-quarters finished.
"Four of the seven machines are in place already and the other three will be in place over the summer.
"When the system is working then the bottles will go straight to Dairy Crest without the need to bag them up."
The company is involved in a number of waste-reduction and recycling measures.
Mr Collins said: "Currently, 15% of the material we use in our bottles is recycled but we are looking to increase that to 30% by 2015 as part of a commitment that a lot of retailers signed up to.
"We are also working on producing lighter milk bottles."
The company has launched a four-pint milk bottle that weighs a fifth less than its predecessor, saving a total of 8g per bottle.
The idea of having a bottle manufacturer next door to large dairy firms makes both economic and environmental sense. In the old days, everything was trucked into dairies from factories but nowadays best practice is considered to be the formation of an alliance between manufacturers and dairies, and most of Nampak's nine UK sites operate in this way.
Mr Collins said: "You would have lorries coming all day which is an inefficient way of doing things so it is much better to have bottles going directly to be filled.
"Ultimately, our product is one that consumers don't want, they only want what the bottle contains so we have to be an efficient, effective and low-cost operation."
One of the ways they have achieved this is by redesigning the bottle to put the handle at the corner rather than at the side – this is how you can tell whether or not you have a high-end milk bottle in your fridge.
Plastic milk bottles are made from high-density polyethylene. It is one of Mr Collins's most important roles as managing director to get the best price for the polymer that is the raw material from which Nampak's bottles are made.
The material is made from oil or gas from which ethylene gas can be derived.
Gas molecules link together producing polyethylene which is cooled, drawn into strips and cut to produce pellets. It is these pellets that find their way to Foston and are fed into the factory from its silos.
They are melted then squeezed into a hot plastic sausage before being moulded into shape and then cooled quickly.
Plant manager Carl Jones, who is responsible for the redevelopment of the factory, said: "Afterwards, they move along a screw and the tops and bottoms are trimmed. In the old days you would take a sample of bottles and test them but now we test every bottle for leaks or defects.
"The machinery uses an air differentiator that can detect holes as small as 0.03mm
"Then there is a vision system inspection that will pick up any contaminants that could include a mark on the bottle or a speck of the raw material and it checks the dimensions of each bottle. We don't produce the caps so each bottle has to be produced to very tight specifications."
Those bottles that are rejected are melted down and recycled, and packaging waste is sold for recycling.
At the moment, a lot of the bottles produced are bagged up for storage for when Dairy Crest needs them but this is soon to change. The packing operation will be scaled down once the link between the Nampak factory and Dairy Crest is completed.
It is a big project from a company in Derbyshire that has a lot of bottle and will do long into the future.