Celebrating 20 years of UK manufacturing

It’s 20 years since Automated Packaging Systems opened its first purpose built non-US manufacturing site here in Malvern, Worcestershire.   We asked Managing Director Peter Wylie why today, fifty years after the first Autobag bagging machine sold in the US, the UK remains central to the company’s growth and success.

Malvern Plastics Warehouse storage facility housing rolls of plastic bags “At its heart, Automated Packaging Systems is a people business; our success, and many of our best business decisions, stem from a determination to protect and grow the talent in our business.

“When we took the decision to begin in-house extrusion and printing in Europe, the number one goal was to find a location within easy reach of our team, then based in Tewksbury. The bare-earth site at Malvern offered a great commercial proposition.  We broke earth here in May ’96.   Our American founders, Hershey and Bernie Lerner, and our first Autobag sales representative Art Gould, came over for the ceremony.  To this day Bernie remains surprised that we broke ground using the shovel that still hangs by the back door of the factory; in the US, explosives are the preferred option!

30 foot cooling bubble to cool the plastic bags in the extrusion process “It wasn’t long before production was up and running.   By the end of 1996 the conversion machines had been moved across from the old Tewksbury facility, and new extrusion systems installed.

“Sir Michael Spicer MP joined us for the official opening ceremony in March 1997, and less than 12 months later we had our first printing press installed.  From there on, our business has gone from strength to strength.   We’ve maintained steady growth and introduced a host of new products and technologies, including a range of sustainable films.

 “Our business performance has been impressive.  In the past 12 years we’ve more than doubled total net sales, and we’ve done that against a backdrop of challenging regulatory change, and increasing pressure on environmental performance.  In the past 5 years we’ve made further significant strides on the green front, to lead the way in our sector.   We’ve significantly reduced our own environmental footprint, and that of our products, in part through a major initiative to reduce scrap.  In doing so we’ve advanced our technical and quality processes, that have proved as important for our customers as they have for us.

“Amidst all this growth and change, however, the basic Autobag proposition hasn’t changed.  We make and support bagging and packing systems that are, at their heart, as simple, reliable and efficient as it’s possible for them to be.  And we do it with the most experienced, loyal and well qualified team possible.

“We’re unbelievably proud of our people, and of our long service and record low staff turnover.   It’s not actually that unusual to have 20+ years’ service here; a number of us have more than 30 years under our belts.     At the same time, growth has enabled us to bring new young talent into the business over the years.   Their skills have led to continuous improvements and helped us get to grips with some major logistics and technology challenges.

Automated Packaging Custom Printed Bags being spun on to a roll in the final stages of the creation process“Looking ahead; 20 years after we moved here to Malvern, I’m as confident now about the future as I was then.   Whatever Brexit brings, we’ll find a way to thrive.  Our business is fundamentally very secure, and thanks to the great team we have, it’ll be in safe hands long after my tenure.

“The opportunities for growth remain vast.   Our work with food, mail order fulfillment and medical devices is in its infancy, and is very exciting.   But there are challenges too; many beyond our direct control.   Interest in environmentally-sensitive solutions, compostable films, for example, is strong.  But without nationwide investment in waste management, it’s a sad reality that green packaging could easily end up in landfill.  More work is needed, and we’ll certainly be doing our part to find solutions to these long term challenges.


Automated Packaging Systems Timeline infographic

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