Camvac – Flexible Coating

Despite tumultuous times, Camvac is at the dawn of an exciting period of growth.

Camvac was established in the early 1950s as a manufacturer of vacuum coating equipment. In 1955, the firm moved to Thetford, Norfolk, a site that Camvac has worked from ever since. Over its life, the company has been owned by Rexam, Amcor and most recently, Grove Industries Ltd.

It has grown to become one of the world’s largest single-site metallisation vacuum coating and lamination companies. It places them in a unique market position. Some companies offer metallising or vacuum coating or lamination, but nobody offers all of these services together, in one location.

With 135 employees and a 24-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week shift pattern, Camvac remains an invaluable supplier to the liquid packaging, processed food, and live-in-film markets for fresh foods, as well as some industrial products.

“Each of those markets has different requirements, whether in the form of a barrier film that prevents oxygen or moisture exposure, or a barrier to give you very good resistance to thermal exposure,” explains Greg Kingham, Camvac’s CEO. “Within our metallising process, we have patented technology that allows us to treat the surface of the films that we process to whatever level we want in terms of achieving a specific barrier level. We are unique in that we can offer a bespoke solution depending on what the customer wants.”

Camvac’s treatments can be found on products ranging from box wines, a big business segment for the company, as well as specialty materials for cold storage, including a special barrier foil for vacuum-insulated panels that have become commonplace for passive transport.

“Where before you would have used a forty-foot container with a fridge unit, you can now pack a container insulated with these panels and it will hold the temperature for up to 10 days, at minus 20 degrees, with no requirement for topping up,” Kingham tells us. “From a sustainability perspective, it saves the need for fridge units on lorries.”

These panels have seen use in the transportation of Covid vaccines such as the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored below minus 89 degrees centigrade.

Ready for Every Eventuality

While there have been exciting new opportunities for Camvac and its products, there have also been challenges. The last year has been difficult for most businesses in the manufacturing sector, with the recovery from the Covid lockdown meeting a fall in raw materials availability.

“Business was starting up, but the pipeline of supply was empty within a few months of everyone going back to normal,” Kingham points out. “That had an impact on material prices and availability. We have seen that return to pre-covid levels but now energy prices are rising significantly, which is driving raw material prices for resources like resin, although I think polyethene has probably levelled out now. We are still seeing increases in specialist materials.”

None of these factors occurs in isolation, and Kingham points to the ways Covid has changed perceptions on other issues.

“Before Covid, we saw a lot of demand for green materials coming in and industrial materials, but when Covid hit most businesses stopped development of new films. But then everyone woke up to the fact that we need a proper green solution to recycle materials,” he observes. “We have seen a lot of interest and development in post-consumer recycling. The £200 a ton tax on plastic packaging came in, so one of the ways that we can help is to provide an end product with over 30% recycled material (Post-Consumer Recycled PCR) already in it, a like-for-like solution to our current lidding film, ExtraPET.”

ExtraPET is Camvac’s market-leading mono-material lidding film which is used primarily within the food and converter marketplace. The company services the global food packaging marketplace and ExtraPET can be found in supermarkets around the world due to its high gas barrier performance.

While Kingham is the first to admit that these are unpredictable times, and not every eventuality can be prepared for, he insists having a strong continuity plan in place can help a business adapt to the unexpected.

“Sometimes there are curve balls,” he says matter-of-factly. “It is about how quickly you can react to them. I think we have done that as a management team. We have been working closely together during Covid. We kept the site open with the senior management team always on-site, kept the business going, learning to be flexible in areas we had not thought we could before. It is about adapting to what is around you.”

As well as Covid, and volatile prices, Camvac also faced difficulty when a shipment of its raw materials, transported on the container ship Ever Green, got wedged in the Suez Canal.

“We had to find innovative ways to resource other materials to bridge the gap,” Kingham recalls. “Some of those alternatives proved successful and have been developed in their own right.”

As well as looking after its own business, however, Camvac has also responded to changing global events when there is an opportunity to help others.

“When trouble broke out in Ukraine one of our Warehouse Managers said, ‘Is there anything we can do to support these guys?’” Kingham says. “So, I said, ‘What can we do?’ and he suggested we sponsor a truckload of equipment to Ukraine.”

Camvac put the word out, and as part of the Thetford Business Forum, the company looked for donations to take to Ukraine.

“In a strange way, we became the hub for people bringing in donations in Thetford. The response from the local community was one of overwhelming generosity. We have the elder generation donating knitted jumpers and young children donating toys.” Kingham says. “We ended up needing three articulated truck loads and four or five transit van loads of medical equipment. It was a unique experience!”

A New Way of Working

Covid has not just affected the way businesses work, it has affected the way people themselves work.

“Working from home during lockdown caused people to look at their lifestyle and what they want to do,” Kingham points out. “That has attracted people into other roles. We have lost a few people from Camvac, and finding good quality people, with the right skill set, that is also a challenge. We are making progress. It has changed our outlook slightly on things, and we are looking proactively at future strategic recruitment strategies.”

This is why Camvac has recently brought on board a new, dedicated HR manager to help manage the growth of the business.

“We’ve used agencies but also done some advertising in the local community,” Kingham says. “Norfolk is a largely agricultural area, so being an engineering-based packaging company, it is sometimes not easy to get the skills you need. It takes a bit of looking.”

Camvac will need all the talent it can find, as Kingham has big plans for the company. It has recently invested approximately a million euros in a newly installed lamination line which will add 2,500 tons of extra capacity to Camvac’s factory. It is a bespoke line, specifically built for bag-in-box type applications. The new lamination line further strengthens Camvac position within the Bag-in-Box and bulk liquid packaging marketplace. The company’s thermal lamination range provides excellent seal strength, seal integrity and flexibility, which are key performance parameters in the packaging and transportation of liquids around the globe.

“We are very pleased with it so far. We can see that being a big growth area, with order right up to February 2023, even though we only started commissioning it in August,” Kingham says. “One of the other reasons we’ve invested in a new line was to relieve the capacity on our larger lamination line where we’re looking to do more specialised materials.”

Camvac has seen interesting developments around medical applications that can make use of its wide-width line to laminate substrates up to 2.25 metres wide.

It is all part of a long-term vision for growth and our ambition to double the size of the business in three years.

“When I took over in 2019 sales were at about £16.5 million. The next budget year we aim to have reached £32.5 million,” Kingham tells us. “We are on track to double the size of the business in the last three years, and I can see us having another record year this year.”

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