Tin men become MASTERS

Tinmasters recently announced the acquisition of Afon Tinplate. Alex Fordham visits Tinmasters’ headquarters in Caldicot, UK, to find out the implications of the purchase and the reasons behind the company’s rebranding

Tinmasters (previously Caldicot Metal Decorating) have been actively turning away work during the past three years, due to operating at its full capacity. This presented Tinmasters CEO Richard O’Neill with a dilemma; be satisfied with its current turnover, or make a series of investments to increase growth and modernise the company.

“In 2016 we started looking at a potential growth strategy, as up to that point for three or four years we have been at capacity turning away work,” explains O’Neill. “We therefore decided to make a number of investments. We first decided to upgrade one of our four-colour Crabtree print lines to get more capacity, and we also upgraded our UV dryers on our print lines. The new GEW dryers have reduced energy consumption by over 40 per cent.

“We then decided to purchase a six-colour printing press from Koenig & Bauer, the MetalStar 3.”

The investment, says O’Neill, is €6 million, which includes investment in the print line and building works. “We did it because we saw growth in infant formula where there are bigger print runs and high speed, but also in the general print market with short runs.

“In 2017 we decided to purchase the MetalStar 3, and the press was finally installed in January 2018 after delivery in October, thanks to financial backing from Santander. Santander have been very positive with everything we’ve done and helped us refinance when we bought the new line.”

The MetalStar3 has a number of state-of-the-art features, including reportedly being the world’s most stable fast acting inking system and the highest production speed. It has a fully automatic pallet changer, a SIS Sensoric Infeed System and triple stackers.

This technology in the MetalStar3 helps speeds up production and boosts productivity. When it comes to printing, it’s not just production speeds that count as each job requires preparation time on the press. The MetalStar 3 has automated many of the preparation tasks. For example, it has fully automatic plate changing, automatic wash up, pre-setting ink zones and automated registration, all of which helps makes small orders more cost effective.

Becoming a brand  

As well as putting in a new print line, the company sought to look at other areas of the firm that sought improvement. This led to a complete overhaul of the company branding and website.

“When looking at improving our website, we realised we should perhaps look at a stronger brand name too,” says O’Neill. “In a workshop our staff said locally everyone in town still calls us the Tin Works, which relates to the company’s history. There is even a work golf society group called ‘The Tin Men’.

“From those sessions, what came out of them was the proud history of the place, and the pride of providing the best service available; hence putting tin and masters together. It led to changing the name and rebranding to be more focused on what we were doing.”

The company itself has a rich history and the site in Caldicot dates back to the middle of the industrial revolution, when a railway line was installed adjacent to the factory, and cottages were built in 1880. A wire works was originally at the site, but then this changed over to a tinplate works, and in 1909 began printing onto metal. Metal boxes were also made, and then cans, but at the end of the Second World War the focus was predominantly on printing and coating.

For O’Neill, a strong heritage story alongside an impressive emphasis on quality, ensures the company stacks up well against anyone on the market.

“We do have an emphasis on quality,” O’Neill explains. “Looking at 40 years of infant formula, it has certainly become more technically complex. The number of colours have gone up from six to our average of 9.6. There have been more use of specialist inks and varnishes, and it’s becoming a lot like the whisky tin business.

“Due to the high compliance standards involved in the infant formula business, there is exceptionally high  diligence that is needed. Labels change regularly in the infant formula market so stock has to be actively managed and it isn’t possible to print too far in advance. For one of our customers we supply a small amount of work within 24 hours, and we supply 10 per cent within five days.”

In addition to the company’s investment via new equipment and rebranding, Tinmasters recently announced that it acquired Afon Tinplate, with a view to both operating under the ‘Tinmasters’ brand. Based only 60 miles from Caldicot in Swansea, South Wales, Afon also has a rich heritage in can making, having been operating since 1923.

“In December 2017 we learnt that Afon Tinplate was for sale,” explains O’Neill. “It was our closest competitor in the UK and located close to Caldicot, so it was attractive for us.

“Our new print line gave us additional capacity, the next stage was looking at adding physical space and coating capacity. Afon offered us the chance to further strengthen and expand our metal printing and coating service across a wide range of high profile companies.

Afon’s customer portfolio includes Kraft Heinz, Associated British Foods and Tate & Lyle Sugars, but equally importantly, the labour force is extremely skilled, and they are a good group of employees who are customer focused.”

Before joining Tinmasters, O’Neill has worked for a variety of companies including Crown, Tata Steel and Corus Packaging Plus. He has also acted as chairman of the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) since 2016. As a result, he’s experienced a number of acquisitions and appreciates the challenges involved. “Culture is often an issue with acquisitions, so in that regard Afon was a good fit for us,” O’Neill says. “We’re both print businesses with a similar culture and a good understanding of each other’s business. We’re both strong on quality and so we don’t feel we’re two radically different businesses.

“Swansea (Afon) is well configured for the general line UK print market, where the coating to print capacity is very good for up to six colour work. The Caldicot site has a lot of print capacity and is well suited to printing jobs with upwards of eight colours so its main focus will continue to be on infant formula and speciality packaging. It means we’ll be able to strike a nice balance.”

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