Closure on closures

Posted on 2 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

The demand for perfection is intrinsic within the alcoholic spirits industry. Everything from the taste to the appearance and functionality of the pack must be faultless. Tim Brown talks to Fiona Reith, Key Account Director at United Closures and Plastics, about providing drinks manufacturers with innovative design and value added products.

United Closures and Plastics (UCP) is part of the Global Closure Systems (GCS) group, which was formed nearly five years ago. UCP, however, has a much longer history as a provider of caps, or closures as they are referred to in the industry, to both the drinks and pharmaceutical industries. Based in Scotland, the company has been operating on the same site for 60 years and due to its longevity, UCP has constructed a very well respected brand name.

The company’s long history of closure manufacture has ensured it has developed robust working relationships with an array of different customers. Its capacity for satisfaction —regardless of a client’s size — is evident in the company’s order books, which encompass both local and regional brand owners as well as the global top ten drinks manufacturers such as Pernod Ricard, Bacardi and Diageo.

The company has a number of product specialisations, the primary of which is metal and plastics closures and incorporating tamper proofing mechanisms for use on alcohol spirit bottles. The secondary is PET bottles again for wines and spirits which, for example, would be found on a plane ,in a hotel room or increasingly in retail outlets.

Protecting the customer
The company’s current signature product is called a non-refillablepilfer proof closure (NRPP). It is an aluminium screw cap which features an added security feature or features to decrease the likelihood of a product being tampered with or counterfeited. “We are getting known for specialising in security closures,” says Reith, “which are a little bit more advanced than just simply an aluminium screw cap. These go on to products which are going to retail in sensitive markets such as China, India, Turkey or Mexico, where counterfeiting and refilling is prevalent.” UCP has developed solutions that minimise the risk to brands in a number of ways. The most obvious, and common, is a mechanism known as non-refillability which, exactly as the name suggests, prevents would-be brand pirates from refilling a product with an inferior alcohol. This is achieved through the use of a valve in the top of the bottle which prevents it from being easily refilled. “It can’t be prevented entirely, but we are able to make it difficult,” says Reith. “We consider that we are at the high end of that market and we make the most secure valve possible. That is our niche, if you like.” The company also incorporates other mechanisms to demonstrate authenticity, to both consumers and overseas sales representatives, and indicate whether a product has been compromised.

Tamper evidence features, are designed so that it is very clear if a product has been interfered with. The company can also incorporate a number of different authentication techniques to assist with this, and routinely uses anti-counterfeiting technologies used in currency production or computer software protection.

The production of the metal screw caps involves the printing of high grade aluminium sheet which is cut in to strips and then punched in to caps. If a premium finish is required, the caps can be decorated further and then have the security valve inserted before being ready for application. The valve and cap will then travel to the customer and be fitted on to bottles at a rate of up to 500 bottles per minute. Each closure is rolled on to the glass on the customers’ line so that rather than buying a screw cap which the thread already on it, the thread is created as it is fitted to the customer’s pack.

New developments
While the traditional NRPP design has proved very successful, and with customer tending to look for improved filling efficiency, UCP has developed a new product called Orchid. Instead of rolling the closure on to the bottle, the security closure is “snapped” on to the bottle.

Reith says that the new closure truly combines the company’s metal closure knowledge with its valve knowledge. “We have invested several million pounds in a brand new cell to make this closure and we’ve done that on the back of a project with Pernod Ricard. A certain amount of the capacity is therefore already committed to them, but the product is available to other customers as well. We invested in a number of injection moulding machines and tools to manufacture the plastic parts that make up the valve. We also invested in tooling to make up the metal shell piece and a impressive Italian assembly machine which puts all the parts together at high speed.”

The company started supplying initial launch quantities of the product in October, and feedback for the new closure has already proved very positive. “We delivered the project on time, within budget and we have a lot of interest from other drinks companies now,” says Reith. According to UCP research, increasingly drinks manufacturers prefer to use a design that snaps on to the glass because it is easier to apply at higher speeds. While the Orchid is a snap on closure, it is designed to also encompass UCP’s high-end valve differentiating it from other snap-on closure offerings.

“It is more efficient for the customers and still has a very secure valve on it. It also has an irreversible opening, so the tamper evidence is very high on it as well. There are a number of mechanisms and functions within the closure that demonstrate if it has been tampered with or if it has already been opened and the consumer would be able to see that.” UCP intends to further expand their position in the security closure market through the continued provision of high quality products, excellent service and continued design innovation with their global customer base.

Looking forward, the company is hoping to further enhance its production processes through efficiency improving measures while simultaneously decreasing their environmental impact. Exceeding customer expectations through this continued development is sure to impress meaning the future for UCP is sure to remain bright.