Interview: MD of one of the UK’s leading plastic recycling firms

Posted on 10 Jan 2019 by The Manufacturer

Lincolnshire-based Luxus is the UK’s largest independently owned producer of prime and recycled polymers, serving markets including automotive, horticulture, packaging, and more. For the past 50 years, the business has continually invested in both cutting-edge technology and its team's capabilities to maintain its market leading position.

The new £1.5m compounding line at its manufacturing facility in Louth - image courtesy of Luxus.
The new £1.5m compounding line at its manufacturing facility in Louth – image courtesy of Luxus.

At the end of 2018, Luxus installed a new £1.5m compounding line at its plastic recycling facility in Louth.

Responsible for the manufacture of more than 45,000 tonnes of highly engineered thermoplastic compounds annually to both domestic and global markets, this new compounding line is expected to see the creation of an additional 10,000 tonnes a year.

This major strategic investment has been made in response to the ever-increasing demand from clients for faster processing time scales and greater output, especially in rapidly growing sectors such as returnable transit packaging and civil engineering, while still delivering the very highest quality technical compounds.

Since Luxus works with materials from increasingly complex waste streams to help meet clients’ zero landfill goals, the compounding line will help deliver material process improvements that include better de-volitisation through increased surface renewal and filtration to produce innovative sustainable polymers that are now much closer to prime.

The Manufacturer spoke to managing director, Peter Atterby, to learn more.

How has the way Luxus leverages data changed and how do you see that continuing to evolve in the future?

Peter Atterby: Big data is the key to the 21st century. The challenge as an SME is how to extract only the relevant information about our products and processes, as well as ensuring that our employees are equipped with the necessary skillset to use this information in smarter ways.

Like most manufacturers, Luxus has the appetite for customer insights and the competitive advantage it can deliver, but there is a real danger of collecting far more information that we can realistically use. To help prevent data overload, we ensure that the analytics we capture are always meaningful in terms of what we do by using five key indicators.

Peter Atterby, managing director, Luxus.
Peter Atterby, managing director, Luxus.

We have also begun the process of how to rethink as managers, to help ensure that we get a better understanding of what is required, so we can effectively ‘drill down’ to help make the right strategic decisions for our business as there remains a lot of untapped data.

New technical developments such as artificial Intelligence (AI) and the machine learning capabilities it provides offer a multitude of capabilities which we are only just beginning to explore. We have projects underway covering machine learning for quality control purposes and improved polymer compound formulations to enable us to stay ahead of our competitors.

As for the future, AI has the potential to impact on everything from improvements in the products we deliver to how we can more effectively manage our wider supply chain.

What do exports mean to the business?

Exporting has long been an essential part of our business strategy, representing around 50% of our total revenue. Luxus has always benefitted from a strong presence in mainland Europe with a client base that includes global automotive brands, major name manufacturers of household goods and large retail logistics providers.

Having a presence in large international groups such as these helps ensure that we are able to maximise new market opportunities.

Eastern Europe provides strong potential for new growth, it already offers some of the most modern and productive plants for car manufacture in Europe. Luxus client, Jaguar Land Rover, has recently opened a new manufacturing plant in Slovenia. This is proof enough that the market is beginning to change, particularly as labour costs remain competitive.

Your orders have been steadily increasing for some time; what is driving this rise in demand?

Orders have continued to increase – particularly for the development of polymer formulations for progressively high-end colour specifications – as we are a knowledge-based technical plastics compounder with an emphasis on sustainability. By utilising recycled polymer and special additives, we are able to offer manufacturers environmentally positive polymer compounds as an alternative to virgin, since plastics has come increasingly ‘under attack’ over the past 12 months.

Dyed plastic granulate plastic recycling - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Luxus works with materials from increasingly complex waste streams to help meet clients’ zero landfill goals – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The result of all this attention is that consumer pressures have never been greater, so manufacturers are increasingly responding by putting eco-considerations first when specifying materials for a multitude of applications.

They are keen to explore sustainable alternatives able to deliver the same lightweight, yet robust and long-life performance – all at a cost competitive price.

Our excellent track record for reliability, quality and consistency in the delivery of high performance polymers provides clients with all the assurance they need to switch to a more sustainable product.

Given the current domestic and international uncertainty, what do you see the key growth opportunities, and where do the threats lie?

Luxus will be looking towards its unrivalled expertise in the development of advanced thermoplastic compounds and new partnerships to provide the opportunities for future growth.

Current developments that are underway include:  enhanced scratch-resistant and lightweight polymers; odour reduction in recycled plastics; ‘cool’ plastics to impart heat reduction benefits to polymer roof tiles for warmer climates and V10 fire resistance following the Grenfell fire.

The UK is well known for its innovation, engineering design expertise and advanced materials development which will help to secure the nation’s long-term economic growth post-Brexit.

As for threats, this continued uncertainty is disruptive to industry and the creation of a stable economy; what we need is more certainty. This is difficult as there are no answers to be found either in global markets outside Europe, with America increasingly protectionist and China placing high import taxes on products, providing a lead that emerging economies will no doubt replicate.

What excites you most about the future of UK manufacturing?

UK manufacturing is embracing change at a rapid rate, it is only our imagination now that is restricting what happens next. Autonomous driving and artificial intelligence for example, are set to have a radical impact on automotive interior design in the coming years.

autonomous vehicles self-driving vehicle connected cars - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Driverless and autonomous cars are just around the corner – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Driverless and autonomous cars are just around the corner, presenting new challenges for the cabin as we become passengers rather than drivers.

Furthermore, the attitudes we adopt to car ownership are likely to change thanks to a millennial mindset of ‘co-operate and share’ and how they think and interpret things so that ride-sharing is the new norm.

This means that UK manufacturing needs to find new approaches, even looking beyond big data itself, since this leads to better decision-making and will ensure that the industry is equipped to respond to emerging trends.