A Barnsley-based manufacturer is hoping to grab an extra slice of the packaging market after securing support from the South Yorkshire Business Productivity Programme to build a new lab facility.

Flexpak UK has used the match funded grant to help it pioneer an ultra-thin form of recyclable plastic film that is half the thickness of a human hair. The groundbreaking work will help to reduce the amount of plastic packing used to preserve the life of fresh produce, as well as preventing single-use plastics from being sent to landfill sites.

Responsible for manufacturing over 20 million bread bags each month, as well as supplying packaging to the catering and pharmaceutical industries, the Wombwell-based business recognised that the development of a thinner film could not only reduce the amount of plastic used in the manufacturing process but could also result in significant cost savings for its customers.

To bring the new product to market, Flexpak realised that it needed to upgrade key equipment within its testing facility, allowing the strength, friction and durability of the new film to be accurately analysed. However, it quickly realised that the outdated machinery and software the company relied upon could not produce the accurate test results the company needed.

Fearing that the company would miss out on a golden opportunity to grow, Flexpak approached the South Yorkshire Business Productivity Programme to help secure the vital funds to purchase the equipment needed to accurately assess the strength, durability and friction of the film, allowing the product to be seamlessly integrated into the manufacturing process.

Working with key account manager Paul Johnson, the company successfully secured a match funded grant, allowing the business to put its plans into practice.

As a direct result of the funds received, Flexpak has successfully pioneered a plastic film that is just 25 microns thick - the equivalent of a human skin cell. The film is capable of holding up to 10kg in weight and is already helping its customers to make significant cost savings.

Tom Rich, technical support manager, Flexpak UK said: “Developing a lab facility in Barnsley was central to our future growth plans. We’ve worked closely with Enterprising Barnsley for a number of years, and when we told Paul about our future plans, he advised us that our business may be eligible to receive help through the South Yorkshire Business Productivity Programme. We decided to apply, and the funding we’ve received has already made a significant impact upon our business.

The equipment we purchased will enable us to bring new products to market more quickly, whilst also helping us to have a positive impact on the environment. Without the help we’ve received from the Business Productivity Programme, it’s likely that it would have taken us several years to perfect the new range. As a direct result of the investment we’ve received, we’re hoping to see our workforce in Barnsley increase to 15 members of staff, as well as reducing the amount of plastic being used by as much as 20%.”

Paul Johnson, key account manager, Enterprising Barnsley said: “Innovation is the lifeblood of many businesses, and Flexpak realised that to bring its ultra-thin film range to market, it was essential to ensure that it could match the performance of existing products available. To achieve this, the accuracy of the testing results was vital.

The funds provided by the Business Productivity Programme will help Flexpak to bring its products to market more quickly. The lab facility will also help the business to continue undertaking vital research and development work in bringing new and innovative products to market in the future, showcasing to the world the truly innovative work that is being pioneered in Barnsley.”

The Business Productivity Programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and provides businesses with 50% grant funding up to a maximum of £12,499, and the other 50% must be provided by the business. The maximum project application is £24,999 and can include investment in new equipment or machinery and consultancy services to help them overcome barriers to growth. The scheme is delivered by Enterprising Barnsley, Business Sheffield, Business Doncaster and the Rotherham Investment and Development Office (RiDO).

Any business based in South Yorkshire wishing to find out more about the grant funding available through the Business Productivity Programme should contact the Enterprising Barnsley team via: https://www.enterprisingbarnsley.co.uk/business-productivity-grant/