Charting a course for corrugation

Despite the challenges presented by 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic, Atlas Packaging, one of the UK’s largest independent packaging firms, continues to thrive against the odds

Just like the Titan from Greek mythology with whom the company shares a name, Atlas Packaging has become famous for its formidable strength and endurance.

Atlas 1Established as a small box manufacturer in 1983 by current Chairman Adrian Gamble, the firm has fought its way to the top of a crowded industry and is regarded today as one of the UK’s largest and most comprehensive packaging businesses.

Already benefitting from a state-of-the-art production facility and award-winning, in-house structural graphic design teams, Atlas continues to invest in new equipment, machinery, and site extensions. Among the company’s key investments in recent years has been the purchase of a new warehouse capable of holding up to 4000 pallets dependent on configuration, complete with clean, dry areas to store Atlas’ finished goods.

“One of the areas we are focusing on at the moment is technology,” explains the company’s Sales Director Mark Leverton. “Technology is moving all the time, certainly from a print Ltdperspective, and the demands for improvement are ever-changing. Not a week goes by when we’re not working closely with our suppliers on plates, inks, or machinery, to try and get ourselves an extra couple of percentage points. Whether it be new blades to go on the die cutting tool, slight improvements to printing plates, or different elements to our inks, all these things can improve your offering, so we must keep learning and adapting.

“In the last few months, we’ve introduced our own buying site,” Mark adds. “We created some delivery trays, so now people can buy trays from stock and have them delivered next day, whether it be business to business, or business to consumer. We are now looking for more and more creativity in terms of packaging for horticulture and breweries. Ecommerce is another market where people are looking for clever designs, both from a branding perspective and as part of the assembly and time element that goes into that.”

Modern manufacturer
Offering one of the industry’s broadest product ranges, Atlas’ scalable operation serves small startups, all the way through to major household brands. Consequently, the company’s North Devon headquarters boasts a large design studio staffed by experienced structural and graphical design teams. This advanced design setup is supported by machinery with the flexibility to produce a variety of box sizes, from very small boxes to large format boxes several meters long.

“If you are a startup business, you can come to Atlas with an idea or concept and we can take it from a scribble on a piece of paper - because typically businesses don’t have the resources to involve a design agency or marketing team - and bring the idea or concept to life,” Mark says. “Our history has shown we have supplied and continue to supply large wraps for flat pack furniture along with industrial packaging, using machinery typically of a larger size and format. In recent years, we turned our attention to products such as food and drink. Food and drink lends itself to much smaller format boxes, hence why we’ve got the ability to do small to large. We’re into pharmaceutical products too and all in all, there aren’t really too many markets that we don’t have some sort of involvement in.

“As I mentioned, retail is a big part of our customer base and along with food and drink, we cover horticulture and a variety of ecommerce areas such as packaging for the delivery of flowers from supermarkets. Ecommerce has been coming through stronger and stronger over recent years and virtual stores that can deliver to someone’s home are growing in demand. We’ve adapted our range accordingly and can offer functional plain brown boxes, as well as more decorative Atlas 2packaging for strong brands who want something to reflect their products.”

As a modern corrugated manufacturer, Atlas offers reusable packaging to support worldwide sustainability efforts. The firm has also recently implemented environmental standard ISO14001 within the organization and is conscious of the highly impactful role it can play in supporting the wider green agenda across the coming decade.

“It is not only about following best practices, but also about changing culturally, from the top to the bottom, in terms of encouraging people to be more aware of what we use and the wastage that goes with it,” Mark states. “Anything that comes as a waste element within our business is monitored, managed, and if it is not deemed sustainable, we will look to eradicate it. For example, we use water-based flexographic ink, the corrugated board we use is 100 per cent recyclable, and around 80 to 85 per cent of what we produce comes from recycled papers, so it can all be reused. Even our supply chain is becoming more efficient in terms of corrugated board and its manufacture, and any byproducts used throughout the whole process are reused. There are still one or two areas that we are working on, but we are very, very close to having a totally closed loop system.”

In a year when companies across the world have been forced to furlough staff or make employees redundant, Atlas has bucked the dominant trend and increased the size of its workforce. A surge in demand in the ecommerce retail sector during the pandemic outweighed the negative impacts of the virus felt by Atlas and, as a result, the firm continued with recruitment.

“We had to respond to the needs of our clients and we worked extremely closely with them to maximize and maintain that demand, including the addition of new members of staff to support that need,” Mark reports. “Rather than just bring people in on short-term contracts or via an agency, we tried to recruit staff we can invest in and develop through the long-term. That is our recruitment strategy; we’d rather bring good people in and develop their knowledge and retain that knowledge.”

Resilient workforce
Though strong communication and strict adherence to government guidance have helped Atlas make it through the majority of 2020 without incident, Mark is keen to highlight the resilience and professionalism of the company’s workforce.

“Ultimately, our people have bought in to everything we’ve asked, and as things are beginning to settle down, we are really able to appreciate that,” Mark asserts. “Our workforce had a big part to play and continue to have a big part to play Atlas 3now. We are an independent business and we compete in a marketplace heavily dominated by big multinational, sizable outfits. We can’t always compete commercially, but we differentiate ourselves through clever designs and the good set of people around us, whether it be designers that become personable to our customer base and understand their needs, or the well-trained, close-knit team on our shop floor.

Positive impact
“Our appreciation of, and reliance on, good people extends beyond our own workforce and out to our fantastic group of customers and suppliers. They’ve all been really supportive, willing to embrace our ideas, and change with us. Unless you’ve got a front to back scenario, these are unpredictable times, but we are really fortunate to have people and businesses who appreciate what we do and we will hopefully continue to reward them and reap the mutual benefits.”

As summer draws to a close, Mark and his team are feeling positive about the future. With Quarter Four traditionally a busy period in the packaging industry, all signs suggest that Atlas is in a strong position to finish 2020 with a flourish.

“We’ve installed a couple of new machines during the pandemic and if we can continue to see a positive impact from our customer base, and in the wider economy, we are confident that Atlas can get back to expanding,” Mark declares. “Of course, the growth will need to be organic and we look forward to working with our existing customers, as well as securing work with new businesses. In this current marketplace, having a strong brand is more critical than ever and so we’ll be working on creating greater print for brands, whether it be one color or six colors. Also, on the ecommerce side of things, we’ll be looking at new ways to improve our offering because that demand is only going to grow.”

Atlas Packaging Ltd
Products: Corrugated cardboard packaging

Brightening up the skies

Operating from eleven sites across the world, International Aerospace Coatings continues to invest in technology and equipment that helps to solidify its place as a globally recognized industry leader

Aspecialist in aircraft painting, interiors, and graphics, International Aerospace Coatings (IAC) is the largest aerospace coating company in the world. From its state-of-the-art facilities across Europe and the USA, IAC has capacity for 36 lines IAC 1of aircraft, and processes more than 1000 paint events each year. Working across all segments of the aviation industry, including OEM, commercial, military, and general aviation, the company is renowned for its utilization of the very latest in modern aircraft painting techniques and equipment.

“IAC is one of the leading companies in the world specialized in aircraft painting,” the company’s Group Business Development Manager Angelo Lacorte explains. “We benefit from a widespread market penetration system which, through a considerable number of facilities, allows the company to satisfy customer requests in terms of slot availability, competitive prices, and high-quality service. Furthermore, our sister company, Eirtech Aviation Services, completes our portfolio by offering a series of ancillary services ranging from livery design to engineering support, ensuring that the final customer can find in IAC a partner, rather than a simple supplier.”

As well as US Headquarters in Irvine, California, and European Headquarters in Shannon, Ireland, IAC’s global footprint now boasts eight wide-body hangars that offer a diverse range of capabilities depending upon the job required or vehicle in question. Most recently, IAC completed the construction of a new hangar at Shannon Airport, which boasts the most modern technological solutions on a technical, structural, and environmental level. The hangar, among the largest in the world, is targeted at aircraft such as the Airbus A380. From single aircraft from small regional airlines to fleet rebrands for major carriers and VIP finishes for business jets, IAC is well-equipped to provide the best solution for the client.

“Through collaboration with leading manufacturers of painting products and industry-specific equipment, IAC is regularly updated with the newest technologies and constantly expands its equipment stock to guarantee the use of latest generation products,” Angelo reveals. “Investments are oriented towards new operating technologies and are always analyzed and evaluated in conjunction with the producers of paint, sealant, and stripper materials in order to guarantee a quality product aimed at customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the company invests in certifications and adaptation to the most stringent quality system standards so that even the internal control system can guarantee continuous improvement.”

As well as employing technology for the benefit of its customers, IAC frequently looks for technological innovations that help to protect the health of its workers. The focus on employee safeguarding is nothing new to IAC, a firm that has always considered its workforce to be a fundamental resource in the implementation of the company’s services.

“At all levels, IAC staff are part of a larger family without territorial distances,” Angelo says. “Regular meetings, calls, and training sessions allow the dissemination of knowledge across all sites and the exchange of information guarantees IAC 2customers the same treatment on each site. Our workforce is highly motivated, as is management, and we believe that the achievement of objectives is only possible when an organization operates as a chain in which each link has an important function.”

Highest standards
Due to the nature of the company’s work – applying aircraft coatings and graphics is a highly skilled and manual activity – IAC’s workforce is led through a comprehensive training program that complies with the latest regulations for the aeronautical field. Not solely limited to the application of products, the training regime extends to a series of behavioral elements and human factors, as well as more technical, aircraft-specific topics.

“Obviously, as an integral part of the aeronautical maintenance process, the kind of work IAC performs requires the highest training standards to be respected at all times,” Angelo asserts. “Continuous training is one of the elements that characterizes an activity in which the operator’s manual skills are fundamental. IAC guarantees these standards through our aforementioned commitment to personal development initiatives for our workforce, which act as another element promoting great professionalism towards the final customer.”

Total dedication to clients and their respective requirements is an area in which IAC thrives, and as a result, the firm works in close partnership with all its customers, listening closely to requests, and valuing excellent collaboration. Recently, IAC’s abilities in this department were put to the test when it was contracted to paint the first B787 in Europe at its facility in Fiumicino, Italy. A very particular aircraft built by Boeing entirely of composite materials, IAC worked on the vehicle in close proximity with its owner throughout the landmark painting project. Historically, this partnership approach has not only helped IAC to minimize the possibility of errors and misunderstandings, but also assisted in building strong connections from which future business can flourish. Angelo suggests that IAC has endeavored to uphold these practices throughout 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic, whilst simultaneously protecting its workforce.

“We’ve tried to keep the commitments we’ve always held with our customers, even during the pandemic phase of Covid-19,” he reports. “Still, everything we’ve done has been with the safeguarding of our employees in mind. They are our primary asset and we have tried to continue operating with our staff working in conditions of absolute safety. Where and when possible, the staff have operated as part of a smart working model - a system that had already been applied throughout the company, pre-pandemic, for the departments that could use it - and we have guaranteed continuous monitoring and control systems for all team members. Considering we are a company operating in various different sites and nations, we have always conscientiously implemented local regulations and persuaded other facilities to do the same. Relevant standards are always strictly applied to ensure maximum efficiency and the same steadfast approach is adopted when tackling any company issues.”

Environmental strategy
Trusted by some of the Aerospace industry’s biggest brands, IAC continues to work with major names like Alaska Airlines, Lufthansa and United Airlines to name a few. Most recently, the firm performed a modernization of United Airlines’ IAC 3iconic livery, adding a fresh, revitalized look, whilst maintaining the airline’s blue and navy heritage. As part of the project, IAC expertly applied Akzo Nobel’s Aerodur 3001 Basecoat/Clearcoat coating systems to bring a more ‘modern energy’ to United’s visual identity. As IAC’s Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Dave Patterson, alluded to at the time, the enduring relationship between United Airlines and IAC is an accurate representation of how the coatings firm has achieved such lasting success.

“We’ve been partners with United since we were contracted in 2010 to repaint 631 aircraft in the livery we are now changing,” Dave remarked. “We look forward to our continued partnership with United and we are lucky to be a part of the upcoming transformation of more than 1300 aircraft. We are proud to call United not only our partners but our friends.”

In the coming years, as well as building upon its existing network of partners, IAC will also be turning its attention to the environment. As it collaborates with global producers of painting products, the company strives to stay abreast of the latest eco-compatible technology. Furthermore, all IAC hangars are equipped with the most efficient air and water purification systems, while an organized maintenance scheme guarantees unfaltering functionality at the plants. Additional double-mandated control systems are also utilized in conjunction with external monitoring and control bodies to improve the company’s performance. Both now and in the future, IAC is not willing to leave anything to chance in its mission to remain the industry’s leading aerospace coating specialist for decades to come.

“I have been working with IAC for about five years and I consider the company like a second family,” Angelo states. “Having worked in the industry most of my life, I have accumulated more than 30 years of experience in the aeronautical painting sector and have deep knowledge of the main companies in the segment. Based on this experience, it is my opinion that IAC is operating at a very high level in terms of proximity to customer needs and the lengths it is willing to travel to secure the satisfaction of its collaborators. Over the next few years, the expansion of our network of sites and the acquisition of cutting-edge technological solutions, together with services of higher quality and lower environmental impact, will consolidate our position as a world leader in the aeronautical painting field.”

International Aerospace Coatings Services:
Aerospace coating company

Cool thinking

In the last decade, A1 Engineering Solutions has successfully added another string to its bow, becoming a trusted manufacturer of refrigeration plant, specializing in the use of natural refrigerants

For 35 years and counting, A1 Engineering Solutions (A1) has consistently delivered quality refrigeration and building products and services. A true specialist in all areas of refrigeration, cooling, air conditioning, and building services, A1 offers a broad range of solutions to meet its customers’ needs, whether it be for a commercial, retail or industrial application. With a particularly strong reputation within the convenience and supermarket sectors, A1 has come to be Clade 1recognized as a partner that is synonymous with quality and value.

As MT Magazine discovers when speaking with A1’s Managing Director Dean Frost, it has been in more recent times that the company has embarked on a new journey of engineering and manufacturing. “In the past, A1 has arguably been very typical of what one would define as a regional refrigeration company, carrying out installation and maintenance tasks for customers,” he begins. “Around seven years ago, the business underwent a step change when myself and a group of colleagues were brought in to grow A1 into a national entity. We set out to achieve this by establishing A1 as an expert manufacturer of refrigeration equipment.”

Rapid growth
Having already solidified a reputation for being a key supplier to the industries that it serves – especially the food retail sector, where its customers include UK majors such as Waitrose, Morrisons, Co-op and more latterly Aldi – A1 set about on the road to becoming a manufacturer of choice by focusing in on natural refrigeration solutions. “At present, industries use a lot of chemical refrigerants in their cooling systems, but there is legislation in place for these to be phased out entirely by 2030,” Dean says. “For that reason, retailers are now on a shared journey towards replacing their existing systems with more environmentally friendly choices.

“For our part, we began by producing a piece of kit that uses hydrocarbons as the refrigerant, which was very successful amongst our food retail customers, particularly Waitrose. Those efforts enabled us to move onto developing refrigeration plant which has become the lynchpin of our natural refrigerant future, and that uses CO2 as the refrigerant. Now, in 2020, the strength of our solutions – coupled with the breadth of customers we are proud to serve – has resulted in A1 becoming one of the largest suppliers of natural refrigeration products in the UK.”

Dean is keen to stress at this point that A1 has by no means lost sight of its roots, remaining committed to its pre-existing disciplines of installation and maintenance, however the addition of manufacturing capabilities has made for a more well-rounded, vertically-integrated company.

As A1 has found in the last few years, manufacturing refrigeration plant is a very labor intensive process. “The cycle really begins with the initial designs for our equipment, and once these have been signed off we can begin the process of manufacturing plant,” Dean details. “We purchase all of the componentry we use – apart from the inter-connecting pipework and cables – from suppliers in the UK and Europe, and then commence with the assembly phase using specially designed lines with various designated work stations. What we end up with is a finished product, which then proceeds to a test chamber where it is pressure tested and subject to all the other necessary checks prior to shipping.”

While the company currently boasts a 11,000-square foot manufacturing facility in which to produce plant, Dean understands that A1’s rapid growth requires it to turn its attention to acquiring a larger building. “This is something that we are actively looking at, with the intention of having a facility in which we can increase the size of our production lines that we can look to move into during 2021,” he confirms.

Increase in enquiries
In late February 2020, A1 made an important appearance at EuroShop 2020 – the world’s largest retail trade fair – in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was here where the company displayed examples of its solutions, and in process garnered significant interest from attendees for its products, particularly from those based in Europe. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of weeks upon arriving back in the UK that Covid-19 became a serious issue for the country, leading to the lockdown and government-imposed restrictions that followed.

Understandably, the pandemic had an immediate impact on A1’s activities, but as Dean goes on to explain, the company has adapted well to the challenges that have arisen. “Immediately, we put things into play so that all non-essential staff were able to work from home, and we placed approximately 15 per cent of our workforce onto the government’s furlough scheme,” he says. “In the meantime, our manufacturing trade was able to continue in order to meet pre-existing orders. We made it our top priority to obtain all of the required PPE and hand sanitizing products to keep our people safe, and the reduction in personnel on site allowed for a greater ability to meet social distancing guidelines. Our actions Clade 2have not only allowed us to continue operating through the pandemic, but also avoid recording a single case within our factory, which is something we are extremely proud of.”

Since the UK’s lockdown restrictions were eased in the early summer, A1 has witnessed a noticeable pick up in the pace of enquiries from its customers - those in the food retail sector in particular – giving it a healthy order book that will take it through the end of 2020 and into 2021. “Despite the fact that Covid-19 has prevented us from increasing our sales to prospective customers in Europe in 2020, we are very confident that those opportunities will be reignited as we head into 2021,” Dean enthuses. “Coupled with our strong domestic sales, we foresee our success in manufacturing continuing to grow significantly in the next decade.

“As far as future growth is concerned, we can clearly see that it will be based around facilitating our customers’ carbon reduction efforts at the best possible cost. That is why it has to remain our mission to find the most cost effective ways of producing refrigeration plant that makes use of natural refrigerates, but also is able to harness things like recovered heat. During the compression process of any refrigerant, one generates a lot of heat which is typically expelled to atmosphere. What A1 has been doing is capturing said heat, and reintroducing it into stores for use in different heating systems. We are also now making exciting headway in combining refrigeration plant and heat pump technology, which will enable our products to heat stores even more efficiently, whilst still maintaining the refrigeration temperatures that our customers demand to keep their goods safe. We hope to be trialing a number of these new systems in stores and in partnership with some of our food retail customers in the coming months.”

As Dean alluded to previously, A1 has absolutely no intention of abandoning any of the other services that it provides, and that have been instrumental in its success through the years. While there is an understandable push towards the manufacturing of more products and solutions going forward, this is very much a case of adding additional value for those customers that call A1 a trusted supplier. It is this spirit that will no doubt power the company through the next ten years and beyond.

Clade Engineering Solutions - A1 Engineering Solutions Ltd
Products: Refrigeration and building services

Electric dreams

Matching high-end looks with the most advanced electric technology, Milton Keynes-based manufacturer Volt is responsible for an award-winning range of some of the best electric bikes that money can buy

In 2010, the electric bicycle (e-bike) – while growing increasingly popular in Europe and other major international markets – was a much rarer sight on the streets of the UK than it is today. While there were examples being manufactured in Volt 1small quantities at the time, these tended to be viewed as bulky, expensive modes of transport that were often hindered by poor battery life and mileage. Recognising these issues were Buckinghamshire-based brothers James and Lyle Metcalfe, who set about the task of pairing elegant cycle design with boundary-pushing technology to create affordable electric bikes that could boast first-class performance.

“Having seen first-hand some of the advances being made internationally with e-bikes, my brother and I believed that there was a massive opportunity for the technology to take off in the UK,” Volt Co-Founder James begins. “As fate would have it, we happened to land at just the right time, when lead acid batteries were being phased out in favor of the better performing lithium-ion variety. Backed by battery technology that could support e-bikes in covering greater distances – some of ours today can take you over 100 miles on a single charge – we made a commitment to creating an attractive, stylish e-bike that would appeal to as wide an audience as possible.”

In the decade since, the Metcalfe brothers have overseen a company that has continuously worked to improve its range of e-bikes, and subsequently has helped to set the pace for what is possible in their design. This has gone so far as to see Volt launch its own sophisticated and reliable e-bike driver system, dubbed SpinTech, in 2017. “As an early stage adopter of modern e-bike technology in the UK, Volt possesses a heritage that evidences how we have used our industry-leading technical knowledge and expertise to develop an intuitive product range that best integrates with the abilities and cycling styles of all kinds of riders,” James continues. “Our passion for this industry is second to none. It shines through in all that we do, and has played a crucial role in making Volt the e-bike manufacturer of choice for our customers.”

Since its early days, Volt’s manufacturing activities occurred in Poland, where it shared a facility with a leading Swedish manufacturer. comWhile this partnership between the two was very fruitful, it had been one of James and Lyle’s long-term aspirations to centralise the company’s manufacturing process entirely within the UK. This goal became a reality in June 2020, when the company opened the doors to a new, purpose-built factory in Milton Keynes. Spanning some 20,000-square feet, it has the capacity to build up to 25,000 e-bikes per year and create at least 30 new jobs in the local area.

With the UK’s complete withdrawal from the European Union looming, this move represents a massive investment for the company and positions it for accelerated growth, while reinforcing its commitment to British manufacturing. “In addition to an increased production capacity, this investment provides us with localized control of our entire manufacturing process,” James enthuses. “This, in turn, gives us the ability to greatly improve production efficiencies, to quickly drill down into – and iron out – any issues that arise, and to make refinements quickly. Having such a level of hands-on control was a massive incentive behind the move in the first place.”

As positive as the factory move has turned out to be, at the time it was conceived James and Lyle could hardly have predicted that it would ultimately take place in the midst of a global pandemic! “As you can imagine, this posed a major challenge, however we were fortunate in the fact that we had already assembled a solid team whose task was to manage the move in the months prior to the UK going into lockdown,” James reveals. “Despite the fact that – as a cycling business – we were exempt from most of the lockdown restrictions, and that the sheer size of our site allowed for us to easily adopt social distancing practices, we still had to adapt massively to what was an ever-changing environment. This meant doing things like making greater use of telephone and video call technology to liaise with various technicians and experts, yet we still managed to bring to life what is a sizable facility during the midst of a national health emergency, which is quite the achievement.”

Away from its factory development, Volt also took the decision in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak to make a pool of its bikes available to key workers within the NHS free of charge, so as to assist them in getting to and from work without necessarily having to use, what was at the time heavily reduced, public transport networks. It also introduced large purchasing discounts to these same workers to allow them to buy a Volt e-bike should they choose to.

With the company now established in its new Milton Keynes home, its efforts to further improve upon its already industry-leading technology have continued at pace. “One of things we are constantly looking to do is make our system ever-more intuitive, but we are also always looking at introducing new touches to our e-bikes to improve the entire rider experience,” James says. “For instance, in 2019, we added an immobilizer to all of our e-bikes. This feature helps to combat instances of theft by rendering the e-bike static once engaged, and is something that very few other manufacturers have incorporated to date. We have also had very positive responses to the addition of a thumb throttle to many of our bikes, which can be used to boost a rider’s speed in the event that they need to power out of any issues.

“Other innovations that we are always looking at are things like reducing the size of our motors or batteries, while maintaining the power levels and mileage that our customers are used to. We are also taking a closer look at battery integration, and examining the possibility of pushing our batteries further into the frame structure of our bikes. There are several in-frame battery designs that we are currently evaluating and that look pretty cool, so we will see how these can possibly be integrated in the future.”Volt 2

As 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Volt’s founding, James and Lyle are able to look back on the company’s rapid rise with pride, whilst also fixing their respective gazes on the next ten years ahead. “Our employees have been fundamental in delivering the success that we have had as a business over the course of the last decade,” James states. “We are blessed in the fact that the vast majority of the people that work for us are just as enthusiastic about cycling as my brother and I, and their passion for the product and understanding of its appeal is invaluable to our success.

“Equally, choosing the right strategic partners and creating strong alliances has been a core focus for our growth strategy. We want to work with and learn from industry leaders aligned in our field and by forming relationships with the likes of Bafang and Shimano we can deliver e-bike technology beyond that of our competitors. As a privately funded business, we also realised early on how critical cash flow is, and we made the decision to outsource our credit control, debt collection and finance functions to a specialist called Sterling – this works very well for us, and allows us to put all our energy into what we know best ‘building and designing great e-bikes’.

“Looking ahead, I believe that we have a very strong, natural growth cycle ahead of us, having put in place what we feel are all the elements needed to expand in size and scale in the next five years. Of course, in order to achieve this, we will need to further increase production volumes, but the way that we have designed our manufacturing model means that we can easily duplicate our work stations and processes within our Milton Keynes facility. As we do this, we will look to create employment opportunities for people to join our team. This is the way we believe that Volt will grow going forward and we look forward to seeing it happen.”

Products: Electric bikes

A driving force in mechatronics

From its state-of-the-art, 40,000-square foot manufacturing facility, Dorset-based Electro Mechanical Systems (EMS) is perfectly placed to manufacture both standard and bespoke drive, gear and actuation systems for a range of industries

Celebrating its 35th birthday in 2020, it did not take long at all for electrical/electronic manufacturers Electro Mechanical Systems (EMS) to establish itself as a leading supplier of high quality precision DC motors and linear actuators. Initially EMS 1beginning life as a distribution company working alongside a handful of key business partners, the company is today sole UK distributors of precision micro-drives and associated components for the FAULHABER Group, MPS and Piezomotor. It also supplies complementary products including iron-core DC motors from KAG, stepper motors and brushed DC motors from Nidec Servo, brushed and brushless gear motors from Nidec Motors & Actuators, as well as linear actuators and telescopic columns from Ewellix and Mingardi.

Five years after it was formed, EMS took the important decision to purchase its own manufacturing facility a company active and manufacturing in Poole, Dorset since 1953. “This move came about when EMS decided to acquire a small business already active in the manufacturing of equipment for the remote handling industry,” explains Managing Director, Stewart Goulding. “We took the decision to acquire a manufacturing hub so as to be able to develop truly bespoke drive systems for our customers.”

EMS offers design engineers a complete service, with its scope of supply stretching from the supply of proprietary motors, gearheads, encoders and actuation systems, through to added value in the way of pinions and wiring looms, to complete drive systems to meet exact application needs. “What we have come to specialize in is solving our customers’ unique problems through our expert design and manufacturing capabilities,” Stewa Systemscontinues. “This is something that very few other businesses in our sector can offer, and it helps to differentiate EMS and provides our customers with high quality, unique and long term solutions to challenging and complex drive requirements.”

Diverse offering
One of EMS’ principal objectives is to work with its customers on a long-term collaborative basis, with many relationships already exceeding 30 years, and counting. The types of customer and markets that the company serves today are diverse to say the least. “Among the many solutions we have developed are components and drive systems for companies making prosthetic hands, customizable systems for syringe drivers, and disability aids for health and home care applications granting greater independence for the user at home,” Stewart states. “Other examples of our work also include smoke exhaust systems, and devices for opening large windows and venting systems in public buildings. However, the scope of our offering is only limited by the imagination of our customers and our own design engineers.”

New factory
2020 has been a particularly important year to date for the business, as it was in April of this year that EMS announced the opening of a new factory in Dorset. Occupying a private two-acre site, the 40,000-sqaure-foot building provides a modern, open plan manufacturing space in which the company can further expand its services, while also fulfilling its commitments to environmental and social sustainability. EMS were determined to stay local to its roots in Dorset and EMS 2retain the wealth of established skills as well as supporting the environment with solar panels and electric vehicle charging. The new facility represents a welcome improvement from EMS’ previous facility which – owing to the evolution and success of the business over the years – had ended up being stretched across no fewer than ten separate units.

“As you can probably imagine, manufacturing across ten units presented some operational and logistical challenges as well as duplication or splitting of key resources,” Stewart details. “Now, we have a facility that allows us to have all of our activities and processes under one roof. We approached its layout with an entirely blank piece of paper, and we have carefully considered where to place our equipment in order to optimize our production processes and assembly cells, while new data connections allow for the seamless transfer of information from servers to machine tools. The facility also boasts improved research and development, and in-house testing capabilities, in addition to extended conference facilities.

“The design of the facility has also helped us to gain even greater thermal stability within our manufacturing areas, allowing us to maintain precise tolerances needed when producing intricate parts for our drive systems. When you are machining parts within micron tolerances, what you need is consistent thermal stability within that space, which our new facility gives us.”

At the time of our conversation with Stewart – mid-August – EMS was experiencing a bounce back in business, so to speak, with its customers beginning to step up their respective activities having come out of the Covid-19 imposed lockdown in the UK. “I think we are definitely seeing more and more of our regular customers returning their operations to more of a normality,” he says. “From a bespoke project perspective, we are experiencing a sharp increase in project activity, and we look forward to managing this demand and are very optimistic for the future.”

This upturn in work comes at a time during which EMS is bedding into its new surroundings in Holton Heath. “We will have completed the move of all of our equipment, machinery and resources into the new building by the end of August,” Stewart proclaims. “Following that, we will require a period of ‘living in’ the facility, during which we will be able to quickly adapt to the new layout and make any necessary adjustments to improve efficiency and productivity.

“Moving forward, we will be looking to develop as much new business as we possibly can, whilst also looking at how we incorporate additional manufacturing techniques and technologies into our skill set. We are in the process of purchasing new machinery that will increase our capacity to deliver high-end, technical turning solutions. We have no intention whatsoever of leaving behind some of our more traditional work, conventional gear boxes or drive systems, but we do want to give ourselves the capability – and thus the opportunity – to develop and manufacture smaller, more precision-based technical products, and our latest investments will ensure this is possible.”

As the business sets its sights on the future, EMS’ primary goal is to secure its position as the premium supplier of miniature drive systems in the UK. As Stewart goes on to conclude, however, there is scope for expanding and extending its customer base and reach beyond its home shores, and to offer bespoke drive systems to Europe and the rest of the world. This would be just one of a number of means of growing EMS in the years to come.

Electro Mechanical Systems
Products: High-quality mechatronics

Making plastic fantastic

Operating from a state-of-the-art material recovery facility in West Yorkshire, Bright Green Plastics is a plastic reprocessing firm that recycles over 40,000 tons of household and commercial waste each year

Formerly a subsidiary of the LINPAC Group, Bright Green Plastics is a company making a difference to the way plastic is recycled. Benefitting from a team with over 100 years’ combined experience in the recycling industry, Bright Green Bright Green 1Plastics turns post-consumer materials into recycled pellets and compounds. These can be used for a wide range of practical applications, thus helping to reduce the degradation of our planet.

“We are a major contributor to the UK’s circular economy as we take waste and scrap plastics and recycle them back into compounds that are then used to manufacture new items,” explains Stephen Spencer, the company’s Managing Director. “The types of plastic we recycle include household items such as yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, shampoo bottles, and bleach bottles, as well as industrial scrap such as food trays, plastic drums, flower pots and storage boxes. We then supply recycled pellets to various industries such as the automotive, horticultural and construction sectors.”

Through use of a compatibilization technology called BrightFusion™, Bright Green Plastics is able to improve the performance of the mixed plastics it recycles. BrightFusion™ guarantees superior mechanical and impact properties for even the most heavily sorted, single-source polymers and allows for the recycling of stubborn materials that would otherwise not be compatible for processing.

“PP and PE are immiscible and incompatible in the melt phase,” Stephen says. “If compounded, the product would have few end uses as the material is inherently weak. The two polymers are often difficult to separate due to their similar densities, presenting a challenge for the recycling industries. That’s where BrightFusion™ comes in. It allows us to recover a higher proportion of plastic waste compared to standard recycling. By working with the latest technologies, we can improve the properties of recycled consumer plastic.”

In 2018, BrightFusion™ was employed to produce the world’s first 100 per cent post-consumer resin paint pot. Molded by Emballator in Bradford, the pots were used by Crown for their 2.5L and 5L plastic packs, as well as all 10L packs. The development marked a significant step in the evolution of recycled resin, as typically only around 25 per cent recycled resin is been added to virgin material for paint pots.

In an effort to further the firm’s progressive agenda, Bright Green Plastics recently invested £750,000 in a brand-new Material Recovery Facility. The plant, installed at the company’s Castleford site, will enable the firm to take bales of mixed plastics and 3D materials collected from the curbside and sort them by polymer type, color, and even sift out metals, paper and other residual waste for additional recycling.

“Alongside the new Material Recovery Facility, we have two wash lines on site,” Stephen adds. “These lines wash and granulate the sorted wastes ready for them to be melted at the next stage of the process. We also possess seven extrusion Bright Green 2lines that melt the waste, mix different wastes together, and occasionally incorporate additives if needed to create a compound ready to be used to manufacture new plastic products.”

Earlier this year, in May 2020, Bright Green Plastics secured £6 million in funding from Bibby Financial Services (BFS). Bolstered by the cash injection, the company is now looking to expand its presence into continental Europe.

“Our growth plans are primarily based on us being self-sufficient in relation to investment in new equipment and new technologies, but the funding facility is there if we need it and gives us comfort,” Stephen declares. “We were impressed by the level of flexibility that BFS were able to offer, particularly in the current climate. We’re very happy to partner with the team as we take the business into a new phase of growth. Our next move is to open a small granulating facility in Poland with a view to installing an extruder or two in the near future. We want to be able to offer our products to the European market, however, with the uncertainty following Brexit and increasing transport costs, we know we need to have a plant centrally located to be able to do this.”

Social responsibility
As an industry leader in plastic recycling, Bright Green Plastics is not only green by name. Due to the nature of its materials processing activities, the company has an inherently positive impact on the environment. Still, that doesn’t mean that Stephen and his team are not working hard to make the firm an even stronger force for good in the industry and the world at large.

“As you can imagine, wash lines use a huge amount of water and so we continue to improve our internal water recycling system,” Stephen reports. “We have a whole host of similar social responsibility initiatives, including an electricity usage improvement project and a commitment to reusing consumable parts such as shredder blades by re-sharpening them internally.”

One particularly pressing topic for Bright Green Plastics in 2020 is the need for reform of the plastic recovery notes (PRNs) system. Sold by accredited plastic reprocessing companies, such as Bright Green Plastics itself, PRNs are purchased by packaging producers and act as regulatory evidence notes showing that a business has financed the recovery and recycling of packaging materials in proportion to the amount they have placed on the market. However, Stephen and his team are afraid that the system in its current form could ‘jeopardize the future of the recycling industry’, and as a result, in June this year, Bright Green Plastics joined forces with a number of reprocessing firms to urge reform. Alongside various issues the company has with the system, a recent drop in oil prices has caused manufacturers to purchase virgin plastic over more expensive recycled plastics. Stephen addressed the flaws of the PRN system in a recent statement.

“Due to the pandemic, UK reprocessors have been operating at a reduced capacity in recent months, and with suppliers and customers on lockdown, levels of material for export and reprocessing have been massively reduced. Yet the data says that PRNs have been produced at a higher rate than this time last year. How is this possible?” he argued.Bright Green 3

Industry expertise
Recycling companies have recently asked MPs to discuss the PRN dispute in parliament. To further support the drive, Bright Green Plastics has generated a petition calling on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to urgently review the system.

One positive development on the horizon for the firm is the impending introduction of the UK Plastic Packaging Tax that will see any packaging produced in, or imported into, the UK liable for tax if it does not contain a minimum of 30 per cent recycled material. Due to Bright Green Plastic’s ability to produce products using BrightFusion™ technology to co-join different polymers, Stephen believes the new tax will give the business a competitive edge over its competitors.

“We have a robust expansion plan including significant investment in new equipment so we can stay ahead of the demand for our products,” he asserts. “The demand will be driven by the introduction of the plastics tax and we should be encouraging it to be implemented sooner in the UK as manufacturers are currently buying virgin polymers over recycled materials due to the low oil prices caused by Covid-19. Unfortunately, this is jeopardizing the short-term viability of recyclers in the UK, so we would certainly welcome more government support in this area.”

Though there will always be external factors beyond any company’s control, Bright Green Plastics can move forward, safe in the knowledge that it can rely upon a highly skilled and experienced workforce to lead the firm into the future; a future in which the company hopes to inspire lasting, positive change.

“People are extremely important here,” Stephen proclaims. “Their knowledge and experience in this industry is invaluable. We have many employees that have worked here for more than 20 years. I have always been open and honest with the team here and I have had the same in return. It has meant we have been able to respond to challenges quickly, especially since AIAC acquired the business last year as they have fully supported the plan we presented to them from the outset.”

Bright Green Plastics
Services: Plastics reprocessing business

Bright sparks

By combining creativity, imagination and technological expertise, Brightwake is able to deliver original medical solutions – from concept to distribution – which provide long-lasting benefits

Established in 1979, family-owned business Brightwake Limited began life manufacturing technical textiles in Nottingham’s old Lace Market. Moving to its present-day home in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire in the early 1980s, the Brightwake1company would go on to develop its expertise in textiles and textile construction to a world class level. “It was around 20 years ago, that we decided to move into the manufacture of, what were initially, low-grade medical products and class one medical devices such as bandages, tapes, and tracheal and ostomy products,” explains Brightwake’s Managing Director, Stephen Cotton.

“As time went on, we began producing products of a higher classification – up to class three, which are essentially medical devices with auxiliary effects – and today our range includes high-end wound care and airway management products, as well as blood processing equipment,” Stephen continues. “We produce these products for a host of OEM’s, including many large blue-chip organisations, and have earnt a well-deserved reputation for devising inventive solutions for manufacturing and production related problems for companies serving the medical, aerospace, industrial, cosmetic and retail industries.”

Brightwake has also utilized its expertise to become a respected developer and producer of healthcare products under its own brands; Advancis Medical and Advancis Surgical. The former makes a range of specialized wound dressings, while the latter was created to launch the company’s Hemosep plasma separation device, which is now available for sale in the UK & CE Mark designated territories. “We sell our Advancis Medical products worldwide, supplying goods used by the NHS in the UK, and to businesses across Europe, where we also have our own offices and sales divisions in Germany and the Netherlands. We also sell into countries including Australia, New Zealand, Korea, UAE and the United States through our network of over 100 international distributors,” Stephen adds.

Increased demand
What has set Brightwake apart from other players in its field – according to Stephen – is the fact that it has always been considered to be a highly entrepreneurial business. “We take great pride in being able to read the markets around us, in being ahead of the curve, and having products ready for customers when they are needed,” he affirms. “We have always operated under the philosophy that development needs to remain constant, and that once you stop developing you no longer have a relevant business.

“Our reaction time has always been very quick, and our nimbleness, flexibility and commitment towards innovation means that we are often able to turn around a product brief in a matter of months, where others might need several years to deliver it from concept to finished article. We also benefit massively from being an incredibly intellectual property (IP) rich company. We learnt early on the importance of protecting our IP, and this has resulted in a large patent portfolio that we are able to control from a manufacturing, cost and licensing point of view.”

As a key supplier to the medical industry, it is understandable that Brightwake has undergone a significant ramp up in production since the emergence of Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic that has spread across the globe. The capacity that the company has built up over the years while being a major OEM manufacturer has meant that it has been easily able to absorb the increase in demand that has come from the likes of the NHS. “We possess the required scope, breadth and depth when it comes to our manufacturing capabilities, equipment and people to take on large orders as they come in,” Stephen states. “This means that, when the NHS comes to us for two million endo-tracheal holders, we have the confidence to know that this can be delivered and in a timely fashion.Brightwake2

“From a product development perspective, Brightwake has also been working on machinery for companies such as Surfaceskins Limited. They have devised an antibacterial system that can be fixed to doors by the way of push pads, and these pads release antibacterial gel when pressed. We have been tasked with designing and building the automated machinery to mass produce this technology, and we are currently in the process of commissioning and installing that at present.”

Since March 2020, the company has responded to the increase in demand for its services by bringing in 60 additional temporary staff. “Being based in what is quite an industrialized area, we were actually able to identify and take on talent from the local area relatively quickly,” Stephen says.

These new employees have – in turn – learnt just how important Brightwake values its people “We are a family business in every sense of the word with my wife and two sons all working here. As such, we take a great deal of time to ensure that we engage on a daily basis with our staff, listening to and providing them with all that they need to do their jobs safely, productively and happily.”

An example of the company’s efforts to keep its people well looked after came in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, when supermarkets across the country experienced spates of panic buying which resulted in a struggle to obtain a number of household essentials. One such product in short supply was washing powder. With Brightwake having to close its staff changing and wash facilities in order to adhere with social distancing guidelines, its staff were faced with the challenge of how to wash their workwear at home. The company’s solution was to contact food wholesalers Booker Group, who were good enough to supply it with almost two pallets full of washing powder, which was distributed to its employees. As Stephen correctly points out; “sometimes it is these smaller, less well publicized gestures that can make all the difference”.

Global growth
With the UK now entering the final third of 2020, the country is getting increasingly closer to leaving the European Union in its entirety at the end of the year. While a number of companies are continuing to make preparations for how this will impact upon their operations, Stephen reveals that Brightwake is definitely not one of them. “Our Brexit plans were put into place some months ago now. Virtually all of our products today are distributed from our manufacturing facility and offset warehousing facility in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, but we have also established a warehousing system in the Netherlands. Here we can hold up to three months’ worth of stock at any one time, which is then distributed to our customers across Europe. The Netherlands is also where we have moved our regulatory governing body, which will assist us greatly as well once the UK leaves the EU.”

Going forward, the company will in fact be investing even more heavily in the international sales side of its activities. “What we have done is bring in a dedicated business development manager to handle the global growth of our product offering,” Stephen adds. “It is they who will be actively seeking new distribution pipelines to push Brightwake products into as we look to ride the economic curve that is emerging in the wake of Covid-19 lockdowns being lifted.”

For the last five years or more, Stephen and the rest of the Brightwake team have been working hard to lay solid foundations around the business, making it debt free, profitable and blessing it with a product range and manufacturing capabilities that have contributed greatly to its sales growth. “As a company, we have the brands, technology and IP in place that we believe we need to grow, now it is about getting out there and selling what we have to those that need it most,” he proclaims. “All of the foundations that we feel are needed for things to really take off are now in place, and we are supported by an energetic, enthusiastic workforce who are in it for the long haul. Therefore, with the right distribution network and the right international partners in place, there is no reason why rapid growth cannot be achieved by Brightwake in the years to come

Products: Medical devices

A paper revolution

Following a significant turnaround, in which the company implemented multiple new business processes, Accrol Papers is leaner, more automated, and leading the UK tissue conversion market

Establishing a tissue paper converting company made perfect business sense to the founders of Accrol. Toilet paper is a commodity used by people every day; it has no expiry date; can only be used once; and isn’t cost effective to import. On paper, manufacturing tissue products is an ideal business. Consequently, the private family business opened its doors in Lancashire in 1993 and Accrol was born. Success followed, and the firm was floated on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in 2016.

Just over a year after flotation, the company appointed a new CEO, Gareth Jenkins. Gareth conducted an early review of the business, and, just weeks after his appointment, Accrol announced that it was facing a number of challenges which were placing significant financial pressure on the business. Trading in the company’s shares was suspended, while funds were raised to enable the business to survive.Accrol1

Gareth commenced a major overhaul of the entire business.

“The turnaround was one of the most complex I have ever witnessed,” Accrol’s Commercial Director, Graham Cox declares.

“The team didn’t leave any aspect of the business untouched. Our priority was safety, and then we focused on simplification and cost reduction, combining these with quality service, innovation and putting the customer first. The Group’s new ‘Brand Killer’ strategy was then added to the mix. Our aim was to offer the best possible value to consumers for the price paid.

“It sounds easy but actioning such significant changes across a business simultaneously is hugely challenging.

“Following the turnaround, the business is now much leaner. We have overseen a significant reduction in headcount and a substantial increase in operational performance. The business is producing 30 per cent more today, with drastically fewer manufacturing assets than it had previously. A key part of the transformation was the introduction of four new IT systems: a new HR system, a warehouse management system, an ERP, and a manufacturing and planning system. The last of these was successfully installed on July 3rd. We are now up and running with a fully integrated system.”

Strong partnerships
Some of the most extensive changes at Accrol were implemented in the manufacturing process. Over the last 12 months, large investments have been made in improving existing equipment, and more notably into the introduction of robotic technology and full automation of the company’s operations.

“Our approach has always been one of simplification and to try and make sure we are one of the most efficient, lowest cost producers,” Graham states. “Clearly this will reduce the number of people needed within the business, as we plan to automate and robotize every aspect that we possibly can within the tissue production process. Over the last two and a half years, headcount has been reduced from a high of 690 to circa 300 people today, at the same time as we increased Group revenues.

“Our focus for the business is best summarized as Simplify, Strengthen and Grow.”

One of the UK’s leading private label tissue producers, Accrol prides itself on maintaining strong partnerships with retailers that have enabled the firm to achieve double-digit growth in 2020. In terms of the company’s core customers, Accrol supplies its wide range of kitchen towel, toilet tissue, and face tissue to a variety of retailers, cash and carries, wholesalers, and discounters across the UK and Ireland. These products are divided among three tiers of product – ‘good, better, and best’. Graham explains more: “The first tier - ‘good’ - refers to entry-level or economy products, ‘better’ is our core product in the centerground, and ‘best’ is our quilted, luxury, top-end of the market offering. We can go to our customers and offer toilet, kitchen, and facial tissue products right across this tiering.

“The other thing in our favour,” Graham adds, “is our ability to source the best tissue from around the world. This means that when a new machine or technology is laid out, wherever it is globally, we can go out and source the very best Accrol2materials and bring them together in a combination that will deliver the highest quality products and best value for our customer and the consumer.”

Innovation is key at Accrol, and the company’s latest development is a ‘super-soft’ tissue that fits into the firm’s mid-tier ‘better’ category. Launched just before Christmas, the product was produced in partnership with two major retailers, as well as a tissue manufacturer that has worked with the company for the last 12 years. Only available in the UK, the tissue is very close in softness to branded products and has been immensely successful since its release. It marks yet another victory for Accrol’s product innovation department.

“Our product development process involves a lot of trial and testing with materials and embossing. How you emboss the tissue has a direct impact on the feel and softness of the product, so it’s all about balance and combination. We work with a company in Germany to get that perfect final product,” Graham reveals. “Recently, we purchased a £50,000 softness tester. A very delicate piece of kit, it allows us to measure our product against our competitors and then actually go to the customer with quantified data, as well as physical samples and say this is product A, this is product B. What is it you are looking for?

“True innovation involves education, and so we regularly hold focus groups that help shape our innovation strategy going forward. Do consumers buy toilet roll based on grams, or softness and strength? Our research clearly shows that the answer is softness and strength. They want a good quality, value product, but softness, feel, and consistency are vital too. We have an in-house laboratory to make sure that, when we go to the customer, we’ve got the right product for the right market.”

Dedicated to sustainability
Earlier in 2020, as the outbreak of Covid-19 led to widespread panic-buying of essential goods across the UK, Accrol experienced a rapid spike in demand for its products. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company maintained supply to all of its key customers without incident.

“It was a pretty crazy time!” Graham recalls. “The warehouses certainly became a lot emptier than they normally are, but we didn’t stop supplying. We had some very positive feedback from key customers, plus we received a personal letter to Accrol from the CEO of one of the big five retailers for how we supported them through the period. To get that sort of recognition is very difficult, and speaks volumes to the dedication of the Accrol team so we were tremendously pleased with it.”

As Accrol strives towards ‘operational excellence’, environmentally friendly working practices are becoming an increasingly central part of the operation. Dedicated to sustainability, the business plans to source 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in the short term. It has also partnered with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the release of ‘Oceans’, a new direct to consumer, plastic-free toilet tissue.

“Oceans is a plastic-free toilet tissue for which we will be donating part of our profits to the MCS,” Graham comments. “You can buy the product online, so it’s direct to consumer. It goes straight from manufacture at Accrol to a local distributor, and from there it goes straight into people’s homes reducing road miles by avoiding retailers RDC’s. It is 100 per cent recyclable and there is zero plastic in the product.

“We are very conscious about the use of plastics, and we are working towards ensuring all our packaging contains a minimum of 30 per cent recyclables. We are also introducing paper wrapping across some of our range, so removing plastics all together.”

Building on a strong and sustainable platform, Accrol aims to take market share from established brands by providing consumers with best value products and customers with exceptional customer service, whilst remaining one of the sector’s lowest cost operators. Product diversification will also play a role in the company’s mission for growth, but whether that will entail a move into feminine care or other tissue component products has yet to be revealed. As 2020 has made clear, we live in an unpredictable age, but Graham is certain that the company has the ideal workforce to overcome what may.

“We’ve talked about the product, our relationships, and social responsibility, but the beating heart of this business is its people,” Graham proclaims. “The team here in Blackburn and Leyland is extremely committed and despite all that has gone on within the business they are passionate about doing the best for the company and its customers and they will always be the cornerstone of Accrol’s success.”

Accrol Papers Ltd
Services: Tissue paper convertor

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