Unlocking openability for our ageing population

By guest blogger – Stephen Wilkins

Whilst packaging’s prime task is to protect its contents, often surviving drop tests of up to two metres and any amount of rough handling, ultimately it must be opened effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily.

And, though our customers are living independent lives for longer, their physical and mental faculties are diminishing. Some recent research carried out by my colleague Alastar Yoxall at Sheffield Hallam University indicated that between the ages of 65 and 75 manual dexterity in both men and women reduces by up to half.

Until recently the only types of packaging that were routinely tested for openability by elderly people were child resistant packs, certified to ISO 8317:2003 or similar standards. Even then, that standard’s adult test, which employs a panel of 100 men and women aged 50-70, can’t even pretend to mirror the population and is only a benchmark.

To satisfy the need for a system to test ease of opening of all  packaging, CEN the European standard setting body published a technical specification, CEN TS 15945 in early 2011. A technical specification is somewhat less than a European standard, it has a finite life of six years, after which it is either converted into a standard or it lapses.

CEN TS 15945 contains test methods where panels of men and women aged 65-80 open packs, testing them for effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. For effectiveness an unfamiliar pack must be opened in up to five minutes, a familiar pack must be opened in up to one minute for effectiveness and the panel member indicates their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, using a scale of smiley faces.

Our industry has welcomed the introduction of this technical specification. It doesn’t have a pre-set acceptance level so there is no pass or fail. Instead the specification is a continuous improvement tool and an aid to both competitive advantage and good corporate social responsibility.

But testing only examines existing products. Ease or difficulty of opening begins with pack design. For this reason the International Organisation for standardization (ISO) is presently developing a standard entitled Accessible Design-Ease of Opening. This will use information and research gathered by CEN in producing TS 15945 and should be published in the next year.

These two standards/specifications will lead to more openable packs. They will create a scientific basis for openability and thus help banish ill informed and prejudiced criticism of our industry.


The point of learning

Dick SearleI don’t always find myself in agreement with Sir Richard Branson, but his interview in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend contained so many trailing hints that I for one am more than happy to take the bait.

Like him or not, Sir Richard is perhaps one of our most famous UK business successes without a university degree to his name.

I guess a man in his position – leading a company with tens of thousands of people talents and backgrounds – has to tread a careful line. However, he clearly implied that our UK higher education system is leading us all a merry dance. He’s undeniably right. As a university graduate – I wholly agree with him.

Consider this: we encourage all our able school leavers to stay away from the workplace, so to speak, for another three years. A recent proliferation of UK universities and non-vocational courses mean an uncompetitive process; something somewhere can generally be found for everyone. At the end of these three years many students are no further fit for the world of work than when they began.

These same students then wake up to the small matter of a five figure debt. It’s quite a head start – trying to land a job at 21 with no vocational skills while deep in debt. And if things look bad for the student, how much better are they for the nation’s businesses and employers?  Not a lot. Who benefits? Someone, somewhere must be laughing all the way to the bank, but not the students, employers or tax payers.

Setting aside for now the reforming job to be done, I suggest that we now urgently accentuate the positive; that we simply encourage more vocational schools, courses and vocational training.

Leading lights in European economies such as Germany and Turkey have not missed this point. Indeed, their manufacturing culture has been indistinct from the practice of vocational training; known to us at one time as apprenticeships. Those countries have not lost their way and are prospering as a result.

We should find a means to do the same; quickly, intelligently and before it is too late. The latest Government campaign – Make It In Great Britain – contains some glimmers of hope. Yours truly has been invited to the table as the Industry Champion for the packaging sector. If the Make It initiative achieves just one useful thing it could be the overhaul of our wasteful education system and the restoration of vocational training to its heart.

I shall not fail to use my voice there to argue these issues vociferously and frequently.

Many thanks again

Dick Searle

Can Europe step up?

Dick SearleThe protracted and public shambles of the Euro Zone, its members and the Euro currency issue, these have all been marvels for our times. However, and as we stumble forward together it is clear that the current pantomime obscures something much deeper.

Europe’s population currently numbers some 7% of the global total. Europe, however, currently produces about 27% of the world’s total GDP. These comforting statistics have underpinned our European living standards and expectations for quite some time. Increasingly, however, the economic position will become much tougher to defend.

Believe it or not, the rest of the world is not idly standing by:  In many if not most areas European IP and technology is being cloned, bettered and surpassed on all other continents. The world’s economies from East to West are competing ever more intensely. The BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are growing and gaining market share with every passing month. In response, US manufacturing is not lying down, neither is Japan.

What are we doing about this in Europe? What should Brussels be doing? As said, and sad to say, other matters occupy the stage. The ongoing fragility of the European Union is being exposed on a daily basis.

In a sense no blame can be cast since the Euro fault-lines were always present in the myths and ideas embedded in the starter charter. The EU activity, after all, is only programmed to run its course: A founding bureaucracy charged only with regulation, administration and wealth distribution will only continue to do more or less of that.

And right now it’s time now for much less of that. Much more is urgently needed for European wealth generation; renewed European competitiveness; innovation and value-added manufacturing.

European business and manufacturing can thrive. But everywhere you look indigenous industry and creativity is responsible for such success stories as may be: German manufacturing; Irish exporting; Central European start-ups; UK holding steady; these have all been generated at country-level, and despite Europe rather than because of it.

More than ever Europe needs to free up its businesses and member states to do better in this way; freeing manufacturing and freeing enterprise. Radical reform may be necessary – and may not be accommodated within current Brussels structures. But if European standards of living are to be maintained, then –  with or without Brussels –  this issue will be an inevitable priority for the Continent.

Many thanks again

Dick Searle