50th Bro V2 18-11


To understand what makes us the business we are today, it helps

if you know a few things about our past…..

Packaging Automation Limited was established as ‘designers and

manufacturers of special purpose machinery’ on 16th May 1963 by

Arthur Penn. 50 years later, the business is still owned and

managed by the Penn family and is still very much involved in

the design and manufacture of machinery.

Arthur could not have forseen in 1963, the changes that would

take place over the coming 50 years. Nor could he have predicted

the huge demand for machines and in particular packaging

machines that these changes would create.

Packaging Automation has grown and developed with this demand

but still retains the same principles that Arthur had in 1963 –

a passion for invention, innovation and engineering.


Life was not easy for any of the armed forces

returning at the end of WWII. However, it may have

been harder for Arthur Penn, founder of Packaging

Automation Ltd, than it was for most. He had spent

the years before the war in India as an engineer

on a tea plantation living the old colonial life.

When he returned to England with Field Marshal

Montgomery’s 8th army having, as a Royal Engineer,

travelled through Africa and Italy jobs for the

returning forces were hard to find.

Arthur, originally from Wiltshire, the son of

a farmer, William George Penn, and Ethel (nee

Chamberlain) the daughter of the Salisbury Gunsmith

eventually found work in the North West of England

with Simon Carves Ltd. He settled in Cheadle in a

small semi-detached house, 36 Palmer Avenue, with

his family.

Arthur was responsible for the pit head automation

at many of the coal mines around the UK and during

his time at Simon Carves he invented an hydraulic

mine car stop.

With a growing family, Arthur soon found that his

income did not match the outgoings of the family.

He, therefore, started Cheadle Light Engineering Co.

in order to supplement his salary. He purchased a

lathe and an automatic hacksaw and installed them in

the garage, which was old and draughty. Arthur would

come home from work and set about making components

well into the night, often wearing gloves and a

scarf in freezing conditions.

L-R. Anthony Penn. Maurice Lee. Arthur Penn. Nicholas Penn.


Arthur’s drawing showing the

mechanism for the automatic feeding

of containers into a heat sealing

area of the machine. This design

was incorporated into the PA101

machine, Packaging Automation’s

first tray sealing machine.

With three growing children and a business to house the

family purchased a new home Green Hedges in Wilmslow

and moved in on 9th January 1955 complete with Cheadle

Light Engineering.

When Arthur’s mother died, the inheritance offered new

found financial security. At around this time a friend

of Arthur, Ken Miklestraus, happened to mention that

there was a need for a machine to heat seal a plastic

film onto a plastic tray. Arthur responded by saying

that doesn’t sound too difficult and he would build one.

Arthur sketched out and calculated how his machine

would work. It was an ingenious design all mechanical

and driven by one motor.

Arthur set about drawing his machine but progress was

slow. Drawing had never been Arthur’s strong point –

design yes drawing no. It was then that he spoke to

one of the draughtsmen at Simon Carves, Frank Marsh.

Frank volunteered to produce the drawings in his own

time. On completion of the drawings in late 1963,

Arthur offered Frank a job which he accepted.

The machine was built and christened the PA101 because

Arthur did not want to call it machine number one.

The machine was exhibited in October 1964 on the John

Waddington Ltd stand at The Food Packaging Show at

Alexandra Palace.

Arthur dreamt up the name Packaging Automation and

designed a company logo. The company was formed as

‘designers and manufacturers of special purpose

machinery’ on 16th May 1963 with two shareholders

Arthur Penn and Geoff Cooke.

Green Hedges

Always looking to the next

opportunity Arthur spent time

dreaming up new machines and

one of these was to form a

vacuum in sealed packs of food

to preserve them for longer.

In 1964, he painstakingly

recorded in writing how such a

machine would work, obviously

with a view to obtaining a

patent, something he never

got round to doing.



At this time interest in

food packaging started to

increase and a new tray

manufacturing company

appeared E. S. & A Robinson

Ltd which later became

DRG. This company started

to produce trays designed

specifically for individual

products as previously only

standard rectangular trays

were available. They were

quickly followed by other

thermoforming companies

such as Gazelle Packaging

in Bridgewater, Somerset

and Delyn Packaging in South


In 1964 Martin Barns of

Boxmaker Plastics a tray

supplier, asked Arthur if

he could invent a machine

that would apply a plastic

coating to the flanges of his

trays. Martin’s aim was to

invent amethod of offering a

“peelable” seal. Being able

to peal a sealed lid and tray

would offer obvious advantages

over the currently avaliable

Welded Seal. Martin wanted

to create a tray that had a

coating of the same material

that the lid was made of.

Once the two surfaces came

into contact and were heated

this would form a “pealable”

seal. Arthur designed the

flange coating machine

The FST was also instigated

by Martin Barns of Boxmaker

Plastics in 1965. He wanted

to be able to fill, seal and

trim a multi-compartment

tray of pots so that sealed

individual pots of juice

could be produced.

Arthur continued to receive

enquiries from many companies

looking to automate the

production of and introduce

packing to their products,

and not all of them were

food companies. Arthur was

now in the business of

inventing special purpose

machines! They included a

bacterial colony counter,

crease wrapping machine, a

trimming press for cards,

tablet feeder, grampophone

needle packer, walnut whip

shell forming machine.

In 1968 Arthur’s eldest son

Anthony joined the company.

At this time all of the

lidding materials and trays

that were being used were

an opaque plastic. Food

manufacturers started to

ask for clear materials so

that the consumer could see

the food inside the pack.

A polyflex polyester clear

film lid was developed and

Palethorpes took delivery

of a PA138 automatic machine

that sealed the lid to a

high impact polystyrene

tray containing sausages.

This machine was the first

to incorporate pneumatic

technology which worked

using arrow fluid logic

which would overcome some

of the problems encountered

with the machines in a wet




Throughout the 1970s Packaging Automation

continued to gain interest from many more food

manufacturers for an assortment of special

purpose food automation projects including

Manor Bakeries for a jam tart loading machine,

Bassetts for packing individual containers of

dolly mixtures, Chef in the Box for outside

catering, RF Brookes for sausage rolls for M&S.

Other customer names included Cadburys, Unigate,

Birds Eye, Rowntrees, Mars, Fryers, T Walls,

Gunstones, United Biscuits, OP Chocolate, Kraft,

Ross Poultry, Batchelors and KP Nuts.

During one of Anthony’s visits to Cadbury in

Bournville an innovative engineer there, Albert

Chetwood, asked why he couldn’t have a rotating

table machine instead of the sliding table on

the PA102 that was in use in the factory. The

challenge was set and in 1976 a rotary table

version of the PA102 was produced called the

PA178. The Cadbury’s machine sealed the blister

packed Christmas stocking selection.

Golden Wonder had called PA for help

packing their new product the Pot Noodle,

a revolutionary concept offering freeze

dried noodles that could be conveniently

turned into a meal with the addition of

hot water. Golden Wonder took twelve

PA182s on hire from Packaging Automation,

initially for a 12 month period to see if

the Pot Noodle would be popular with the

UK consumer. It was so successful they

kept the machines and eventually asked PA

to design an automatic machine with higher

speeds. Hire became a critical part of

the PA business from that point on,

allowing food manufacturers the opportunity

to launch and test new products with

low risk.

The PA178 is still a current

hire model 37 years later.

The PA178 was


developed following

a request from Golden

Wonder in 1977 to include

an automatic film feed to

allow reels of film to be

sealed to packs becoming

the PA182.

A variation on

the PA178 was

developed for


to pack


men in shaped

packs with a

card base.


The PA182 was becoming a popular model of machine.

Notably in the early 1980s, Marks and Spencer decided

to launch the pre-packed sandwich. Bob Mitton who was a

M&S Packaging Technologist came to Packaging Automation

for help and settled on a plastic triangular shaped

tray with a film lid sealed on the machine. It was at

about this time that PA re-branded and introduced a new

rounded logo.

In the early 1980s PA began to investigate gas flushing

packs to modify the atmosphere in them to extend the

shelf life of food. In 1983 an existing manually

operated machine the PA210 was adapted to vacuum then

gas flush a pack and was sold as the PA210CAP to Highland

Chef. The use of gas flushing and modified atmosphere

packing was slow to take off, until the late 1980s when

a number of customers started to ask for it. At this

point the by then popular film feed, all round trim semi

automatic PA182 was adapted to become the PA182CAP for

Youngs in 1987.


Throughout the 1980s pre-packed convenience food

was growing exponentially and the benefits of

packaging in other markets such as DIY, household

and gardening products, medical devices led to

dramatic growth for PA. A wide range of machines

were designed and manufactured for different

applications including the high speed PA231 which

was unveiled at the PPMA Show at Telford in 1989.

At this time, dual ovenable trays were becoming

well established allowing consumers to heat

meals in the oven as well as the microwave and

chilled ready meals were growing in popularity.

With the rapid expansion of the business, came

the need for a pool of highly skilled specialist

engineers. Anthony realised that a company

apprentice scheme would enable the business to

train and develop youngsters with the skills and

experience needed and in the late 1980s the first

recruits joined PA.



The 1990s was a period of rapid change and

development of the company. One of the biggest

steps in a family company is when the founder

passes control to the next generation. For PA, this

moment came in 1990, when Anthony was passed the

mantle of Managing Director. This was the beginning

of the second period of sustained growth of the

company leading to the move from the site at Green


PA was outgrowing the old workshop at Green Hedges

and machine construction had spread into an old

hanger which had been used as an indoor tennis

court for many years. The decision was made to

invest in new purpose built premises in Knutsford

which were officially opened by the Duke of

Westminster in 1993.

The factory move coincided with

the launch of a new PA logo.

At this time, Anthony Penn decided to explore

other types of machinery that could be offered

to existing customers and recognised the growth

of specialist dairy products and chilled

desserts as an ideal area for the business to

move into. With this in mind a deal was done to

acquire a local filling and sealing equipment

manufacturer called Volumet in 1997.

In 1998, Anthony took the role of Chairman

in order to focus on the strategic direction

of the business and appointed a new Managing

Director Carol Royle who had previously been

General Manager.

In 1994, the new high speed Vision 2000 machine

was launched, which offered manufacturers high

speed, flexible sealing with outputs of 80 packs per

minute. The incorporation of a stepper motor and

a PLC resulted in a truly flexible high speed tray

sealer. Working on the original stepping, finger

mechanisms originally designed by Arthur 30 years

previously, the machine was designed to switch

easily from one product to another with quick

tooling changes. The model was further developed

to accept the new concept of eared packs which had

appeared on the market as well as foil crimped

trays which had regained popularity.

In the same year as demand for machinery

continued to increase, a decision was taken to

bring the stainless steel fabrication in-house

to allow PA to control the quality and lead

time of components such as fabricated section

structures, machine frames and guarding. A

production unit was found in the vicinity and

PA Fabs was opened.

PA chose the Pakex 1998

exhibition to relaunch the PA

brand and image.



In 2000, the company’s flagship Vision automatic tray sealing range was updated to

incorporate new technology and modified atmosphere packing. Two machines were launched, the

Vision 182 and the higher capacity Vision 4000. This range was further developed with the

addition of the Vision 400 machine in 2004.

More than 15 years after

the Volumet range of pot

fillers was brought into the

PA fold, it was redesigned

and launched in 2003 as the

Fastfill range with three

machines the Fastfill40,

Fastfill 60 and Fastfill 100.

As the packaging of

foods continued to

increase and change, PA’s

markets and customer

base expanded both in

the UK and overseas. New

requirements for tray

sealing included ready

prepared fruit, salad and

vegetables, meat, fish,

puddings, snacks as well

as ready meals, dips and

a wide range of other

convenience foods.

The high speed fully electric single lane eclipse X demonstrates

the latest in tray sealing technology. Speeds of up to 150 packs

per minute single lane highlight the advancements in sealing

capabilities. Reduced energy consumption, increased efficiency,

ruggedness and operator friendliness have all been achieved with

this design.

The eclipse range of equipment, bring to the tray sealing market

versatility and unique developments born out of PA’s 50 years of

experience in the industry.


• E-Seal - fully electrical machine requiring zero air

• Can seal up to 150 packs per minute single lane

• High speed (ITS) Intelligent Transfer System

• Ultimate in sealing flexibility

• 2 minute tool changeovers

• Energy efficient

• Indisputable reliability

• Environmental considerations incorporated into the


• Ultra lightweight and quick release tooling

• Inbuilt TDS (Tool Docking System) automatically aligns

electrical and gas connectors on the tool

eclipse x

In early 2010 the Eclipse range

of equipment was unveiled by the

company. The range was launched

in answer to a requirement from

the food industry for quicker,

more efficient, flexible machines.

It also accommodated the high

speed transfer of lower viscosity

products into the machine without

spilling them. HMI operated servos

now controlled all of the moving

parts of the machine.

The twin lane high speed eclipse

machine was launched at the Foodex

show in 2010. This was soon

followed by the smaller SL3 and

SL4 machines in 2011 which allowed

users to make the transition from

pneumatics to completely electric


Subsequently the PA182 which was

first designed in 1976 was brought

bang up to date and was also made

fully electric and relaunched as

the Eclipse R.

In 2013 a great leap forward in

technology enabled the development

the very high speed sealing with

the fastest throughput of any

single lane flexible tray sealer at

150 packs per minute.

sealing in freshness

In 2012, Arthur’s granddaughter Samantha and her husband

Neil Ashton joined the board of directors tasked with

taking PA on into the future.

In 2013, as PA celebrates its 50th year, the company

continues the proud tradition of invention and innovation

started by Arthur Penn. The food industry worldwide

continues to challenge the business by requiring fully

integrated automation, flexible machines, reduced

manpower in factories and production data direct back to

control centres from the machinery on the factory floor.

The company’s dedicated R&D team has risen to these

challenges and has many new inventions on the drawing

board, under construction and under trial.

And the investment in training and development of the

team, that has been so critical to the success of the

business continues. The apprentice scheme is thriving

with more than 10 apprentices at different stages of their

training at any point in time – which accounts for more

than 10% of the workforce. The success of the scheme is

evidenced by the large number of PA trained apprentices

in team leader, management and director roles.

One of the great things about being able to look back on

over 50 years of history is the ability to retain those

things from the past that really are worth retaining.

A passion for delighting customers with exceptional

products and service and an innovative team with vast

engineering skills and knowledge.

With three generations of experience, youthful vitality and an endless search

for innovation, our tray sealing and pot filling solutions encompass reliability,

versatility and cost effectiveness.

From the artisan to the multi-national, we have the answer, the commitment,

determination,tenacity and responsiveness.

Our commitment to you is total - we want to deliver a complete solution that

surpasses your expectations.

Parkgate Industrial Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, United Kingdom WA16 8XW T +44 (0) 1565 755000 E info@pal.co.uk W www.pal.co.uk

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