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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
The PA178 is still a current
hire model 37 years later.
The PA178 was
a request from Golden
Wonder in 1977 to include
an automatic film feed to
allow reels of film to be
sealed to packs becoming
A variation on
the PA178 was
men in shaped
packs with a
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org W www.pal.co.uk