OPEM S.P.A. is an Italian family company, founded by Fabio Binacchi in 1974. The company has a long tradition in packaging systems for dry food of small and medium particle size. Within its comprehensive choice of well-established machines to package products in a variety of ways, OPEM identified a smart solution that it could customize into a specialty machine for the dry pet food market: a vertical flexible film pouch packaging machine with application of screw cap under a protective process. Ian Healey visited OPEM in Parma and discovered much more than expected. Wilbert van de Corput is Area Manager for OPEM and specialist for pet food packaging.
Ian Healey: Thanks for the welcome to OPEM. What can you tell us about the company? Wilbert van de Corput: We are glad to open our doors to PetFood PRO and proud to show you around.
OPEM has its roots in the area of Parma, Italy, and from there has taken off towards all international markets. Founded by Fabio Binacchi, OPEM’s history is that of a family- run small-size company. It all started with the supply of weighing scales to the pasta business: this laid the foundations for the future. At the beginning there were only ten employees, but plenty of requests for new weighing and packaging machines. This brought the company to study and design new systems that could be used also in different sectors. Binacchi started working for different markets and became interested in packaging not only pasta and biscuits (which is still the case today), but also coffee.
In the 1980s OPEM worked with important customers such as Barilla and Kimbo, and over the years it expanded its horizons also abroad. The arrival of pods and capsules for coffee in a rapidly booming market gave the company the opportunity to growth and expand, thanks to their invention and production of very flexible systems that were customized to meet many customers’ requests.
In September 2014 OPEM moved to a new plant in Parma’s industrial area. This sent a clear message of continuity and confidence in the company’s know-how and spoke of its great openness to the future. This new facility includes extensive labs for research and development.
How did this lead to pet food packaging?
OPEM is a relative newcomer in the pet food market. Some of the technology in supplying primary packaging machines to the coffee-market in bags (soft or vacuum), pods, capsules and cans were found to be also very interesting as a new packaging for pet food. This was underlined by the OTELLO machine, which included a screw cap for reclosing.
Specifically for pet food packaging, the vertical packaging machine OTELLO was developed for up to 60 packs/minute. The machine is easy to use, electronically controlled and programmable. With its strong frame it is particularly suitable for medium and big weights. OTELLO is equipped with inert gas flush, hot printer, ink jet printer, code date embossing unit, label applicator, side or front cap.
One of the most recent machines introduced is the ARABELLA 40, which was launched this year at interpack in Dusseldorf. This is a vertical vacuum packaging machine for dry products, including pet food. ARABELLA is a high- productivity vacuum packing machine with advance technical solutions. Its efficiency can be seen in the simplicity and speed of its format change. The machine has a small footprint and is designed for flexible operations, simple- size changeovers and easy access to all the components. Different versions and sizes can pack up to 40 bags / min.
What material is used for pet food packaging?
Many bags are pre-made. OPEM is exploring the challenges of reel. Reels take less space and save transport energy. Materials change from paper to recyclable plastic. Petfood packaging aims to differentiate. There is some overlap with other competence network members, but the unique selling point of OPEM is the application of the reclosing and dosing screw cap, giving the final package the premium look as if it was a pre-made bag.
The challenge is the move towards mono- laminates based on either PE or PP that can be 100% recyclable. OPEM has to convince pet food producers to move to packaging equipment starting from reel with benefits in warehousing, energy, transport vs pre- made bags, easy change-over formats (the main reason why now petfood producers choose pre-made bags, but we have possibilities to make change-overs more easy also with machines starting from reels), line efficiency and concrete cost reduction (material in reel is around 25- 30% less than the same material in the pre- made bag form).
OTELLO, another one of OPEM’s latest innovations, is the machine that produces this patented block-bottom bag with screw cap, which is ideal for dosing and re- closing. The bag can be made with/without 4-corner seals and the spout can be placed inside the gusset, or on top of the frontside of the bag. Applications for all dry powder and granulate products, such as coffee, dry pet-food, multi-vitamin powders, etc.
We have various machines for packaging in cans, jars, bags or in vacuum packs. When designing and developing systems, OPEM works according to each customer’s specific needs.
What future trends do you see in pet food packaging?
The main trend is clearly towards sustainability. OPEM has been focusing on sustainability and environmental responsibility for over 20 years. Since 1995, OPEM is a “green company” and was a pioneer of its time. This “green policy” characterizes every area of the company, starting from the company’s headquarters, using innovative energy management systems, as well as in terms of logistics, waste management and selecting local suppliers wherever possible.
OPEM’s “green policy” comprises the entire production activity, from the design stage to the single processes and from in-house manufacturing to the choice of machinery – towards reducing energy consumption. OPEM machines operate with respect for the environment by using sustainable materials with a low energy impact.
The used materials must also be environmentally friendly. For example, the coffee capsules and pods are biodegradable and compostable. This also applies to pet food packaging.
The pet food market is very much a high- end market, like coffee. Convenience is key. Innovations in packaging are sometimes even introduced sooner in pet food than in human food. Expensive packaging is often used as a badge of quality, which is not the case in human food.
What is the future for OPEM?
As I said before, OPEM is a 100% family- owned company. Fabio Binacchi and his wife Ombretta Sarassi are still very involved in the day to day business, through their ideas and inventions, as well as the commercial side and general management. They have three daughters, Vittoria, Susanna and Elena who are all currently active and responsible for different aspects of the business.
OPEM is part of the Petfood Competence Network, as mentioned above. What does that mean for the company?
The network is a group of eleven like- minded companies, with decades of combined experience, who work together to offer the latest in technology and know-how, in terms of raw materials, formulation, processing, filling, drying,
packaging and palletizing. This can all be tailored, developed and individually installed to meet the precise needs of pet food manufacturers around the globe.
For OPEM the network is an opportunity to share market & product know-how, as well as offering “one-stop-shopping“ convenience. We use our expertise, also in the packaging materials used on our machines (bio-based, compostable and now mainly recyclable mono-laminates PE or PP based). There are cost and time advantages of sharing space at some major events and building trust with colleagues inspires each of us to recommend the other to potential customers, where we do not have this knowledge.