5 Sept 2007
Bright Opportunities(HKTDC Packaging, Vol 02,2007)
Finding the right packaging can mean the difference between stodgy or fast-moving sales, and one Hong Kong firm believes it has a bright solution: tin boxes.
Tin Box Asia Pacific HK Ltd was established in 1987. The firm's parent company is The Tin Box Co of America, which began operations in 1952. Today, the Hong Kong arm has more than 36 production lines running daily.
"We are the established leader in the tin box packaging industry and offer many unique shapes and designs," declares general manager Eric Kwok. "The US firm sells its products to the US and Canada, and the Hong Kong office sells to Europe and markets in Asian."
Tin Box operates four joint-venture factories on the Chinese mainland. "We have been partnering with these firms for 15-20 years," Kwok says. "Three are located in Dongguan and one in Shanghai."
The Shanghai operation is the most recent. "The reason we became engaged in the north-east mainland was competitive pricing, because in the southern-most parts of the country both material and labour costs rose considerably," Kwok explains.
The firm's major lines are all licensed products. "This is a major selling point," Kwok feels. "We own more than 30 different licenses and experience has shown that such items sell, especially when a hit movie or a cartoon character is highlighted in an advertising campaign."
Tin Box also accepts custom projects and is able to build new moulds for customers. "Otherwise, we do our own designs and have our own lines," Kwok adds. "Few of our competitors have their own product lines and even fewer have as many licences as we do."
One busy business sector involves packaging for candies and dried fruit. "We are just now trying to catch buyers from overseas at the various fairs in Shanghai that they attend to source foodstuffs," Kwok says. "We can offer a combined packing and packaging service. In turn, this gives us an opportunity to work with food manufacturers."
Tin Box can now sell its products in the domestic mainland market. "We are looking into various options and have established an office in Shenzhen to build up contacts with local companies who, perhaps, could sell our boxes on the mainland," says Kwok.
All products are FDA-approved, and customers needing certification through laboratory tests are supplied with full documentation. "Major corporations such as Disney, Wal-Mart and Target are very strict," Kwok says.
The company uses tin-plate steel sheet extensively, and small quantities of plastic and wood (for handles). "We use semi-automated machines," Kwok says. "The main task is to build the moulds to make the shapes. We do the offset printing first, on the flat metal sheet, and then do the forming."
This procedure involves working with three different machines. "We use a deep-drawing machine to make the shape, then a lock- seam machine puts the box together and seals it, and finally the edges are curled for a smooth finish on a curling machine," Kwok says. Small accessories or wood handles are fitted by hand.
"When we develop a particularly interesting shape," he adds, "we immediately patent it or register the design so no one else can imitate our work. We are very determined to protect our intellectual property rights."
The average minimum order is 12,000 pieces per shape. For smaller tins, the minimum order increases to between 24,000 and 48,000 pieces. For small, pill-type boxes the production run might be as high as 50,000 pieces.
"We can deliver combination litho runs, thus enabling smaller customers to maximize custom orders, with up to three designs for orders of tins of the same shape," Kwok says. "However, the order must be run in a four-colour process without any additional or special colours."
Standard procedure is to provide a paper proof about 2-3 weeks after receiving artwork from a customer. Once the paper proof is approved, the company will set a production schedule. Tin Box can also run metal proofs for orders above 100,000 pieces, although that request may add 2-4 weeks to the project.
"The typical lead time is 120 days once the paper proof is approved by the customer," Kwok says. "During off-peak production periods, though, the lead time can be reduced to about 60 days."
Each factory in the production scheme employs about 350 workers, and all plants work continuously but on different orders. "We intend to continue to develop new designs and new shapes, and do not see ourselves as being in competition with other box makers producing ordinary and simple shapes," Kwok insists.
With many decades of experience, it seems clear that Tin Box Asia Pacific HK Ltd also has its eyes on a particularly bright future.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON
Tin Box Asia Pacific HK Ltd