26 June 2008
Well Contained(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 07,2008)
The once-humble tin can has become a lot more fashionable in its modern guise, thanks in part to the efforts of Hong Kong manufacturers such as Polysun Products Ltd.
Boasting all the manufacturing skills necessary to produce convenient metal containers, Polysun uses sequent stamping moulds, a lot of hands-on expertise and in-depth experience in four-colour printing techniques.
"We have been in the tin cans and trays niche for more than 12 years," says Sales Executive Jimmy Wong. "We export to the US, Europe and Australia, and all of our tins conform to current food safety standards."
Years ago, moulds were purchased from the Chinese mainland. Today, Polysun manufactures its own. "In fact, we had to make our own moulds simply to meet customers' growing demands for variety," says Mr Wong.
The essential raw material remains tinplate, available in various thicknesses according to demand. "We can use 0.30mm gauge if the buyer requests a stronger tin can," Mr Wong says. "But if the buyer does not specify differently then all of our products are 0.23mm gauge."
Tinplate is available ex-stock on the Chinese mainland, which meets the need for fast deliveries, but Polysun usually imports direct from overseas suppliers.
"It all depends on the price of tin, which is especially high at this time," Mr Wong says. "We have seen a 40% price rise in the first five months of 2008. Japan apparently agreed to buy tinplate at higher prices to feed the needs of its huge automotive industry and that has had knock-on effects."
Despite appearances, however, it seems that the basic tin can or container remains very much the same. It just looks better. "There are new shapes and the finishing processes have evolved greatly, the printing techniques especially," Mr Wong explains.
"Usually, four-colour offset CYMK is suitable for most printing jobs," he continues, "but some customers want Pantone colour printing and demand the finished colour be exactly as requested."
Polysun receives lots of orders for unusual, complex or specially shaped tin box containers. "Whereas about 10 years ago business was all in rectangular, square and round tins, today we are making tin purses, circular tin boxes and even spherical containers," Mr Wong smiles.
The tin purse design first came out in 2006 and sold particularly well in 2007. "These attractive tin purses sell well in the US market," says Mr Wong, "and we have developed special moulds for our range."
The purse-stamping process, for example, entails some 40 procedures and 40 moulds. "We call this the set, and to make purses requires the right set and a lot of manual labour because usually the production run is smaller, so it is not economical to use precision machinery."
The company offers in-house design consulting. "We have to stay ahead of the competition and so we invest in R&D to come up with new and attractive designs," Mr Wong declares. "We aim at the high-end of the market and we may, one day, sell direct to the retail trade."
All tin boxes from Polysun can be used for food packaging, and the company regularly submits materials for professional testing at certified laboratories. "They do all the tests, including checking for any lead or heavy metal content and we supply a certificate as required," assures Mr Wong.
Different containers must undergo different testing procedures. "Some customers, for example, may want a plastic window for the tin box, and that requires extra care," he points out. "We cannot use PVC as it would not pass the laboratory test for food contact, so we use a thermoplastic polymer, PET."
Apart from regular business in the US, other good markets include Germany, Sweden, Spain and Australia. "We need the spread," says Mr Wong. "For example, demand from the US has been weak of late while Germany remains lively."
A new market for Polysun is Mexico, which has come on stream during the past two years. "We are also looking at Russia," Mr Wong adds. "We are focusing on potential customers who are looking for high-quality tin cans. We are watching the US economy and also China, to see how the renminbi fares in relation to the US dollar, and will adjust our plans accordingly."
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON