MeadWestvaco (MWV) opened a new packaging materials research and development (R&D) facility in March 2012.

The facility is located in Eastern Henrico in the Greater Richmond area of the state of Virginia. Built over 48,000 square feet, it includes a pilot plant for testing and production of packaging products. The company aims to foster innovation in packaging materials and technologies through the plant.

The facility is part of the company’s Center for Packaging Innovation (CPI). The CPI is engaged in the design and development of packaging systems for manufacturers of consumer goods. It was, earlier, located on the North Carolina State University campus, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In 2010, MWV decided to move both the CPI and pilot plant to its global headquarters in Richmond area. The relocation process was started immediately. A site was selected near to the headquarters, and engineering, construction and installation of equipment followed. The pilot plant required an investment of $13m, including cost of construction and equipment.

The relocation of CPI and construction of pilot plant generated 114 new jobs increasing the total number of MWV employees in Greater Richmond to 850. The pilot plant employs six people.

Packaging equipment and technology at the pilot plant in Virginia

Packaging systems developed at the pilot plant are principally targeted at the global consumer goods industry. The facility can develop packaging materials of wood fibre and is well equipped for polymer compounding and characterisation.

The equipment installed includes form / fill / seal machines, thermoformers for plastics and paperboard, slitting machines for paperboard, die cutters and laminators. It is also capable of equipment prototyping, cup forming and converting, winding and calendaring, injection moulding and distribution and supply chain testing.

Location of MeadWestvaco’s (MWV) pilot plant in Greater Richmond

"MeadWestvaco (MWV) opened a new packaging materials research and development (R&D) facility in March 2012."

The pilot plant is located near the Richmond International Airport. Being proximate to the company’s global headquarters and the CPI, it has quick access to the technicians and experts working at the CPI, and the science and design labs within the company’s headquarters building.

This ensures faster and smoother completion of research and development projects. It also makes the development more economical and reduces the time taken to reach the market.

Moving the CPI and locating the new pilot plant near to the headquarters offers better collaboration between the company’s employees, customers and suppliers. It will also be synergistic to MWV’s operations.

Benefits of the packaging materials research and development (R&D) facility

Development of innovative products is normally at risk when viability of their commercial scale production cannot be established.

The pilot plant of MWV is furnished with a capacity that equates almost to a commercial scale facility. This helps in creating a real-time production situation, enabling to test new packaging concepts on a near commercial scale, minimising the development risks.

Facilities for testing the innovative packaging products of MWV

The R&D facility has 32ft ceilings and ten loading bay doors. It features five separate laboratories for materials and metallurgy engineering, TAPPI conditioned materials testing, polymers and packaging, paper science and coating.

"In 2010, MWV decided to move both the CPI and pilot plant to its global headquarters in Richmond area."

The labs are capable of conducting metallurgy and corrosion analysis, plus coatings and materials testing.

Packaging products made of paper and plastics can be tested at the plant. The products that will be tested include environmentally-friendly packaging materials, such as compostable paper coffee cups and coating materials. The paper science laboratory will test woodchips for use in making of cigarette packs and paper cups.

MWV’s pipeline of products from the pilot plant includes consumer goods packaging products, such as cardboard for holding soft drink packs, plastic spray bottles used for packing products, such as shampoo bottles and cleaning liquids and plastic foil packaging products used for packaging of medicines, among others.