The aim of the organisation was to be "a technical research bureau for the pooling of technical information and to conduct scientific investigation of technical problems" for the printing industry.
In 1936, PIRA became a grant-aided research association supported by the equivalent of the Department of Trade and Industry - the DSIR. The organisation was also renamed PATRA - Printing and Allied Trades Research Association. A new packaging division was formed in 1943 following work to look into the problem of service equipment arriving badly damaged in the Middle and Far East combat areas.
In 1967 PATRA merged with BPBIRA (British Paper and Board Industry Research Association) and was renamed PIRA once again with three main divisions - Paper and Board, Printing and Packaging.
The range of business services has expanded over time to cover market research, strategic and technical consulting, testing, publications and conferences.
Pira was acquired by Ciba Specialty Chemicals in 2004 and became part of Ciba Expert Services - a business unit offering knowledge-based services .
Pira acquired Intertech Corporation in 2005, forming Intertech Pira (renamed Smithers Apex in 2012), as part of an expansion into niche, emerging and high growth industries, such as; photonics, biomaterials, plastic electronics, home and personal care, alternative energy and chemicals, minerals and performance materials.
In 2009 BASF acquired Ciba Specialty Chemicals with Pira continuing to operate under Expert Services as a stand alone unit. In 2010 Expert Services was divested by BASF, with the exception of Pira
In December 2010 Pira became part of The Smithers Group. Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, The Smithers Group of companies provides technology-based services focused on defined markets. Sharing many of the values and goals Pira has, all Smithers companies are known by their clients as Trusted Providers of Innovative Solutions. By integrating science, technology and business expertise, Smithers goal is to add value throughout the life cycle of clients' products, by utilizing testing, consulting, information and compliance services.
In 2012 Pira was fully integrated with Smithers and Smithers Pira was unveiled. The global testing, consulting and information services business remains the worldwide authority on the packaging, paper and print industry supply chains.