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Streamlining snack production

02 March 2018

(left) Michael Pye, project manager and (right) Trevor Howard, managing director at Fabcon Food Systems.
(left) Michael Pye, project manager and (right) Trevor Howard, managing director at Fabcon Food Systems.

Food Processing posed some questions to Michael Pye, project manager at Fabcon Food Systems. He believes that smart factories are still some years away, but that progress towards this goal is very much in evidence. 

Fabcon Food Systems manufactures, supplies and installs handling and processing equipment for the food industry. Pye, has recently joined the company’s engineering team as a specialist in the development and installation of snack production systems that include frying, weighing, seasoning and packaging machines. He brings with him many years experience in production scheduling, capacity planning, business procedures, ERP system operation and lean manufacturing.

Q: Fabcon is quoted as having had a 'good year’ in 2017. To what do you attribute this and is the company seeing growth in a particular food industry sector, or in uptake of a particular solution? 
Our growth is down to a number of reasons, but mainly it can be attributed to the growing number of orders we have seen for complete snack producing systems. We exhibited at SnackEx last year in Vienna, where visitors showed a real interest in our track record of managing and delivering complete turnkey solutions.

Q: How is your previous experience in production scheduling and capacity planning integrated into Fabcon's equipment offerings?
There are many food production processes which can be streamlined using our equipment and the majority of our offers can help save time and reduce waste, as well as helping to increase productivity.

The trick then is then to show customers how to use their extra capacity in the most efficient way. Certain operations can be synchronised and this requires a change in the production schedule. I have many years of ERP system experience so understand the importance of e data analysis to drive forward planning decisions.

Q: What do you see as being the biggest challenges facing food processing engineers today, and what advice can you offer to help them overcome these challenges.
I would say one of the industry’s biggest challenges is to become more energy efficient over the long-term. The focus must be on delivering efficiencies and not just talking about them. We have a duty to be as environmentally friendly as we possibly can, learning lessons and implementing changes.

Using more biodegradable materials has to be a key focus as that will reduce the amount of plastics in packaging. It is about more than just packaging though. Fabcon, for example, is putting a great deal of time and effort into developing and mastering more energy efficient fryers and using heat recovery ventilation systems where possible.

Away from the environmental aspects, I think everyone across the industry needs to keep challenging themselves to continue to innovate. We have moved on in leaps and bounds in recent years but, with the huge acceleration in technology, much more can still be done to ensure there is a programme of continuous improvement.

Q: Are you seeing any interest from food industry engineering teams in 'smart factory' concepts, such as digitalisation?  How far along the journey do you think the industry is today, and what more can be done to help them on this journey?
I would suggest that the concept of a ‘smart factory’ is still some years away yet, certainly for smaller producers. It is, however, a more achievable goal for large snack producers.

In my view, learning from others is so important and I had the opportunity recently to take a tour round Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull construction plant in the West Midlands. It is inspiring to see their model and what all industries can learn from their approach, attitude and complete commitment to continuous improvement.

In our industry touch screen controls and app-style graphics are now being used in the machine interface. That, in itself, is an improvement and we are also seeing a growing trend towards machinery automation and self-optimisation. Having systems with the ability to collect data and communicate with other equipment remotely is another trend we are seeing.

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