This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

A refreshing automation success story

28 June 2018

Nichols is making vigorous progress, increasing efficiencies and productivity through the use of automation to help meet increasing consumer demands. Suzanne Gill reports from the Vimto Ross facility. 

According to Marnie Millard, CEO at Nichols, the company’s Vimto brand could well be the original energy drink. “The strapline for the originally named Vimtonic was ‘full of vim and vigour’,” she announced during a presentation at Vimto’s Ross-on-Wye production site to officially open the company’s new, automated packaging solution.

Vimtonic was created by John Noel Nichols in Salford, Manchester for sale in his herbalist shop. The original recipe, which was first produced in 1908 is still used today and it seems to have stood the test of time. “Last year Vimto outperformed the market with the brand up 9% versus a market of just 2%,” said Millard. “We have worked towards the goal of lowering the sugar content of our products since 2012 when we identified a trend towards changing tastes and desire for less sugar so all of our own-brands are exempt from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.”

Nichols has made a significant investment in automation at the Vimto Ross site which it acquired from Dayla in 2011. Today the facility produces all the bag-in-boxed juices and syrups for Nichols’ frozen business as well as packing out-of-home bag in boxes on behalf of Coca Cola European Partners, Ocean Spray and Irn Bru with the capability of filling from a two-litre bag up to a 1,000 litre IBC.

Andy Johnson, finance and supply chain director at Nichols, explained more about technology developments at the site. “When we first acquired the Dayla site we started by examining its existing processes, integrating the Nichols financial software and group processes into the site. We also took the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the team employed at the site. A £4.5 million investment programme started in 2016 with the aim of meeting rising demand. After a proposal was put to the board and accepted, a technological solution was commissioned to help the team deliver efficiency and productivity improvements.”

Better alignment
The configuration of the original four packing lines was modified to provide the most efficient solution which involved moving the syrup tanks through 90° for better alignment with the process. “By doing this we created floor space to add a fifth packaging line in the future to further enhance capacity,” said Johnson. “We continue to focus on improving our technology application and innovation to ensure the site is fit for now and for the future.

In November 2016 a new tank facility was added which gives us the ability to use dry sugar reducing the company’s reliance on regular tankered deliveries of liquid sugar. The project concludes this year by installing the dissolver to ensure security of supply.

In October 2017 a warehouse extension was completed to allow for the storage of both frozen and chilled products on site shortening the supply chain by storing the ingredients at the point of production.

Most recently an end-of-line robot has been installed to automate the final palletisation process. Johnson said: “The facility includes a state-of-the-art labelling solution which identifies the packaging, pallet configuration and box quantities for each sku. Utilising a FANUC robot in communication with our ERP system, we have greater visibility relating to replenishment of raw materials and work in progress.”

The next step
"By the end of 2019 we will have invested £4.5 million in the Ross site. The next step is to further automate the syrup room. Currently, the creation of recipes and syrups is a partly manual operation. The bulk ingredients are automatically pumped into the tank with other ingredients being weighed and added manually. By installing scales under the tank we will know exactly what is being put into the tank. This will then give us greater insight to allow us to reduce waste and will highlight were we might achieve further efficiencies,” explained Johnson.

Return on investment (ROI) is always a big consideration for any project so it is vital to take measurements before and after completion of a project to demonstrate that the expected gains are being achieved. “We have recently also employed a finance business partner so that we have the resources on site to help measure ROI on our projects,” said Johnson.

“When making any new investment it is important to consider the infrastructure needed. To achieve success I believe that the governance and infrastructure surrounding an automation project is vital. Training and upskilling of the workforce is a major part of any automation project. Today, our new robot line is at 98% availability but it has taken time to reach this point because it is more complicated than just turning the robot on. Giving the workforce time to understand the whole system has been key to ensuring we are able to continue to drive our efficiencies to higher levels,” said Johnson.

Meeting demand
Johnson continues: “Today we are in a very fortuitous position, demand for our products is high and growing so we needed to invest in the use of new technology to ensure that we are able to continue to meet demand. Alongside the adoption of automated solutions to help increase productivity it is critical that the team is also upskilled to ensure staff are safe, competent and confident to work with the new equipment.”

Phoenix Handling Systems provided the company with a turnkey solution for its automated packaging solution and the robot is now nearing the end of its commissioning period at the plant. “Commissioning commenced in February this year, so we are really still in the learning stage of working with it,” said Johnson.

The automated solution is paying dividends for Vimto Ross already and it is starting to deliver an increase in efficiency. We have already beaten our biggest ever volume throughput and are seeing an improvement in our ability to react quickly to changes in demand,” said Johnson. “We are also now in a better position to standardise our products and improve their presentation. Every delivery is now exactly the same as the last and is more professionally presented which makes our customers happy and this makes us happy!”

Print this page | E-mail this page


Article image What role does refrigeration play in the supply chain?

Controlling the temperature of food across the whole supply chain is vital to extend shelf life. But how much can be gained by food manufacturers through careful monitoring at all process stages?Full Story...

Article image A recipe for continuous improvement success

Suzanne Gill reports on the important role that continuous improvement has to play in ensuring food processes remain profitable in an ever more competitive environment. Full Story...

How to deliver assured air quality for production sensitive sites

Hygienic drainage for food safety

Owning your hygiene culture