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Appetite a resounding success

27 June 2011

Now in its fourth year, Appetite for Engineering has delivered probably its best networking conference yet. FP Express reports from the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire on the food engineering event of the year.

They came, they saw, they spoke. And they networked. Even though the recession is over, the economy is still fragile, so this year's Appetite for Engineering event proved an ideal place for delegates to talk about how to move forward.

But the main attraction was, of course, the speakers' programme. Lord Rupert Redesdale, chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association (ADBA), opened proceedings by speaking about the importance of effective waste management to the industry – and to the country as a whole.

He was followed by David Alvis, a lead specialist with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). David outlined how the TSB works across the public, private and academic sectors, using public sector funds to help stimulate business innovation and the development of new technologies that address key societal challenges and drive economic growth.

He focused on the Agri-Food industry, the UK's largest manufacturing sector, and explained how the TSB's Sustainable Agriculture & Food Innovation platform is working, with other public sector programmes, to help UK business address the significant dual challenges of food security and climate change.

Next up was Melanie Leech, director-general of the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), who shared her views on what the future holds for the food and beverage sector. ''What I can give you is an insight into where the challenges lie for businesses looking to the future, and perhaps more importantly, where the opportunities lie,'' Melanie said.

''When you look at the issues we face - from the health of the nation to the health of the planet - it's clear we can only respond effectively if we have a successful food manufacturing sector in the UK. I'm positive about the future for food and drink manufacturing.

''I'm convinced our sector will successfully respond and adapt to the challenges ahead - just as it's always done. And I'm confident we'll be able to work with others in government and beyond to make a real difference in a way that genuinely benefits consumers and industry.''

Barry Aspey, environmental control manager at Heinz, spoke with Paul Hardman, senior engineering specialist at Spirax Sarco, about how the companies had worked together on a case study.

Their partnership has spanned 30 years and one of the problems they faced included thermal energy balance, where energy wasn't being efficiently distributed throughout the site. The steam lost 25% of its energy through flue gases, 25% through obstruction and 25% to effluent. Only 25% of the energy from the steam system was being used to make the final product.

Now, a transformation is underway to improve sustainability measures across the company focusing on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water, improving energy efficiency and reducing waste.

Next up was the first of our SMEs, Muddy Boots. Husband-and-wife team Roland and Miranda Ballard (pictured), who left lucrative jobs in London to focus on their dream, founded it. Muddy Boots produces healthy Aberdeen Angus beef burgers and have been so successful Waitrose decided to offer them a contract.

The passion with which Miranda spoke about the enterprise on which she and Roland had embarked, and her determination to push ahead despite the challenges and pitfalls on the way, earned the respect and admiration of the delegates.

Then came the Skills section, the first speaker of which was Hazel Elderkin, engineering project manager for Unilever. Hazel has been with Unilever for more than 30 years, which is astonishing in this day and age but which makes her a shining example of long-term employment.

She works with the company's technical community specifically to organise learning interventions that range from robotics and pneumatic courses for apprentices to European Safe Operation of Boilers and Refrigeration workshops, ensuring everything they do is completely aligned to the business.

Hazel spoke about the benefits brought to Unilever including 'homegrown' talent management ensuring engineering skills retention; projects implemented delivering payback and cost savings; motivated individuals bringing fresh ideas, positive outlook, energy and enthusiasm; and the ability and confidence to influence / drive up performances and raise standards.

Mike Dudbridge of the University of Lincoln and Fiona White, manager of the Group Training Academy at Domino, delivered a presentation that looked at how the University of Lincoln and Domino had used modern techniques to deliver cost effective training and education to people working in the food industry.

The morning panel debate focused on the importance of skills development in the food industry. ‘’We see many reports of the UK investing less in skills than in other economies,’’ Gary Wyles, MD of Festo said. ‘’What does the panel feel is the reason behind that?’’

‘’It needs to be less of a quick-fix situation,’’ said Hazel Elderkin, engineering project manager of Unilever.

‘’I’ve seen a lot of investment placed in R&D,’’ said Paul Hardman of Spirax Sarco. ‘’I’d say there’s been a marked increase in training.’’

Barry Aspey, environmental control manager of Heinz pointed out there was seen to be a lack of ‘steam’ engineers in the industry. ‘’It’s a difficult path to walk to select the right engineer. We seem to think people are failures if they don’t go to university. Are we setting our sights too high? I don’t think we’ve got the right balance. When I started my apprenticeship, university wasn’t a natural progression. I enjoyed a long career on the shopfloor before being promoted and it’s given me much knowledge and insight.’’

After lunch, Jane Bickerstaffe, MD of The Industry Council for Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN), spoke about how manufacturers and retailers know they need packaging to ensure food and other goods are safely transported through the supply chain to get to consumers in perfect condition.

As Jane pointed out, however, the public takes packaging for granted as the popularly presented image of packaging often fails to recognise the contribution it makes to our modern lifestyle and exaggerates its environmental impact.

After Jane, the second SME presentation was Mr Singh's Sauce, personified by Hardev Sahota and his son Kuldip. They spoke about the steps needed to package a product and queried whether business managers at advice centres are equipped with knowledge and techniques essential for the entrepreneur.

Hardev was born in Kenya and came to the UK in 1974 but it was his taste for Hot Punjabi Chilli Sauce that led to him creating Mr Singh's Sauce. This development from 'acorn to oak' was a theme of the conference, and echoed the earlier talk of Muddy Boots.

Kuldip impressed the audience with his verve and enthusiasm, making it clear he is the future face of this exciting SME.

Simon Baxter, marketing director, and Jim Everest, operations director, of frozen vegetable producer Ardo, delivered a joint presentation. They spoke about the challenges of operations and marketing working together to design and spec up a new factory to deliver commercially viable products in a competitive marketplace.

RG Luma Automation's Andrew Jones, who has been involved in automation for 25 years, spoke about the work he'd done with Honeytop Speciality Foods. RG Luma automated Honeytop's pancake packing operation with robotics provided by ABB. Pauline Catterall, marketing manager at Honeytop Speciality Foods, provided Honeytop’s point-of-view with respect to the installation.

Bob Carss, group environmental manager at VION Food Group, and Stephen Woodgate, CEO of Fabra, then spoke about how they joined forces to explore how food processors can capitalise on the environmental credentials of animal by-products. They considered why green energy and renewables recovered from animal by-products are an essential part of carbon credit calculations.

One of the big names of the day - Coca-Cola Enterprises - was up next with a talk by automation engineer Jos van Limberghen. He spoke about how food and beverage factories have a high grade of automation owing to the complexity of the production process - automatic changeovers owing to the increasing number of new products - and the endless demand to reduce labour cost.

Machine builders build machines to reach the required efficiency but don't take maintenance and troubleshooting into account.

The hygiene side of the food sector was covered by The Hygiene Group, whose technical manager Neil Brown presented with Nick Smith, senior technical manager of Randall Parker Foods. The presentation was a case history of a detailed review of materials, equipment and practices to meet the expectation for ongoing improvements in details and consistency.

The final talk of the day was one everybody had been waiting for - 'The benefits of going global' by Charles Baughan, MD of Westaway Sausages. Last year Charles delivered a barnstorming speech that earned him a standing ovation from the delegates. ''We live in an ever-shrinking world and it's now commonplace for even small companies to have growing worldwide sales,'' Charles said.

''However this should not be viewed as just the development of a new sales region as there are many other benefits.''


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