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John R Boone blend a perfect flavour for Finlays Tea

20 September 2011

When it came time to expand production of their flavoured tea blends, including favourites like Earl Grey, Finlays approached John R Boone for a blender that would fit with their existing factory automation system and help them to make a step change in production capacity, while at the same time maintaining Finlays very high standards of quality and flavour.

Finlays have been in existence for around 250 years, employing an amazing 50,000 people around the world and producing over 40 million kilos of black tea from their estates in Sri Lanka and Kenya. Much of that production finds its way to the UK, where it is predominantly converted to tea for private label and supermarket brands.

At their modern and highly automated factory in West Yorkshire, Finlays needed to improve production flexibility and increase capacity. The existing cone blender had a capacity of only 250kg of tea leaves, was labour intensive to charge, operate and clean, and because it had to be kept running for the majority of every week, was recognised as being less energy-efficient than it should be.

JR Boone were approached for a solution and proposed a new 1500 litre drum blender, spray system for the flavoured oils and computer control that would fully integrate with the on-site materials handling system. Tea is moved through the factory in hundreds of standard tote bins, and electronic tags or ‘badges’ are used to keep track of them all. Space was at a premium, and despite having a capacity that would potentially increase batch size significantly, JR Boone were able to design a blender that would fit into the same space as the old cone mixer. That meant that the original elevator and some of the feeders could be retained.

Finlays and JR Boone engineers, together with Derek Horton, Senior Tea Buyer and Blender conducted extensive testing prior to purchase to ensure that the blender met Finlays' high standards. The new blender has also delivered a number of important process benefits.

With the increase in capacity, time allocated to blending has been substantially reduced allowing operators to focus on different tasks within the operation. This has improved productivity and ultimately our overall efficiency. Another clear benefit has been the 60% reduction in time to clean the mixer.

The new spray coating system allows the oils that flavour the tea to be applied at a perfect dosage and high pressure to evenly coat the tea leaves as they are gently mixed.

The more efficient configuration of the mixer and the more efficient motor compared to the previous installation also meant a significant reduction in energy use in this area of the factory.

J R Boone included a touch-screen control unit, consistent with the factory policy of reducing push-button control to a minimum to facilitate control integration throughout.

Richard Sheard, who led the Finlays engineering team on the project, said, ‘The project went very well. We knew JR Boone’s good reputation and they delivered on time and on budget and worked well with us from design right through to commissioning.’ He went on, ‘The operators are thrilled to bits, and the blender is very easy to work on, very easy to work with and easy to control’.


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