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A4E shines as delegates stream in

14 June 2012

Appetite for Engineering had one of its most successful turnouts as delegates swarmed to the event, which was held at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire on 12 June

The programme started with a barnstorming opening address from Jim Moseley, MD of General Mills and President of the Food & Drink Federation. He talked about the importance of the food and beverage industry in the manufacturing sector, and touched on why skills need to be given attention in food companies.

The chairman's introduction from Chris Buxton, CEO of the PPMA, in association with UKIVA, BARA and PPMDA, centred around the core elements of this year's event, namely automation, innovation and skills. Chris (PICTURED) also looked at how robots are changing the way we live.

John Quinn, a food technologist for Traditional Meals, Gastropub and Bistro at Marks & Spencer, talked about how Marks & Spencer, now in its fifth decade, was an initial founder of chilled foods - chicken kiev, cottage pie and cottage pie meal all being early examples.

He pointed out that the method of manufacture has not changed much over the years and is still very labour intensive. ''At present the opportunities exist to introduce a lot more automation but it seems both the ready meal supplier and the food automation industry are not on the same wavelength,'' John said. ''Also the current economic climate makes investment difficult. As part of the presentation I wonder what food automation would look like if it had APPLE innovation applied to it. Flexible automation is required!''

Claire Wilson, operations & maintenance manager at Warburtons, and her colleague Phil Smith delivered a joint presentation about different aspects of the plant at Severn Beach. They spoke about different aspects of the business. Phil discussed the advantages and disadvantages of automation technology concepts undertaken at Warburtons. He also addressed a survey of shift engineers, referring to concerns and issues about automation, and also Warburtons' support network which utilises nationwide skills of engineers and central engineering. He looked at building quality open relationships with suppliers and machine manufacturers, in-house training, utilising varying skills of engineers, reducing cost and, finally, will consider the way forward.

Claire discussed the challenges that require continual upskilling despite a lack of funding. She also looked at sharing best practice and utilising other sites to upskill, and utilising engineers with specialist skills to train others in the department. With a second plant imminent, in-line training will be required. Engineers will be sent to Germany, OEMs will need to be trained, and this will present challenges. In addition to this is the need to run the current plant to the same efficiency, as well as dealing with other issues with new plant.

In a presentation entitled 'The Complete Packaging Solution', Llewellyn Rees, managing director of the RM Group focused on the company's core aim of providing the client with a complete packaging solution. He spoke about the company's ability to consider at the start of a project the potential packaging problems that a given product presents.

''This consideration - when combined with our knowledge of packaging machinery and experience of packaging different products - gives RM Group a competitive edge ensuring a reliable and cost effective packaging solution,'' Lel said.

The next presentation, Competitive Advantage through Automation, was made by John Morten, group project manager at Burtons Biscuit Company. He approached his presentation in a structural format. First, he provided a brief introduction to Burtons Biscuit Company, including its size and scale. Then investigated the three reasons it is important for food manufacturers to invest in automation - the delivering of manufacturing cost benefits; the delivering of consistent quality controls; and the addressing of scarce operational skills.

He then looked at the types of investments in automation, illuminating the fact that where Burtons had only three flexible automation systems three years ago, it now has six. John also covered the benefits derived from automation and vision systems before delivering his verdict on this technology.

The first skills presentation of the day was made by Christopher Edwards, technical competence development manager with Arla Foods.

''As our sites have become more automated with lean practices and higher volumes with increased demands on quality we have had to recognise our skills gap and take ownership of this issue instead of relying on others, colleges and schools, to produce the technically qualified individuals we need to grow our business,'' said Chris. ''This includes Deep Skills in dairy Technology, Food Engineering and laterally in Supply Chain and Logistics.

''This has needed widespread soul searching, project planning and budget commitment,'' he continued. ''The development of unique programmes with a shared vision across some of the most competitive dairies in the UK. We call this Collaboration Project Eden and its result is the House of Eden. In addition we, the Dairy Industry have had to grow and develop the curriculum, the facility - some £7.5million investment and the culture of the principal training provider.''

Graham Thomas, site engineering manager at Greencore Cakes & Desserts in Hull spoke about his business requiring a neater, cleaner cut for fruit cake bars which were conventionally cut using a reciprocating saw blade machine. ''Ultrasonic cutting was the answer but typical machines were pneumatic or servo driven guillotine action machines,'' said Graham. ''A bespoke design using robots to teach the conveyor and cut through the cake from side to side was considered, trialled on a test rig, designed and manufactured. The result was an exceptionally clean and accurate cut with total customer satisfaction.''

The easy route would have been to order a standard cutting machine but Graham wasn't going to settle for standard.

Theo Schmid, Head Product Supply Management at Wander AG, addressed the delegates at Appetite regarding lean manufacturing in the food and beverage industry, including Ovaltine's approach and its experiences thus far. ''As the manufacturer of Ovaltine for Europe, the company decided on a lean approach to our process about two years ago,'' Theo said. ''We decided to go with a consultant from the automotive industry because it is very advanced with respect to lean manufacturing. Our approach has been very pragmatic and we have focused on what needs to be done instead of what could be done.''

Ashley Baker, head of research & development at Macphie of Glenbervie and Dr Siobhán Jordan, director of Interface - The Knowledge connection for Business - presented a talk entitled 'Funding Your Success'.

Ashley's and Siobhán's joint presentation revolved around the fact that Macphie of Glenbervie has worked on academic partnerships through assistance from Interface. The two companies talked about how they have co-operated on groundbreaking work being undertaken to help deliver improvements to Macphie's end product as well as increase efficiency in the manufacturing process.

About 10% of the companies with whom Interface works are from the food and beverage sector. The projects on which they've facilitated are wide-ranging, from improving the shelflife of oatcakes with Nairns to developing testing the feasibility of pasteurisation of fruit juices using advanced microwave technology.

Each year, Appetite features an SME who is 'starting out', or one who has had to overcome several challenges in order to make their mark. This year it was Claire Hall. About six years ago Claire, while sat at a reception desk in London, came up with the idea for 'Vodka Iced Teas'. She knew nothing about the drinks industry, business in general and manufacturing but says she has been learning ever since.

Claire is now the founder of drink it Ltd/Percy's, and is selling via the Internet and food and drink shows. ''As an SME with a niche product, making profit on small productions runs has been a constant battle for me,'' said Claire before explaining how her presentation will show the struggles, barriers and production stages of Percy's Iced Teas and how it got to the semi automated production stage it is now.

Tristan Holloway, site engineering & maintenance manager at The Jordans & Ryvita Company, delivered a presentation on skills training and development at the company. ''Faced with advances in technology and increased demands on production, the engineering team now poses a threat to the business through retirement and skills gaps,'' says Tristan.

Tristan spoke about the importance of understanding the skills knowledge base through competency testing to then improve training and development and to identify areas of opportunity to recruit. He also discussed the importance to look outside native industries for new ways to drive improvements.

Gary Davies, general manager of Oliver James Foods/Proper Pies, delivered the final skills presentation of the day in a paper entitled 'Trends in Skills'.

Gary spoke about how trends in the food service industry have changed supplier/customer relationships in terms of information, provision and the impact this has had on the company's technical requirements in terms of graduate intake and the roles they undertake with.

''My career really started as a graduate trainee with Rank Hovis McDougall,'' says Gary. ''Over the course of 20 years l worked in several capacities including IT, accountancy, operations, production and logistics and eventually in retail. I joined OJ Foods in 2007 and draw on all these disciplines daily as my role as general manager of two companies over three production facilities. We combine artisan and chef skills with commercial acumen to offer a wide range of products to the food service, retail and airline market places.''

The final talk was from Alan Yates, MD of Endoline Machinery. Alan discussed the need for 'open communication' and sharing of information between the two parties at the beginning stages of the project lifecycle. ''Although a simple request and solution to what is a challenge for many OEMs, the lack of project detail and technical internal requirements often leads to unnecessary re-quotes, numerous versions of layout drawings and late modifications to the machine during build which can then cause delay. Wasted time, effort and money could easily be saved by both parties - if only we'd have talked sooner!''

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