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Getting help to get smarter

12 December 2022

Since partnering with Made Smarter’s North West adoption programme in 2019, Nutree Life has accelerated its digitalisation plans, quadrupled its turnover and doubled its workforce. 

Made Smarter is a government-funded and industry-led programme which supports SME manufacturers to adopt new technology and digital skills. In the case of Nutree Life the programme has helped the business introduce bespoke automation solutions to enable high volume, high speed and accurate production which simply didn’t exist previously. Further support has integrated its systems, end-to-end from warehouse to despatch, enabling real-time visibility of its processes and the ability to respond to and improve its performance.

Nutree Life is a manufacturer of vegan and free-from protein bars, as well as powders and burger mixes.

Think smarter
“When we approached Made Smarter for help with upgrading our production process, I never imagined that we’d achieve so much so fast,” explained Patrick Mroczak, co-owner at Nutree Life. “Made Smarter made us think bigger and smarter, encouraging us to capture manufacturing data as a way of improving the accuracy and consistency of the product. It has given us the platform and the confidence to take that next step.”

After engineering an innovative production line to create confectionery – such as multi-layered protein bars with a chocolate coating –  the company wanted to grow its range by adding a caramel coating into the mix.

Mroczak contacted Made Smarter which match-funded the development of a technology solution to help with one of its two production lines. “The system we engineered ourselves has been the key to our success and enabled us to create bespoke white label products for different markets, so brands can be confident that their products are unique,” he said. “But, in order to be competitive and to take the next step in our growth, we needed to invest in new technologies.

“Manual coating is very wasteful, inaccurate and time consuming, so automation and control were at the heart of our plans. We also knew there was valuable data coming from our machines that would hold the key to continuously improving what we do and how we do it.”

The bespoke solution connects two machines, one which makes the base layers of the bar, the other which coats it in caramel and then chocolate. Sensors and software control the positioning of the bar as it moves between the machines to ensure a consistent layer of caramel.

Production data from the process is captured and transmitted to management in real-time to monitor performance, identify potential efficiencies, to plan workflow, and to compliantly audit activity for compliance purposes.

Faster and more accurate production and control resulted in increased productivity and improved manufacturing capacity. It enabled Nutree Life to start creating more complex products with less handling, significantly improved quality and reduced waste and energy use.

The solution is also flexible and adaptable, which leads to move rapid changeovers and reduced machine downtime between batches.

Crucially, the increased productivity and manufacturing capacity enabled Nutree Life to cope with an upsurge in demand during the pandemic. As a result, Nutree Life, doubled its workforce.

Meanwhile, data capture from the manufacturing process has allowed the business to look for ways to improve efficiency across all areas of production. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – the standard for improving manufacturing productivity – has increased from 76% to 89%.

“In terms of OEE, the world class level is 85%, which shows the big jump in terms of quality and availability we have achieved with our investment,” said Mroczak. “That is an important benchmark to set for our business.”

Software solutions
The success of this project drove Nutree Life to roll the solution out to its second production line and create the opportunity to integrate its machinery and business systems. With further funding from Made Smarter, Nutree Life has also invested in a software solution which links its accounting, stock control, dispatch and production.

“Our previous approach to data capture was a combination of automated machine reporting and manually data collection which was slow, inaccurate, and could lead to inaccuracies and inconsistent product,” said Mroczak. “We needed visibility of data such as output, speed, weight, bar size, OEE and waste.”

Having this level of oversight is helping the company to improve consistency within its manufacturing process, giving it greater control, reducing inventory, improving cash flow and paving the way to increase output with a third production line.

“We now have a smarter system, with  integrated machines that work together via software links. There is no human intervention needed, except for change over set up,” continued  Mroczak. “Two-way communication to and from the production lines from our business platform improves accuracy and workflow, removes waste, improves efficiency and reduces stock levels. Automation has enabled data capture which is supporting our drive towards Industry 4.0 standards.”

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