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Embracing data as the root to growth

19 April 2024

A potato manufacturer has successfully transformed its quality control process, reduced waste and boosted profits thanks to the adoption of a data-driven solution, with support from Made Smarter.

Fylde Fresh and Fabulous, based in Greenhalgh, Lancashire, processes around 1,000 tonnes of potatoes every week to create a variety of cuts for the food manufacturing and service sectors.

The company has replaced a manual and out-dated paper-based quality check process, with a bespoke enterprise resource planning (ERP) software solution which uses handheld tablets to achieve real-time visualisation of factory data.

This live view enables the business to identify, communicate and react to any quality issues in a timely way to help increase production efficiency and improve traceability. 

Commenting in the project, Simon Leaver, CEO at Flyde Fresh and Fabulous, said: “The support from Made Smarter has been fantastic. It has accelerated the scale and scope of our investment in technology which will help our ambition to build an efficient manufacturing environment which produces first class potato products.

“We are operating in a growing market and employ a valuable team of long-serving employees with a wealth of experience and enthusiasm. By putting data and analytics at the heart of a new smart operating model, we will be able to innovate, grow, and create high value jobs.”

The challenge
Founded in 2005, Fylde Fresh and Fabulous has grown from a potato grower to a processor with 70 staff.

Quality is crucial for the business, and in order to meet the specifications of customers it needs to adhere to stringent checks. 

However, a reliance on a paper-based, manual system meant it couldn’t react quickly enough to problems and link quality issues to yields and suppliers, which impact the production and the quality going out customers.

Fylde also boasts sustainability and self-sufficiency credentials. Any rejected potatoes or peel goes into an anaerobic digester, which powers two CHP engines, producing electricity to power its factory and export to the local community. Meanwhile, the output from the digester is used as fertiliser for growing.

Simon continued: “Potatoes are an inconsistent product, so efficient quality assurance checks are the backbone of our company and integral in the supply and performance for our customers. 
We have a list of 15 defects – including bruising, frost damage, and hollow heart – which can cause problems later in production. 

“With a largely paper-based and outdated quality checking processes, it took a whole day to realise there were any issues. By that time, it had gone through production and out to the customer.

“We strived to achieve very high standards but the manual data collection and spreadsheet-based analysis began consuming an incredible amount of time,” continued Simon, “Rising demand for quality and efficiency required more detailed data analysis. It became impossible to manage data without automating and digitalising the process. Without new technology to support our data-driven strategy the business would have started regressing.”

With the help and advice of Made Smarter’s Adoption programme – a UK Government-backed initiative to support SME manufacturers to adopt technology – Fylde invested in a bespoke ERP system that allows it to design, maintain, collect, evaluate and utilise real time data.

All QA checks, both goods in raw material and production checks, are undertaken using handheld tablets which are uploaded onto the central server. Out of specification products will send live alerts to supervisors and managers.

Management will be able to track and assess the quality of the product remotely or in office, quickly and easily review performance of different potato loads, and create accountability for QA checks undertaken.

In the first six months of operation the solution was able to reduce the amount of product returned by customers by thousands of kilos. Return to Manufacture (RTM) reduced by 0.07% which over the course of a year prevents around £8,000 of product from being rejected by customers.

Real time reporting, based on live data, means that issues are spotted sooner, preventing the production of an out of specification potato, which reduces waste and increases machine and workforce efficiency.

Data and analytics also means the business has sped up and improved traceability; enabling it to assess raw material supplier performance and choose higher quality suppliers.

The solution has helped Fylde retain its AA rating with BRCGS (Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standards). “The system has been transformational,” said Simon. “We have tighter control of our product quality and can reduce the amount of product rejected due to being out of specification. With paper-based processes we were in the dark. Now we can clearly see what's going on. Communications within the business have massively improved and we have tighter control of the quality and safety of products leaving the factory. 

“With this data we can create links between numbers. It will save us a lot of money. A one percent yield difference can cost thousands of pounds.”

Simon’s advice for digital transformation is to slowly implement new digital changes and improvements, while at the same time increasing the digital skills within the team and the atmosphere regarding digital adoption.

“The eventual goal for Flyde Fresh and Fabulous is that all quality assurance staff, production supervisors and management will gain digital skills and will become more comfortable with the changes we make.”

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