Automation to survive the storm

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Investment

Averdieck urged manufacturers to improve their production processes
Averdieck urged manufacturers to improve their production processes
Momentum is growing for greater capital investment by small and medium-sized food and drink manufacturers (SMEs) to improve their productivity. This is despite the harsh economic environment facing the sector and problems reported by some SMEs in obtaining finance from the banks.

Investment in automation is "crucial"​ to the success of the UK's food industry, according to Gü Chocolate Puds founder James Averdieck. Speaking at a recent debate on the future of UK manufacturing in Leeds, Averdieck said introducing automation at his manufacturing plant had caused productivity to "shoot up"​.

"With the introduction of automation we went instantly from producing 50 desserts per minute to 150 desserts per minute,"​ said Averdieck. "Critically, this gave us more money to invest in the company, which in turn enabled us to up our volume once again."

Gü now has a turnover of £40M and exports 30% of its desserts, including soufflés, to France and chocolate puddings to Belgium. Averdieck sold the company in 2010 for £35M.

It will be interesting to see whether the use of automation by food firms rises following the recent acquisition of the Centre for Food Robotics and Automation by Stafforce Personnel. In addition, the government has pumped £600,000 into the Automating Manufacturing Programme managed by the British Automation & Robot Association to increase the uptake of robots by manufacturers in the UK.

Averdieck's views are supported by project management company Lorien Engineering Solutions, which has reported that, despite the current tough climate, food manufacturers are investing to improve their productivity.

Phil Colquhoun, a senior engineer with Lorien says many manufacturers are taking the long view, choosing to make substantial but sensible investments that are reaping benefits.

Colquhoun reports that the tough economic environment has forced many company boards to develop a better understanding of their businesses. "The calculation of return on investment is easier when you're all too aware of all the factors that can affect a project, from human resources and logistics to equipment and overall equipment effectiveness," ​says Colquhoun.

"While there was an understandable reluctance to invest in capital projects in the early years of the downturn, with market conditions showing no signs of significant improvement in the near future, many food manufacturers have recognised that they must adapt to this 'new normal'. The advantage is that when the economic picture finally does brighten, their streamlined facilities will mean they'll be better placed than ever for growth."

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