The Stockport site has transformed in the past two years. We started work on the new bread plant in August 2011 and production began in September 2012, but some of the associated infrastructure projects took a little longer.
Before we started the investment programme we spent two or three years going around the world and looking at which businesses could come with us on the journey. We were looking for the best kit available and didn't assume the kit we already had was suitable for the future. We didn't want to go down the route of using the same old technology and ways of working that had been used for the past 40 years. We also wanted to ensure the suppliers would work with us to get the very best hygienic design for our construction as well as looking at the lifecycle costs of the kit and how we run it. We've built up good relationships with our suppliers and they work with us on a number of projects around the UK, designing kit to our specifications.
This scheme was a major civil construction project and we had a lot of contractors on site so it was vital we got the health and safety aspects right. We spent a lot of time inducting them to ensure they complied with all our standards and we were really pleased with how that went. In fact, the whole project pretty much went to plan. It was on cost, which was very important because this was a £30M project in total for the bread plant, silos and infrastructure.
One of the benefits of having a five-year integrated plan, which we have, is that these projects get easier over time because you build on the learning and knowledge for every plant that you do.
The main priority was to ensure we designed the kit to get the quality of the product right at the end of the process. The plant we have put in here at Stockport is bigger than the previous one, so we are getting higher throughput. However, it is a much gentler process so we can maintain the quality throughout each step of the proving, baking and cooling parts of the process. I think you can really see that in the end product in terms of the softness and the quality.
A key consideration was ensuring we got the most accuracy when it came to the ingredients, because if you get variation in the way the ingredients end up in the mix then you will get variations in the finished product. The silos and ingredient systems we have put in are offering the most accurate delivery of ingredients into every mix that we have ever had. Bread making is a process you want to keep very gentle and steady because the plant needs to be running consistently hour after hour and day after day.
The energy factor (Return to top)
Another important factor was energy. Obviously the oven was a key area of attention – this now uses 20% less energy than the old one – but we also looked very closely at all the electric motors in the plant to make sure they can ramp up and down depending on the needs of the process so we could optimise the energy usage.
We designed the plant from the bottom up, which has helped because bread baking hasn't always worked like this. All the legacy plants we have in the industry have been built up and changed and adapted over many years, while with a new plant you can ensure everything is in optimum order from an energy, ingredient and product quality standpoint.
This project was all about building a platform for the future and, crucially, providing an excellent health and safety environment for our people. Now there aren't a lot of people working in the factory because of the level of automation, but we wanted to make sure nobody suffers any harm in the making of our products. We've made big improvements in terms of the guarding of the equipment and the overall layout of the plant to make sure it is as hazard-free as you can make a factory. So far, that has meant there hasn't been a single accident on the plant or through the running of it since it was installed.
The new plant also benefits from the latest supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology to monitor the performance of each part of the plant. Because the baking process is quite long, it is important this gives us visibility from one end of the plant to the other so the operators can monitor the entire process and ensure each bit of kit is operating at the right level. This means if something does come out of specification, we can react quickly so the process isn't interrupted. Bread making is a live process and once the yeast starts fermenting you need to keep things as smooth and gentle as possible throughout it. This new plant ensures that.
Planning pressures (Return to top)
This project took a great deal of planning and the level of detail our project teams went into was absolutely immense because we had to maintain production while moving bits of kit around to free up space to do the next section of work. We also had to create a new entrance for the lorries to use while the work was being done. Stockport is one of our biggest sites and the level of activity here was massive.
At this site we produce Kingsmill – which is a growing brand – our Burgen range, which we have expanded in the last year, some of our Allinson range and a lot of own label too, which is very important to us. The split here is about 70% branded and 30% own label. We work hard with a lot of the major retailers to provide an excellent service and drive innovation for them. We also recently took on the Co-op contract, which was great news. We're producing nearly 2M loaves a week at this site and serving more than 1,300 customers daily across 86 routes.
Obviously a major project like this has an impact on the staff and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think everyone is happy when they can see a company investing a considerable amount of money in a site. While we invested a great deal of money on the plant, we also made sure we had the capability from all our teams to make sure we optimised the processes and the efficiencies. We had a very detailed programme where we carried out a comprehensive assessment to make sure we had the right kind of people in place to run a more sophisticated bread plant with more process control and more parameters to measure. We then provided an extensive training programme, which not only looked at their technical skills, but also how they functioned as a team and ensured they would be able to continue to learn over the next few years. Because there are so few people in the plant, they have a big role to play making vital decisions every minute of every day to keep the plant running at the right levels.
Impact (Return to top)
The new plant had minimal impact on staffing levels. In many cases people here made the transition to the new grades and capability standards that we were looking for, but we did have to bring some new people in to make sure we didn't compromise on the standard of operator we have. Where people have not met that standard, we have been able to find alternative jobs for them around the site, so the general employment level hasn't changed too much within manufacturing.
For me, I needed to be sure we had the right people to take this on for the next 10–15 years. This plant is a legacy we want to leave for the next generation of bakers because these people can look at the kit, look at the investment we have made and see we are absolutely at the forefront of the baking industry and will be for a long time to come.
Listen to our exclusive podcast to hear Law reveal the key lessons learned from Allied Bakeries’ £30M investment programme at its factory in Stockport.
Factory facts (Return to top)
Location: Allied Bakeries, Ashton Road, Stockport, SK6 2RE
Products: Kingsmill, Burgen, Allinson and own-label bread
OUTPUT: 1.9M loaves a week
OPERATING HOURS: 247, 364 days a year
NAME: Nick Law
TITLE: Operations director
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Working on Allied Bakeries' ongoing five-year investment programme.
OUTSIDE WORK: Family is very important, I have two children. I also play the piano.