AG Barr to double output

Stacey is plotting to boost output to 19M cans next year
Stacey is plotting to boost output to 19M cans next year

Related tags Ag barr Irn-bru

Working with one high-speed production line can be a challenge, but Tim Stacey tells Nicholas Robinson there are more perks than drawbacks

Key points

Employee number one was me. There was nothing here when I joined AG Barr in 2013, just a Portacabin in a field and sheep.

The £41M Milton Keynes factory was completed in May 2013. It covers 21,000m² and was built on 12.7 acres of land, which gives us a lot of room to expand in the future.

I started in the sector as an engineer with the Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) Group [which was bought by Premier Foods in 2007] after I completed a degree in chemical engineering.

I worked at lots of RHM sites during my time with the firm and had become a process engineer, then a shift manager and finally an engineering manager. When I thought it was time to move on I was approached by CCE for an engineering manager's role with them, but didn't get the job.

A week later, though, I was called by Steve Adams, who is now CCE's group director of supply chain operations in Great Britain. He asked me to be a maintenance manager, which was a bit of a step back for me, but I wanted to work for a big company like CCE.

After three months with CCE I was promoted to a production manager and put in charge of three production lines. After 18 months I was promoted to an engineering manager and moved to France to work as a trouble-shooting engineer at a CCE site there. However, I have a young family so that’s why I took this job – it didn’t seem fair to be away from them.

The process (Return to top)

We have one canning line here, which fills 2,000 cans a minute. The fully automated line produces all of our canned products including Irn Bru, diet Irn Bru and the energy drink Rockstar. Last year we produced 9.5M cans and this year output will double to 19M, which will be helped by the introduction of three new Tetra Pak filling lines.

Our production process starts in the office where we plan what materials we will need for the next 12 weeks. Raw materials come in and are unloaded by laser-guided vehicles (LGVs), which put the products into storage or straight onto the production line.

Depending on what product we're making, we’ll produce various syrups from juices and other ingredients. The mixture is then sent to our 40,000l storage tank before canning. Water is added to the syrup before it goes through a carbonator where the bubbles are added.

Cans of 330ml or 500ml are then filled at a rate of 120,000 an hour. They have their fill levels checked by a computer and are then sealed. After sealing, they are inverted, which many people think is to date stamp the can, but it's actually to check for leaks. Cans then travel down the rest of the line upside down before they are turned upright for packing. The site has a low can rejection rate of one in 750,000.

Fill levels are checked for a second time before the cans go through a multi-packer, which we spent £1.3M on last year. This packs them into packs of four, six, eight, 12 or 24. A robotic palletiser stacks and wraps them before the LGVs take the pallets to the warehouse for distribution, which is managed by Eddie Stobart.

It can be a challenge producing so much on one line and sometimes we can have up to 10 product changes in one day. But that’s one of the benefits of having a high-speed production process – we can run one product through very quickly to fill an urgent order.

Efficiency boost (Return to top)

This also means that we don’t run one product for hours at a time. It may be that we do a 25,000l batch of a product in a few hours.

Having one line also means we don’t stockpile end products. An older system, however, would’ve made lots of stuff in large batches for days at a time, which would have taken longer to shift as well. Making large batches of products also means it’s more difficult to quickly respond to changing customer demands.

Our automated production methods mean we have fewer staff than other drink manufacturing sites too. At this site, there are 67 AG Barr staff and over 100 Eddie Stobart staff. We changed our shift patterns in October last year from a two-shift pattern of 6am to 2pm and 2pm to a 10pm, to a three-shift pattern of 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am, which runs Monday to Friday.

We changed the shifts to boost output and to accommodate our three new Tetra Pak lines, which came into operation last month (February) and were the result of a £7M investment.

The investment bought us two new high-speed Tetra Pak lines, which will be used to produce our Rubicon and KA juice drinks. A third filler is coming from our Tredegar site in Wales, which AG Barr is looking to close. In the spring, the Milton Keynes site will become the company's national carton production site.

Two carton sizes – 288ml and 1l – will be filled on the high-speed lines. Output on the 288ml cartons will be 24,000 cartons an hour and the 1l line will produce 22,000 an hour. There is also enough space in the factory to expand the Tetra Pak production line by another two machines in the future, which will bring the site’s Tetra Pak production capacity up to 40M cases a year.

There will be more investment at the site in the future. I couldn’t tell you what that will be or when it would happen, but the facility has been built to accommodate more and there are plans to continue the site’s expansion.

The most stressful part of my job was trying to recruit the team. In Scotland, people know about AG Barr. Down here, that’s not the case. It took me longer than I thought it would to recruit the right people with the right skills for this site.

Now, I want this site to double its output and to become a destination for staff within the company to develop their skills.

View our photogallery​ for an exclusive look inside AG Barr Milton Keynes’s factory and to see the full production process, including the site’s LGVs and palletiser.

Personal (Return to top)

Name: Tim Stacey

Age: 39

Job title: Factory manager

Domestics: Married with two young daughters

Outside of work: If I get any time I do a bit of running. I’m trying to do a 5k park run every Saturday

Biggest achievement: It would be setting up and running this site from scratch. How many opportunities like this do you get in life? I’m very paternal about this place it’s like a third child

Factory facts

Location: AG Barr Milton Keynes, Crossley Drive, Magna Park, Milton Keynes MK17 8FL

Staff: 67 AG Barr staff in the factory and over 100 Eddie Stobart staff in the warehouse

Products: Irn Bru, diet Irn Bru, Rubicon drinks, KA and Rockstar

Output: We produced 9.5M cans last year and we'll increase output to 19M this year

Customers: The major multiples, convenience stores and wholesale

Size of site: 21,000m²

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