Industry 4.0 pilot to benefit five food firms

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bells of Lazonby is automating its portioned cake production using a bespoke robotics solution
Bells of Lazonby is automating its portioned cake production using a bespoke robotics solution

Related tags: Bakery, Fresh produce, Ingredients & nutrition, Technology & Automation

Five food firms are set to benefit from an industry 4.0 pilot programme designed to boost their growth through Government match-funding to introduce digital technology.

Tools being deployed as a result of the £20m Made Smarter business support programme include data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 3D-printing and robotics.

Penrith-based Bell Mount Farming, Knowsley-based Blends Holdings, Bells of Lazonby, Rochdale-based Lancashire Farm Dairies and Tarleton-based Len Wright Salads are among 11 businesses set to introduce advanced manufacturing methods. For these 11 businesses alone, Made Smarter estimates the initiative could deliver an additional £13m in gross value added (GVA) for the economy in the north west of England over the next three years.

The investment is expected to increase productivity, domestic sales, exports and job creation, providing new skills to workforces, integration with supply chains and reduced environmental impact.

Family bakery Bells of Lazonby

Michael Bell, managing director at family bakery Bells of Lazonby, which is automating its portioned cake production using a bespoke robotics solution, said: “We have invested heavily in new products and our new brand Bells and Whistles​.

Our sales have grown tremendously in the last 24 months and we are in danger of having to turn new customers away, due to the inability of our production facilities and processes to cope with any increased throughput​.”

The robot installation would improve the speed of production and move staff from the cutting area to other areas in the bakery, he added. “The new technology will improve processing time and reduce wastage leading to increased profitability, enabling the company to become more competitive​.”

Prepared salad factory

Colin Charlesworth, finance director at Len Wright Salads, which processes a wide range of produce including lettuce and tomatoes at its huge site in Tarleton, said: “Our business has embarked on an ambitious transformation strategy to secure its future, which includes the investment in a new prepared salad factory, one of the most advanced in Europe.

“The vision is to reduce our energy usage and improve our productivity through waste reduction, using industry-leading digital technology. Support and match-funding from Made Smarter and expertise from our external consultant Rick Patterson, has enabled us to make the crucial investment in IT and data infrastructure to support this goal.”

Michael Rowark, operations director at food ingredient supplier Blends Holdings, explained: ​A digital software package to handle and manage the stock, process and accounts information would replace highly manual – often duplicated – tasks of data-recording and entry into a single operation ensuring high efficiencies and accuracy of the current state of the production process for the business.

​This system will also provide the support needed to automate future processes that we want to explore, such as automating the bottling lines, and forms the backbone for our future digital expansions.

Lakes Free Range Eggs

David Brass, joint owner of Bell Mount Farming, which produces eggs for the Lakes Free Range Eggs brand, commented: “At present, there is no real time data collection system in place across the UK laying flock, to monitor egg-laying hens.

“The matched-funding from Made Smarter will enable our ambitions to invest in a free-range egg management system to monitor the health of hens, using sensors to optimise welfare and egg production.

“This will provide a first step in the collection of a unique data-set that will be shared by industry stakeholders, improve performance, welfare and aid research into the industry’s most pressing problems.”

The new firms to sign up to Made Smarter follow a pioneering tranche of nine manufacturers already part of the pilot, which aims to engage with more than 3,000 manufacturing SMEs in the north west.

In May, it was announced that Birkenhead-based The Nursery Kitchen, which supplies 15,000 meals a week to UK nurseries was set to gain from the pilot scheme​. It said the support would enable it to introduce more automated and integrated enterprise resource planning, stock control and client ordering systems, reduce its administrative burden, minimise errors and comply with increasingly stringent food safety standards.

Benefits of the Made Smarter Programme

What can the Made Smarter​ pilot offer North West business?

  • Fully-funded specialist advice to assess current operations and develop a digitalisation strategy;
  • Up to 50% grant funding to implement new technology, software and hardware into manufacturing;
  • Access to a UK-wide Industry 4.0 technology supplier directory​;
  • Access to a subsidised leadership development programme, designed specifically to support the programme;
  • Access to student placements to help understand how to implement the technology.

Made Smarter

Donna Edwards, director of the Made Smarter north west pilot​, said: “Working with business we have found that they are enthusiastic about the benefits of adopting new digital technology. Often, they need funding support, but also the specialist advice and insight to help them select the right approach for their business.

“This is exactly how Made Smarter can and is helping businesses across the region. It has been interesting to see the range of businesses and sub-sectors the successful applicants have come from and the technologies they have selected.

“Made Smarter is relevant for any north-west SMEs employing less than 250 staff that make, create, manufacture or engineer, and I urge local businesses not to miss this opportunity. Register today for a fully-funded audit of your operations.”

Digital technologies

Minister for business and industry Nadhim Zahawi said: “The Made Smarter Programme is enabling manufacturers across the north west to access advanced digital technologies with the aim of driving growth and increasing productivity while reducing costs – all part of our ambition to make the UK a global leader in shaping how the modern world does business.

“The 11 new companies announced today will not only reap the benefits themselves, the investment will support a multi-million-pound boost to the local economy, keeping the region at the forefront of the latest innovations. They join 24 businesses who have received project funding to date, and I would urge others to follow in their footsteps.”

  • To qualify for the Made Smarter north west pilot, businesses must be classified as SMEs, meaning they employ fewer than 250 staff and​ generate a turnover of less than £44m or​ have a balance sheet total of less than £38.5m.

The new tranche of firms set to benefit from the pilot scheme

  • Bell Mount Farming;
  • Blends Holdings;
  • Bollington-based Lowlife Products;
  • Handrail Creations, based in Bolton;
  • Bells of Lazonby;
  • Macclesfield-based Plastic Card Services;
  • Cadscan, based in Chester;
  • Lancashire Farm Dairies;
  • Fabricon Design, based in Ashton-Under-Lyne;
  • Len Wright Salads;
  • and Eggbase, based in Sedburgh.

Related topics: Bakery, Industry 4.0, Operations

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