The Lancashire-based business is more than 100 years old, but has sought to modernise its approach to processing by embracing a strategy of continual improvement. With the help of the University of Lancashire, it has trained an in-house industry 4.0 innovation team to identify and target areas of improvement and potential technology solutions.
Now with support and advice from Made Smarter it has launched two projects designed lay the foundation for digital transformation. The first focuses on data and systems integration, the second, on tackling inefficiencies in some of its key processes.
“Our ambition is to create the world’s first smart black pudding factory," said production director Richard Morris. "We have identified a pathway to achieving that ambition which starts with data and systems integration, then analytics, and automation. Working with the team
at Made Smarter has accelerated our plan by years.”
Greater levels of automation
While BBPCo has invested in its machinery and its workforce to tackle increasing demand, the company recognised it needed complete revamp of its processes to achieve greater levels of automation.
“Until a few years ago Industry 4.0 was just a phrase I kept hearing,” said Morris. “I was too busy getting on with the job to investigate
how it applied to our business. When I finally took some time to see how we could benefit from digital tools and technologies it was a lightbulb moment and I’ve never looked back.”
After upskilling his management team and developing a digital transformation strategy, Morris established a set of objectives. These included: system integration to capture and display real-time data; analytics to identify potential efficiencies; increased automation to reduce human intervention; increased production and capacity to build stocks for seasonal sales spikes; and improved accuracy and reduced waste.
'Factory flow spreadsheet'
“Over the years we have developed an in-house method of collecting and collating the data from every area of the business into what we call our factory flow spreadsheet," he said. "Without it we couldn’t operate.
"But the process of analysing it with a view to understanding how the business is doing and what can be done to improve it, is very time consuming and onerous, plus it can take place weeks after the event. What we need is an automated solution to capture the data, analyse it and display in real-time.”
BBPCo also identified an opportunity to improve production of its main stick and chub consumer packs. The company currently uses a
manual method of checking the mean weight of a product run, which is then recorded on paper and analysed for anomalies.
'Manual system is costly'
“Employing a manual system to double or treble check accuracy or identify mistakes, and adhere to legal mean weight requirements, is very costly,” Morris said. “With digital tools we could streamline the process, improve accuracy, give our sales department complete oversight
of availability for customers, and reduce waste.”
BBPCo is in the process of scoping its entire operation to identify the critical upgrades needed for its IT infrastructure to connect to a new
enterprise resource planning (ERP) management software.
These include digitising paperwork used in its quality department’s internal auditing and upgrading electrical panels and installing USB panels on machines to collect the data from machinery.
Other plans include updating its time and attendance system, and Eurotherm Systems, which control cooking and fridge temperatures.
A second project will introduce a Handtmann VF 838 S vacuum filler with HCU software, which connects the weighing and filling process. It will mean every clipped product weighed by an operative will automatically correct the filler machine portion control to a preset giveaway ‘allowance’, ensuring a more consistent product.
The data that is harvested will then provide the ‘mean’ weight for the product run which is a legal requirement for weights & measures auditors.
BBPCo calculated that improving the accuracy of its weighing and filling process would reduce product giveaway by 1%, saving 750kg for a 60t production run, which can be reused. It would significantly reduce the labour associated with the weighing and checking process, enabling that effort to be redeployed into other areas of the business.
“Improving the weighing and filling process is the perfect place for us to start to achieve efficiencies and illustrate to the whole organisation
what system integration and data can do for the business,” Morris explained. “The eventual aim is for everything to link to an ERP system, which can give us the real-time oversight we long for.
“I want this new system to empower my senior management to make decisions based on the data, to be creative to get the job done more
efficiently and to engage the entire workforce to see why we make the decisions we do and bring them along on the journey.”
While BBPCo said it was some way off achieving its ambition of a smart factory, the roadmap was there. Morris aims to focus on data analytics next. “Every nine weeks or so I spend an entire day looking at the data and trying to figure out what we’ve achieved and how we can make improvements. I should be working on the business, not in the business.
"We have ten plus years of data sat there waiting to be analysed. Once we have a system that can capture the data and clean it up, we can begin forecasting with solid facts behind us. I want to be walking in on a Monday morning to an efficiency meeting looking at what the ERP is spitting out and all the analysis to tell us what we need to do to deliver better efficiencies."
BBPCo boasts annual sales of £6m and makes vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and chilli versions of black pudding, plus white pudding. The 95-strong workforce in the Bury factory produce 85t of product each week, supplying the top four supermarkets, as well as Spar, the Coop, and Iceland.