In The Press – The Innovator, Stuart Grogan

22 March 2023

Author: Niamh Smith, Marketing & Sales Executive

In the press this week, our very own Stuart Grogan, Operations Director at BCH Ltd features in ‘The Innovator’ section of International Confectionery magazine.

Stuart talks to the publication about automating production, software solutions and our Innovation Centre – all of which can be used to meet challenges in confectionery production.

You can read the full article below – or via this link to International Confectionery Magazine.

In our February issue for the Forming and Extrusion feature you spoke about the rising cost of energy. How are you meeting demand for energy efficient systems?

BCH has always been seeking to adapt to the changes in both their micro and macro environments in order to remain a relevant supplier in the food, confectionery and allied industries.

Our core processes use the most energy efficient equipment and with that we continue to analyse how and where we can make further changes to improve our products further. Even the smallest changes can have a positive outcome on the overall efficiency of a production facility. 

This is especially true given the fact that confectionery production lines generally consume a lot of power, when you take into consideration what is involved from receiving raw materials right through to packaging.

Since the establishment of BCH in 1835, what have been major developments for confectionery processing?

We are fortunate to still be in possession of a lot of historical information in our archives that evidence what kinds of process solutions were adopted as far back as the early 1800’s. 

BCH operate in a relatively niche market sector and although this is the case, it’s clear that for us and other process equipment suppliers, automation is by far the most significant development we have witnessed that has significantly reduced the amount of labour required and waste generated.  

Another recent addition to our portfolio is the adoption of IO Link, where items such as instrumentation can be ‘hot swapped’ without the need for reprogramming. Thus, reducing the amount of downtime in the event a temperature sensor fails for example.

As a company with such a long history, how is BCH modernising its production? 

Over the last few years, the organisation has experienced a step change in its supply chain due to the availability of components and raw materials versus the expectations of the market when it comes to the timely delivery of projects. 

Whilst in some instances, it’s simply not possible to mitigate these issues completely as we are not manufacturers of controls and automation components, however we have invested heavily in our infrastructure by way of the latest CNC machining centres and robotic plants to bring more control in-house.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the evident skills shortage in engineering where we are automating what was once more manual tasks. Recognising that this is not always the solution, we have stepped up our apprenticeship program by recruiting more staff on an annual basis.

What is the importance of having an Innovation Centre? How has it helped customers? 

Having this facility available to our customer base (both old and new) is critical on a number of levels. 

Firstly, it allows us to be engaged at concept level as a multitude of equipment and processes are at our disposal to partner with our customers to develop new products coming to the market, and also to refine existing processes with newer technology  – all away from the challenges present when trying to innovate in a day-to-day manufacturing environment where equipment selection can be limited, and production up-time hinders the availability to perform essential NPD work. 

Our client’s production facilities are often operating on a scale where small production runs are not possible and would be costly in terms of the quantity of materials that would be required. The equipment in our Innovation centres is typically of pilot scale and therefore allows short test runs and quick change over times. Thus, keeping trial costs and time at a minimum.

Another key feature of the services that we provide are that new product development work is most often of a sensitive nature, and allowing this to take place off-site maintains confidentiality where only the key project stakeholders can be involved.

The confectionery industry is currently facing a number of challenges including the cost of energy. How do you think we should best address these challenges?

Implementation of the most energy efficient equipment is obviously the easiest method to facilitate change, although in the event of a new product launch and increased production demands, this is not always an option open to manufacturers.

Sometimes considering upgrading the highest energy consuming processes can be more practical if the capital investment/pay-back justification can be observed.  We are working closely with clients across the confectionery and food industries to help facilitate these changes.

Regular maintenance and even changing-out some equipment to more energy efficient motors can all make small contributions to less energy consumption. 

One way of interrogating the performance of a production facility can be condition monitoring of the equipment/process.  BCH control systems can highlight when a process is not performing at its most efficient and will alert the appropriate department of the issue, where it can be addressed in a timely manner.

How are you meeting demands for consumer trends such as vegan or plant-based products? 

We are already in a position where some of the products our equipment produces are vegan, plant-based, organic, gluten-free, or only contain natural sugars. These can be produced with relative ease using all natural colours and flavours.

In cases where animal products have historically been present, we work hard with our customers to develop new recipes and formulas to mitigate these ingredients, and this is where our Innovation Centre presents the ideal opportunity to facilitate these changes.

Why did you decide to implement software systems for your production? What benefits have you seen from this? 

BCH have been supplying equipment with software solutions from when they were first introduced.  However as technology advances, we are constantly challenging ourselves to make our systems the most interactive, user-friendly and intuitive to the user.  This contributes to using the least amount of labour required to operate the line and ensure consistent, repeatable and high-quality products.

A more recent development in our confectionery systems is our bespoke reporting package that provides product traceability.  We implemented this feature through client liaison and our well-established reporting systems that we deploy across the food sector. 

Given that our install base covers the globe, BCH’s advanced software systems play an important role and deliver many benefits.  The software doesn’t just allow support for our engineers during the commissioning phase of a project, it also allows us to remotely access and interrogate the process with ease from our UK headquarters, meaning support can be provided much faster.

A key example of this was our ability to remotely supervise the installation, commissioning, training and product start-up of a complete project in Hong Kong where the restrictions on travel at the time made it impossible for our engineers to attend site.

Do you think automated solutions and data-driven decisions are the future of confectionery production?

Absolutely, yes and it’s evident that the vast majority of suppliers to the industry are all moving in this direction.

Across the range of manufacturing industries that BCH serve, we are continuously working closely with our clients to deliver solutions that help them make informed decisions.  These may include identifying and acting upon gathered data such as quality, food safety, traceability, waste and production down-time.

The outcome of such data-driven decision making could be a change in the process or recipe being required, production scheduling, planned and preventative maintenance as well as analysis on the profitability of specific SKU’s.