Blog post – Automation Stepping Stones for SME’s

According to recent reports, confidence amongst UK SME’s has grown in the first quarter of the year, with a third expecting performance to improve even further in the next three months, and over 50% planning to expand their operations.*

SMEs are a large and integral part of the UK’s economy, with over 99% of all of Britain’s private sector businesses classified as small or medium.** And, by 2020, SME contributions to the UK economy is expected to reach £217 billion.

As enthusiast adopters of new technology, SME’s are more willing to embrace change than their Blue Chip company counterparts and, in a bid to maximise efficiency and production output, they are moving away from labour intensive repetitive tasks and automating manufacturing processes to aid business development.

That first step into automation can be a giant leap, but here are key steps SME’s should take when automating their production facility for the first time:

Get flexible…….

As a small company you may have to adapt your business several times to meet growing demand, so you may question investing in automation in case the system becomes obsolete within a couple of years. Wrong. Any credible automation supplier will offer an adaptable solution to future proof your investment. Today many machines can be upgraded or retro-fitted with new technology to suit future requirements. Also, portability is important. As you grow you may look to upgrade your premises so make sure that your automated system is easy to move.

Where’s the payback?

For most, if not all SME’s, the return on investment (ROI) figures can be a real deal breaker. However with careful planning, a 12-month ROI is attainable. A well thought out automated system can quickly turn an inefficient labour intensive operation into a cost effective, high output production line. Only go for what you need – you don’t necessarily need a system with bells and whistles but look for those that can suit the changing needs of your business. A quality provider of automation will help you calculate the best solution for you based on your existing costs.

Ease of use…..

Any downtime on production can have a detrimental effect on any business. So it is vital that you hold essential spare parts and have the ability to re-program the system quickly if required so your production runs smoothly. If you have to rely on resources outside of your business you run the risk of a gap in production, which can have a direct impact on your profitability so speak to your provider for regular on-site training and support packages.

Become leaner…..

There is much debate around automation and lean, but SME’s should put the myths to bed and focus on solutions. Implementing lean into manufacturing environments means that it really is an approach to solving manufacturing problems, and if the best solution to a particular problem involves automation, then that makes automation lean. Ultimately it’s about reducing errors and defects, and error-proofing. Finding the right level of automation can enhance your lean initiatives in previously unconsidered ways, for instance, giving you new ways to reduce wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted effort when used in the right applications.

Don’t run before you can walk…

An age old saying, but when a company decides to automate they often feel that unless they have thousands of £££’s to spend fully automating their packaging line then they might as well not bother. However, automation can be built up slowly. Rather than replacing your workforce with a fully automated line ease your company into the concept – while keeping labour involved to work on the new, more productive packaging line.

Use a reputable company…………

If in doubt many people turn to the internet, we have even known first time buyers purchase automation equipment from eBay. However, if something goes wrong with that system you will find it difficult to purchase spare parts or find a reputable engineer to fix the problem. Purchase an automated system from a quality supplier, and don’t be put off if they work with bigger companies, chances are, they will offer less technical systems for a lower price but for the same quality.

With the intelligence of machines improving vastly, now is the time to seriously consider investing in automated systems to make your production more efficient. The National Living Wage increase will affect SME’s most keenly, however, by automating labour intensive tasks they can streamline their workforce and employ people to work on growing the business rather than working on labour intensive tasks. Couple this with the fact that the Annual Investment Allowance is still set at £200k – where SME’s can make tax deductible investments on automation – and it’s not a case of if you decide to automate but when.

Endoline will be able to discuss the right approach for your end of line packaging requirement, please contact us.

*https://economia.icaew.com/en/news/march-2018/confidence-rises-among-uk-smes

**https://www.fsb.org.uk/media-centre/small-business-statistics

Fresh food SME doubles output with first time automation

An SME producing fresh vegetarian foods doubled its capacity after semi-automating its production facility with Endoline Machinery.  Putting automation down to ‘simple arithmetic’ the owner of Ramona’s Kitchen – which churns out 50 tonnes of Mediterranean inspired produce a month – achieved a return on her investment within 12 months, and is encouraging other SME’s to jump on the automation bandwagon.

Business owner Ramona Hazan established Ramona’s Kitchen 13 years ago and, in addition to producing fresh foods, including falafel and houmous, for wholesalers and food service companies, produces the ‘Me Too!’ range of dips and salads for the UK’s leading supermarkets.  A family run business, Ramona’s Kitchen employs 8 people at its North London based factory.

“All of our products are freshly prepared daily and a lot of hands are needed in the kitchen.” Explains Ramona, “However up to 2 workers were spending a full 8 hour shift just forming boxes ready for filling – which was an inefficient use of time and a bottleneck in our production.” Once formed the boxes were stacked in a corner, however this also came with problems as the boxes were often damaged with the potential for dust settling, a frequent issue with pre-erected cases. It was at this point Ramona concluded that automating the erecting and sealing of boxes was a ‘no brainer’.

After researching different companies, Ramona commissioned Endoline Machinery to install a semi-automatic case erector and sealer due to, according to Ramona, their “service offering and ability to meet my needs exactly.” The line helped Ramona’s Kitchen double its capacity, with just one or two workers manning the entire packing line.  The produce is made within a high care room and immediately run, via a conveyor belt, out to a packing station. Here, a manual worker forms the cases on a case former which automatically folds the lower flaps and securely holds the open case to allow packing to take place. The filled boxes are then pushed by the operator, straight through the Endoline case sealer which simultaneously tapes both the bottom and the top of the box before being pushed through to a second high care storage room, ready for delivery. All of this is achieved within just one minute.

The production line is consistently flowing, with box damage eliminated – with a daily output of 500 boxes per day, a 100% increase. In addition, Ramona’s Kitchen pack up to 6 different box sizes but the Endoline systems are easily adjustable to cope with the size changes.

Automating for the first time as an SME was, admits Ramona, a daunting process as she explains: “Making the investment was initially scary but at the same time important to make that plunge as I realised the efficiencies which could be gained – basically it comes down to simple arithmetic! I am now in a position where I have doubled my capacity with a return on my investment within 12 months.”

As a manufacturer of high spec end of line packing equipment, Endoline Machinery regularly supply global blue-chip companies with fully automated systems, however they have recently launched entry level, semi-automatic systems specifically suited to SME’s who look for quality machines – without the price tag. Andrew Yates, Sales Director for Endoline Machinery, comments: “With our full range of systems we can offer the complete package to any customer – meeting their specification and budget.  It also enables us to ‘hand hold’ our customers throughout the automation process, which we have discovered is very important to SME’s”

Flexibility for SME’s is also important, as Ramona comments: “Investing in these systems has allowed me to grow the business; however it was important that the machines also offered me longevity with the ability to handle a wide variety of box sizes if required.”