Last year was a transformative period for Middleby Group sister manufacturers, IMC and Britannia Kitchen Ventilation. October 2016 saw the decision made to relocate Britannia’s Leamington Spa-based production to IMC’s Wrexham factory.
IMC MD Steve Witt explained: “Britannia was well beyond the capacity of its factory at the time, and so we at IMC were given 3 months to re-layout our factory to accommodate canopy production, retrain staff and find new employees.”
The decision unfortunately meant that 14 Britannia factory staff were made redundant, but the firm helped them to find new jobs, and by the end of March all had found new employment bar one, who elected to take some time off. Before they left, they passed on their knowledge to IMC’s factory staff to be able to build the ventilation canopies, with the firm adding two further engineers to its roster to spread the increasing workload. “Our engineering department doesn’t differentiate between our product ranges, so whether it’s refrigeration, waste management, ventilation or vegetable preparation equipment they are expected to master all sectors,” said Witt.
However, Britannia’s nine-strong installation, projects and estimating team was retained and is now co-located in Aga Rangemaster’s office in Leamington Spa. Commercial director Andrew Galeckyj splits his time between there and Wrexham.
Witt revealed: “We have spent the last 10 months either redesigning products or getting them up to speed. We are currently at about 90% capacity and if we continue the way we are at the moment with the orders and production schedule, it will be a record year for Britannia.
“The scope for Britannia to increase business is huge. Our aim is to get the company to a £5m turnover by the end of next year, which would be a £2m increase in 2 years.”
Describing the factory reorganisation process as a “giant chess game”, Witt detailed that 25% of the factory floor was cleared to accommodate Britannia canopy production. In fact, IMC spent around £50,000 relocating its cells and another £20,000 introducing factory efficiencies to free up space.
“Rather than cellular manufacture we transferred to a production line set-up on two of our key waste management equipment processes. This helped us as the waste management orders have ramped up in the Middle East and Europe.”
The investments included a new automatic punch press which has reduced production time, and a £100,000 investment on a state of the art press brake. Furthermore, in light of the latest F gas refrigeration, the company now has a series of charging machines to charge multiple gases.
The factory juggling meant that IMC’s engineering department was left without a research and development facility in the main warehouse. Therefore the firm is in the process of renovating an adjacent building which over the years has been used for everything from storage to renting it out to a cleaning company. The research and development department area will relocate there and will also be used as a training base for dealers and staff.
“We will use it as a project development room too,” revealed Witt, “We can conduct webinars and present our product solutions around the world instantly.” Additionally, the space will feature a service engineer training area, and training sessions and interactive manuals will be videoed and uploaded onto the company’s website.
Witt estimates the firm has increased productivity by about 60% and brought the cost of manufacturing parts down. Furthermore, IMC now has an electrical department to test the ventilation canopies’ lighting and control systems, whereas previously Britannia subcontracted this out.
Moving to a full production line for the refrigeration products is expected to deliver a 40% throughput increase for those series, resulting in building 28 fridges of any model per day. “It reduces the area needed by approximately 50% so we will re-locate the Mini Compactor range to sit in parallel and mirror that production line, and ramp up production of that too due to increasing sales in the Middle East and America,” explained Witt. That in turn frees up another area, which will then enable the waste management production area to re-locate to increase throughput of the WasteStation and WastePro II.
The factory also manufactures as many components as it can from raw materials up. “This means we don’t have to compromise on any of our designs, we don’t have to subcontract anything and it gives us design flexibility,” said Witt. “And without the on-site machine shop we couldn’t produce some of the ranges we do and remain competitive. For example, our vegetable preparation equipment prices would have to increase by 30%.”
Witt feels that the strategy of IMC has transformed over the last 5 years and it now manufactures to meet customers’ needs rather than “what we wanted the customer to have”. “We carry out market research, canvas opinion and redevelop products in response to legislation,” he said, citing recent waste management requirements in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Abu Dhabi, Canada and Massachusetts in the USA as being a boon to business.
Around 48% of IMC’s turnover is from exports, with containers of the WasteStation being sent to the Middle East every month. Success in the region has prompted IMC to permanently base Matt Roberts, vice president of international sales for the GCC territories, in the Middleby Corporation offices in Dubai. “We now have ability to offer service and maintenance packages around the world,” commented Witt. “The power of British engineering in catering equipment is strong, and British manufacturers have to react to the threat of imports by being clever with design and manufacturing, which I think we have done.”
With such a varied product range, the business works with all types of distributors and kitchen design houses across the UK, with Witt estimating around 150 core dealers. On strategy, he commented: “We are working more closely with the Middleby Group and our sister companies to share knowledge about everything from national accounts to projects.
“Going forwards we will progress through new product development, with waste management and ventilation as our main growth markets.”
2018 is set to be another big year for IMC and Britannia, as the brands are about to embark on multiple new product launches. On 1 January, not only will IMC’s Hurricane, Mistral and Ventus bottle cooler ranges be revamped, Britannia will launch redesigned ventilation hoods too.
The bottle coolers will feature hydrocarbon refrigerants, with the Mistral and Hurricane series benefitting from an ECA-approved energy efficient compressor.
The Britannia canopy redesign will meet the latest ventilation requirements of European legislation, and the most up to date UV technology. “The technology has moved on since the last redesign 10 years ago – it’s far more efficient and far less costly,” reported Witt. “Our UV bulbs will also be chipped to stop replacement with cheaper alternatives which could present a fire risk if they enable grease to get into the ductwork.” Fire suppression is a major consideration in the new hoods, as they are ready to incorporate four different fire suppression systems with no adjustments required. “This will speed up the lead time by up to 3 weeks,” Witt added.
These will all join IMC’s newly-released WasteStation Autofeed in the ranks of the firm’s latest product portfolio. Released in October, the new model is a hopper system with an auger, which operates at the press of a button after the unit’s lid is closed. “It acts as a bin,” said Witt. “It energises the auger which adds food waste into the macerating chamber and automatically pumps the waste into the chamber up to 55m away. By controlling how the waste is fed into the machine, the throughput increases from the standard WasteStation 700kg/hour up to 900kg/hour, reducing costs.” The system was developed in association with shopping mall management company intu.