Mechline: the professional professors

Mechline’s new premises in Milton Keynes enable the manufacturer to store around £2m of stock at any given time.

Mechline has had a rather unusual journey thus far, with the British catering equipment manufacturer the only one occupying the spheres of food waste, FOG disposal, gas hoses, pre-rinse equipment and taps simultaneously.

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“We don’t just have standard products, they have got to be a bit more than run of the mill,” detailed marketing manager Kristian Roberts. “The criteria for all of our products are hygiene, safety, environment and efficiency – we’ve got all these things in mind when we design something from scratch.”

And a passion for invention has been a keystone of the firm since its inception. Founder Peter Sage-Passant actually started the company in 1984 as a kitchen equipment servicing and installation firm after qualifying as an engineer. But he wanted to use the skills he had learned and so invented QuickLink, a disconnect system for catering sinks that allows for easy cleaning, and it is still in Mechline’s portfolio today.

It is thanks to the BBC that we now have Mechline in its current format, as the channel’s popular science programme, Tomorrow’s World, showcased QuickLink in an episode in 1991. Demand for the product then skyrocketed and the company fully transformed into a manufacturer.

The firm is proud of its British manufacturer credentials too – as many components and materials are sourced from the UK as possible. 80% of its product portfolio is manufactured, either elsewhere but with patented designs and processes and owned tools, or onsite at its Milton Keynes headquarters – premises it only moved into last year. Its former base nearby was a bit of a hotchpotch of different areas that had been absorbed or constructed to accommodate the company’s constant expansion.

“The work areas were not efficient and it was very hard to keep standards high,” recalled Roberts. “Bringing in ISO 9001 quality management standards, we knew that we needed better premises.”

All pre-rinses are pressure tested onsite before leaving the factory.

With a 30,000metre2 floor space available in the new building, Mechline spent in the region of £400,000 developing the infrastructure to be tailor-made and efficient for its operations. This included expanding its research and development department further, with a product delivery group among its arsenal. The facility can also house around £2m of stock at any given time.

The location move was more than necessary, as the company has now reached a milestone of 50 employees, with one recent addition being familiar to many in the industry: Nick Falco. His technical manager role comprises looking at the company’s current product portfolio and analysing it to see if anything can be improved.

Roberts added: “A lot of people don’t realise how much testing, research and development we do. We are all about constant improvement.” This is continuing too, as Mechline is looking to invest in a top of the range 3D printer.

The firm is very particular with standards, including sending inspectors into factories to check products before they leave the premises. Furthermore, a few years ago it instituted its ‘success code’, comprising 15 points covering everything from its business objectives to how it deals with its supply chain through to its own people and culture. Roberts reported: “We live and breathe those points and all decision-making is based on the success code.

All Mechline company decisions have to abide by its ‘success code’.

“If ideas don’t hit the criteria then we have ditched them at great cost to us. We are not scared to take a step back; products have to be fit for purpose.”

Mechline is also looking to expand overseas. A big step in this direction was its first ever appearance at last year’s Host trade show in Milan, which Roberts reported was very successful in generating leads. Europe is likely to be the firm’s main target area, or it may focus further in on a particular continental country.

History of invention

Mechline’s products all have the key criteria of ‘solving operators’ issues’ and are measured against a matrix to see if they bring value to market. High quality has been at the fore since the company’s inception over 30 years ago, soon after which it started to partner with American gas hose manufacturer Dormont. Working together, the two companies created the Mechline Dormont hose, which has held the BSI kitemark for 20 years.

Furthermore, Mechline outsources the labelling, cleaning and packaging of its gas hoses to a local charity, MK Snap, which delivers a programme of education, life skills, work preparation and opportunities to adults with learning difficulties.

In 1996 Mechline then introduced the AquaJet warewashing pre-rinse sprays, all of which it still pressure tests before they leave the company’s Milton Keynes factory. According to marketing manager Kristian Roberts: “It took the best part of 5 years to engineer out any component issues but AquaJet is probably the most reliable pre-rinse out there now.”

One of the next product additions in 1999 was to supply Delabie electronic hands-free taps, with Mechline the exclusive supplier for the UK foodservice sector. “Not only are the taps hygienic, but we have tested them and calculated that they save 92% of water compared to manual taps per year,” said Roberts.

Then 12 years ago, the manufacturer was continually receiving calls about how to solve the problem of blocked drains and so put its inventor head on once again to create GreasePak, a bioremediation solution which uses multi-strain grease degrader fluid to remove various types of fats, oils and grease (FOG) from wastewater. “GreasePak breaks down FOG molecules so they can’t stick to anything,” explained Roberts.

In 2010 the firm moved onto solid food waste digestion, creating the Waste2O biodigester at the same time as encouraging operators to minimise their output by following the company’s Food Waste Reduction Programme advice. “We educate the industry and we want to be known as the trusted experts,” Roberts said. “The Waste2O delivers high source material in grey water form.”

Subsequently in 2014 the manufacturer updated GreasePak to a Mark 2 version, before returning to the pre-rinse segment and totally redesigning a system to create the AquaTechnix series in 2015. Roberts detailed: “We went back to our own CAD drawings and built up the ideal pre-rinse, including features such as the Posistop built-in stopping device which prevents the lever or handle from being turned or knocked too far and transferring stress to the tap valve.”

2017 saw the launch of new BaSix handwash stations, constructed from sturdy, fully recyclable plastic and in a round shape to reduce the risk of knocking into the units, and available in hands-free push front panel options for hygiene.

The latest product development is this year’s launch of the BioCeptor biological drain maintenance system, which has been ASME accredited. Together with dosing with GreasePak, the system is designed to maximise the retention and management of FOG in a commercial kitchen.

Next up, Roberts teased a product that “is completely different to everything in our catalogue”, adding: “The technology is brand new to our industry and we are hoping it’s going to be a game-changer when we launch it this year.”

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