Firstplay’s investment in automation

Food manufacturer Firstplay Dietary Foods is implementing digitalisation with a UK£120,000 investment in automation. Having experienced a boost in productivity, the company is forecasting a 30% increase in turnover after investing in automation technology with the support of Made Smarter.

Firstplay makes a range of low protein products for people with metabolic conditions that leave them unable to eat protein without serious risk. With growing international demand, the company has invested £120,000 in new digital machinery, and replaced a manual weighing and packing process with automation.

“Our growth has been organic with only occasional investment to update our production processes,” explained Tom Fletcher, Managing Director at Firstplay Dietary Foods. “Our partnership with Made Smarter changes that. We have a long-term strategy and a digital roadmap to follow to achieve those goals. My only wish is that we had done it sooner.”

“By replacing a manual low-skilled task with automation, we are able to do much more with the resources we have, as well as upskilling our existing staff, which to a small business is extremely valuable,” he added.

First established in 1993 by Steve and Linda Fletcher to help those living with Phenylketonuria (PKU), the company has grown to include in its product range dried pasta, flavoured pasta sachets, breads, baking mixes, snacks and soups for an international market.

To grow into emerging markets such as China, the Middle East and America, Firstplay had to address its manufacturing productivity and challenges facing its efficiency. One key production bottleneck was the manual weighing and packing of certain products. Consequently, the company invested in a powder packaging machine with an automated multi-head weigher and powder filler.

The machine works by loading the product through a hopper, digitally weighing and correcting the amount of product, before dispensing it and sealing it into a bag to be delivered for packaging.

New equipment also introduced a live data feed to give management a real-time overview of the running speed of the equipment, total giveaway and average weights during production. The result is “transformative”, Firstplay say, as the number of sachets it can produce per day has risen from 600 to 6000.

The company is now also exploring data and systems integration technology to link its machinery with a barcode scanning system for stock control and implementing production software for better data analytics to improve the efficiency of production.

“We are delighted to be supporting Firstplay on the first stage of its digital transformation. It is a fantastic example of a business using technology to automate a process, creating growth and upskilling existing roles, while laying the foundation for further improvements,” said Donna Edwards, Adoption North West Programme Director at Made Smarter. “Firstplay is among hundreds of manufacturers in the region grasping the opportunities offered by Made Smarter which include expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help take that first step to transform a business, and support with technology investment. I would encourage other SME manufacturers to do the same.”

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Media contact

Caitlin Gittins
Editor, International Bakery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920

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