Kent-based productivity specialist Marco is using motivational tools to increase productivity and efficiency in its clients’ packhouses. Produce Business UK spoke to its business development co-ordinator to find out more and discover other trends in this extremely important link in the supply chain
Efficiency, productivity, innovation… all key words in any fresh produce business and particularly so in an age of increased competitiveness, razor-fine margins and the introduction of the contentious living wage. Unsurprisingly, therefore, a chance to gain an advantage at any point in the supply chain is always to be welcomed.
Which is where productivity specialist Marco comes in. Marco already boasts a suite of modular control solutions that it proudly proclaims can improve factory and packhouse productivity by 30%, raise efficiency, improve product quality and enhance profitability.
And at this year’s London Produce Show and Conference, the Kent-based company is launching a new production data dashboard (PDD) module that will seek to improve productivity even more for its customers.
Motivation and yield-control
Becky Hart, Marco’s business development co-ordinator, says that this PDD module is based around motivational software and technology that can go into the packhouse to improve efficiency and productivity. In essence, the software will enable packers and operators to see exactly how quickly they are packing in comparison to all the other operators. Its aim is to promote friendly rivalry between operators and encourages them to work harder and better.
Hart states that when used as a motivational tool clients hand out prizes – a case of beer, a football, whatever the client sees fit – to their best operator of the day, or week or month. She notes that depending on how the client wants to use it – and over what time period – it can be a very effective motivational piece of kit.
“Everyone always wants to improve productivity,” she explains. “It is the easiest and simplest way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. When working in a manual packing environment it is essential that you can rely on your operators to perform to a high and consistent level. Keeping track of their performance is often a difficult task in a fast-paced packhouse, meaning that you may not be running at optimum efficiency.”
Hart notes that the PDD goes hand-in-hand with its award-winning yield-control module. “It’s another pencil sharpener to improve productivity for our customers,” she says. “Our yield-control system was the big leap forward many years ago and we’re still constantly improving that year-on-year, taking on board customer feedback and customer ideas. This is just a natural evolution with that. The two of them go hand-in-hand.”
With the pressures that issues such as the living wage are bringing to bear on the fresh-produce sector and with companies wanting to make savings and improve productivity in all areas of the business to try and compensate for the increased costs of the living wage’s implementation, Marco’s solutions can give pack houses a competitive edge.
Hart says: “Our systems help packhouses create more consistently packed produce – and more aesthetically pleasing produce which is what consumers want. Moreover, we also increase line speeds, so packhouses can get their produce out of the door and to their buyers more quickly, and reduce over pack, thus reducing freight costs and making the process more environment-friendly. Working with the Marco system also means that you are legal to trade from our scales, and fully comply with local legislation.”
Established over 30 years ago by two brothers who are still part of the business, Marco has witnessed an incredible number of changes within the fresh produce industry. As such it is ideally placed to react to these changes and formulate innovative and functional systems to work coherently within a fast-moving sector. Hart notes that at the end of each season Marco talks to its customers and gets their feedback. If they come up with any good ideas or anything they want to see or anything that does work or doesn’t work its software team seek to rewrite its solutions to implement those ideas.
“In this sense,” she says, “the production data dashboard has been a natural evolution. We started putting projector screens into packhouses about 18 months ago to show live data and its evolved from there into a much more living, breathing beast.”
With Marco systems, packhouses reduce over pack
With installations in more than 30 countries – a figure Hart confidently expects to increase in the forthcoming years (“This year alone we have new installations in Mexico, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Portugal… we are starting to see serious interest from Asia and Australia which is very interesting”) – Hart can also spot wider global trends within the industry, which then feed back into its UK operation.
“Certain territories are certainly starting to move away from weighing in the field, and building packhouses to fully monitor their output,” she notes. “Conversely other territories are moving away from packhouses and using more sophisticated technology to pack in the field, and cut their overheads. There seems to be a global split at the moment – it will be interesting to see if the opinion strays one way or the other and everyone comes under one umbrella, we shall see.”
With its own creative and software team based in Leicester, everything is designed, built and installed by Marco. The company has a team of dedicated international engineers that happily fly around the world. Hart explains: “They will go and do a trial at a packhouse, to see a before and after picture (most commonly in terms of over pack – what the packhouse currently operates at and what a Marco scale would deliver). We then invite everyone back to see our HQ if they are ever around the area – we have recently expanded and can now build and test materials handling solutions of up to 50m on site here. We can also take them on site visits so they can see our system running in a packhouse. All our stations are fully bespoke, and designed to suit particular requirements, that is why site visits and getting to fully know customers is incredibly important.”
And if the proof, as the saying goes, is in the pudding then no wonder Marco likes to boast about increased packhouse and factory productivity. “We have seen that when using the Marco system you gain, on average, one extra punnet for every 10 that are packed. It is due to this, as well as the increased line speeds, that we typically see a return on investment within one growing season.”
Marco is at the London Produce Show and Conference held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London from June 8-10.