In the first of a series of articles about headline exhibitors at Total Processing & Packaging 2004, Mary Murphy talks to Graham Hayes, chairman of Bradman-Lake

Thank God for exports is the heartfelt cry of Graham Hayes who bemoans the demise of many of the major food manufacturers supplying the UK’s major retailers. Manufacturers have found their margins so heavily cut that they seemingly no longer have sufficient capital to regularly invest in new equipment.

Market conditions, says Mr Hayes, are also tough in many other major international markets including Germany, France and North America. That said, B-L’s 45 000ft2 UK manufacturing base has never been busier with the factory floor filled with orders for Germany, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand and one £250 000 order for a major UK food manufacturer.

The company certainly seems to be doing something right. It is experiencing as much as 12.6% sales growth/yr, double the market rate, and is taking marke share.

The group sells into 53 countries around the world and recently added to its manufacturing bases in Bristol, UK, and Charlotte, US, with the opening of a new facility in Wiggensbach, Germany.

Success in the German market has been immediate with a EUR1.8M order for a major US-owned pizza manufacturer that turned to B-L to supply its fully integrated cartoning lines on the back of the relationship it has in the US.

Instrumental in B-L’s growth has been its serious and well-targeted entry into the world of line management, covering large-scale projects and full-line packaging systems. This message, which has not been lost on the US market where the strategy has already reaped real benefits with three orders valued at more than $2M each, completed at Christmas 2002.

Trading in such a fashion-conscious industry as food presents real challenges for cartoning machinery. Gone are the days when you could only have a Ford and that in black!

Customised solutions are becoming increasingly important in the food industry with lifestyle niche products becoming more and more popular.

“Machines have to be flexible to be able to change to meet these demands. Today, electronic controls and servomotors are achieving that flexibility, which is where the newly launched company B-L Technology comes in.

B-L Technology has developed its own software packages to monitor machinery efficiencies and has now introduced software for complete line monitoring, as well as factory monitoring.

It is this flexibility and electronic line controls that make the £0.25M order for one major British food manufacturer so important.

Another important plus for B-L is the growing use of robots in the packaging sector and its relationship with robotics specialist ABB has made it the largest integrator of the Pickmaster robot, selling 27 robots as part of packaging lines in 2002.

An exclusive manufacturing agreement has also been forged with Propack Processing and Packaging Systems, of Canada, for a range of jointly manufactured pick and place units.

Meanwhile, the company’s relationship with Rockwell Automation through its Allen-Bradley brand in developing electronic systems has further accelerated B-L’s successful entry into line management and integration.

Global markets vary in their demands for equipment and, while the sexy flexible, high output lines with sophisticated electronics and high efficiency specifications tend to grab the headlines, markets in developing countries cannot justify such high investment.

B-L continues to manufacture and sell its manual systems for these markets. After all, it’s important to remember that today’s developing markets may become tomorrow’s sophisticates.

Growth hot spots for B-L include Russia and a number of central and eastern European countries. Success is already within the group’s sights with five major orders from Russia and Eastern European countries in the first quarter of 2003.

But it doesn’t matter where in the world B-L is doing business says Hayes. “To stay ahead of the game you must service the hell out of customers. We have a cradle to grave attitude to servicing our clients – we never walk away.”