Case Study Manor Farm

Recent bulk optimisation project gets full approval from all teams across Manor Farm

Recognising Manor Farm's growth over the past number of years has meant that the current mode of gas supply wasn't adequate for Manor Farm's production, so Air Products offered a better solution through bulk supply.  This project has been highly commended throughout all departments at Manor Farm offering financial savings, operational benefits and health and safety improvements.

Carton Brothers, producers of Manor Farm chicken, is one of the oldest companies in Ireland, dating back to 1775. The business has grown exponentially, employing close to 1,000 people and working with 180 contracted farmers who solely supply Manor Farm.  From its base in County Cavan it processes approximately 950,000 chickens per week – controlling all stages of the production process from farming through to packaging.  The business is now finely automated, as each bird is carefully tracked throughout the process to deliver full traceability from farm to fork.  Manor Farm prides itself on fresh chicken products, new product development to meet changing consumer needs and a strong sustainability ethic, as almost nothing goes to waste.

Manor Farm

The significant growth of the business has thrown up a number of challenges including managing production peaks and troughs, meeting sustainability targets, and the desire to be recognised as innovators in the field.  In 2006, Manor Farm made the decision to pack their fresh chicken in a modified atmosphere to achieve an extended shelf life, without the addition of preservatives.  Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP), or gas flushing, is an established technology proven to slow the microbial spoilage and extend the shelf life of packaged foods, thus reducing food waste.  Derived from the very air that we breathe, all natural MAP typically involves the use of three gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2).  Products are packed either in a single gas or a combination of the gases, depending on the physical and chemical properties of the food.  Other benefits of MAP can include an improved appearance of foods and integral packaging free from drips and odours.

As production at Manor Farm increased, so did the number of gas cylinders required.  Demand began to exceed local supply and managing the sheer number of cylinders became unwieldy.  The cylinders were stored outside, some distance way from the packaging line.  It became obvious that a full-time employee was needed solely for manhandling the cylinders into position and ensuring the gas supply kept pace with production.  The business was unhappy with the health and safety risk, in addition to the gas waste that couldn't be avoided to maintain production, so something needed to be done.   

Creating win-win solutions for production

As the demand for gas increased, it seemed sensible to take a more sustainable long-term approach to the supply process. While cylinders provide a valuable and reliable method of supply for small and medium sized users, for an operation on the scale of Manor Farm, the use of gas cylinders led to a series of inefficiencies.

Consequently, the company took the decision to change its method of supply in summer 2018 as part of an upgrade of its production plant. Now, instead of supplying large numbers of cylinders, Air Products provides gas in scheduled bulk deliveries. In twelve months, the company has found that the change to bulk has brought considerable financial and operational improvements. In addition, the reduced number of deliveries means less vehicles travelling to and from the site – improving site safety and reducing the carbon footprint of the operation.

Why change?

Foremost among the reasons for the change was the scale of disruption to the production process caused whenever a cylinder needed changing. The process requires the shutting down of a machine for up to 20 minutes at a time. While only a minor disruption for smaller scale operations, Manor Farm was using up to 500 cylinders a month – meaning each machine was out of action three or four times per day, losing more than 160 hours of production time a month.

Trying to reduce the effect of this disruption was also causing problems with sustainability, an important factor for Manor Farm. One method of combating inefficiency on the production line was to change a cylinder at the end of a shift regardless of whether it was empty – an approach taken to cut the amount of time spent on changeovers during working hours. This meant some cylinders were being changed before they were completely empty in order to save time the following day, wasting as much as 10 per cent of the gas.

Results of the move to bulk

The switch to bulk has been welcomed by teams across the business.

Operationally, not having to change cylinders several times a day means productivity has increased. Staff members are freed up to continue work rather than taking time out to change cylinders, while the hours per day which were lost to changeovers are now back in play. From a health and safety perspective, cylinders are no longer being lifted by staff, eliminating any potential risk of injury during changeovers.

The fact that bulk storage needs refilling much less frequently, and that this process is handled by Air Products rather than staff on site, further increases the efficiency of the process and guarantees continuity of quality.

Robert Caldwell, Lean Six Sigma Manager at Manor Farm, said:

"Switching our gas supply mode from cylinders to bulk storage has made a significant difference to our business. It has delivered a number of benefits, both from a commercial and sustainability point of view and has enabled us to operate our production lines more efficiently. "As our business has grown, our needs have changed. The bulk storage solution that Air Products was able to offer has not only met those needs, but will continue to grow with us."

Geraldine Mullan, Air Products' account manager for Manor Farm, said:

"We've been working with Manor Farm for 17 years, providing ever-growing levels of MAP gas to accommodate its growth and advising on the best way to manage their requirements. Over years of working together successfully, we have developed an in-depth understanding of Manor Farm's requirements. This knowledge showed us that a new, larger-scale method of supply would greatly benefit operations, so last year we worked closely with the company to implement this. In this case, we have seen clear benefits from a move to bulk and are delighted to have provided a solution which will answer their needs for years to come."

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