One of Europe’s leading manufacturers of automated milking systems has set its sights on a record production year after strengthening an existing strategic partnership with PP Control & Automation (PP C&A).
Fullwood Packo, which employs 240 people at its headquarters in Ellesmere, has tapped into the design and build expertise of the Cheslyn Hay firm to increase capacity of its M2erlin robotic milking machines by 100% over the last three years.
The company has managed to make the major leap in output whilst maintaining lead times and is now looking to keep up with customer demand and a move into new international markets by ramping up production to 450 machines by the end of 2019.
“I think the decision to invite PP Control & Automation to become a strategic outsourcing partner was a very significant moment for the relationship and kick-started a series of discussions that have transformed the way we build our robotic milking machines,” explained Andrew Dodwell, Group Managing Director at Fullwood Packo.
“We made the decision that we would be completely transparent with our growth plans and the manufacturing challenges we faced and gave our partner the opportunity to look at ways in which it could support our plans.
“The challenge was firmly met. Using best practice gleaned from other industry sectors, its ‘design for manufacture’ engineering team reviewed the current build processes and came up with a number of suggestions that would see it provide a significantly more cross-functional and added value build solution. This would then free up valuable manufacturing resource and space at Fullwood Packo.”
Following these initial discussions, a plan was agreed in April last year on how both the electrical and mechanical controls could be combined into a single integrated outsourcing approach for M²erlin.
Work then commenced on both production engineering – identifying areas of standardisation, option configuration, combined test requirements – as well as mapping out supply chain needs and engaging both current and new suppliers to ensure optimum quality, reliability and total production costs.
The supply chain challenge also required PP C&A to move fabrication and machined parts (historically manufactured by Fullwood Packo) into its supply chain, thus creating the additional capacity required for the planned growth.
Tony Hague, CEO at PP Control & Automation, went on to add: “This is a great example of how a normal supplier/customer relationship has been transformed into a strategic partnership where both companies benefit from playing to their strengths.
“We have successfully used our design and build experience to help eliminate production constraints from Fullwood Packo, leaving them free to concentrate on growing their business and scaling up without the challenge of physical space issues or availability of additional skilled labour.
“In addition to the current robot system, we will be working closely together on the design of the next generation Merlin. This is an exciting opportunity where we can explore further collaboration and engage technical partners to create something that is truly innovative.”
M2erlin was first introduced in 2014 and is recognised as the best performing milking robot, providing farmers with a robust system for voluntary milking cows. This is different to the traditional involuntary approach that sees them herded together in a parlour for example.
Using the automated method, cows will present themselves when they are ready to feed and, using an electronic tag, will be identified and moved into position for the efficient laser-guided attachment to be fixed to the teats.
M2erlin is developed around improving milk quality, increasing efficiency and maximising productivity, with each robot able to milk up to 70 cows in one day.
Andrew Dodwell concluded: “The recent expansion is just the start. We have ambitious plans in place to increase domestic sales and increase market share in strategic international territories, including Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.
“Our relationship with PP Control & Automation will again be important to achieving this aim, with its ability to design the electrical controls to UL508a – an essential standard if you want to supply customers in the US and North America.”