Exclusive: MacIntyre delivers best of British engineering to the world
MacIntyre Chocolate Systems will be joining the World Confectionery Conference 2023 edition, offering a keynote presentation at the event. Editor Neill Barston visits the firm’s Scottish base to discuss events since the pandemic, and meets its core team, including event speaker, Linda Mather, who will be discussing major sustainability developments
If you head down to Arbroath’s bustling harbour of a summer’s evening, the big, expansive skies that greet you are certain to put a smile on your face, as the North sea stretches out towards Norway’s equally striking coast some 400 miles away.
The town itself is certainly not lacking scale in its own ambitions, and its solid, winding streets have an intriguing history that saw it gain royal burgh status and gradually evolve into a thriving hub. This notable location, which is crowned by the remains of its 12th century abbey, the resting place of King William ‘the Lion,’ has achieved notoriety for several prominent reasons including the area’s fishing industry – namely its famous ‘smokie’ smoked Haddock, as well as for its contribution to the manufacturing sector.
Its position some 50 miles from Aberdeen, with its hugely dominant oil and gas industry underlines the clear fact that the region remains rightly proud of its marine businesses. While the waxed cotton industry that once forged Arbroath’s fortunes during the industrial revolution and beyond may have fallen away, a notable cluster of food and drink sector businesses have sprouted in their wake to ensure the area continues to deliver a vibrant economy. Among them, is equipment firm, MacIntyre Chocolate Systems, which is proudly flying the flag for Scottish engineering, exporting its well-established lines of chocolate manufacturing and processing machinery including its flagship New Generation refiner/conches, cocoa liquor melters, rework lines, storage tanks, to a total of well over 100 countries. See our exclusive video with Linda Mather from the business, who will be among keynote speakers at our World Confectionery Conference on 5 October.
The company, which remains at the site it first took up in the late 1970s on the outskirts of Arbroath, was formerly known as Low and Duff, and traces its engineering heritage way back to 1832. Significantly, it underwent a major rebrand eight years ago under the ownership of Probat, which itself holds a long lineage in manufacturing of more than 150 years, specialising in roasting plants.
Significantly, the group, which includes German-based Hamburg Dresdner, and Bauermeister, also delivers equipment lines targeting the confectionery market. As for MacIntyre itself, its customer base remains truly global, as well as also fostering relationships with some renowned names within the sector closer to home. This is very much brought into sharp focus as I step through into its reception, which has a notable display in its corner, featuring a model Tunnock’s teacake truck.
The iconic brand, which itself ships its chocolate treats to all corners of the world, enjoys a longstanding partnership with MacIntyre in terms of equipping itself with more than 30 of the company’s refiners. Another business that has recently upgraded its own MacIntyre machinery is vegan-based confectionery company, Plamil Foods, which also has a long-term supply relationship with the Arbroath team. It is the fostering of these kinds of connections that remain the bedrock of the Scottish business, and in spite of wider energy and logistics tests, the firm reports that it is in fine economic health. AS managing director, Joe Gorman, remarks on greeting me, neither of us can quite believe it’s been five years since my last visit to the company’s headquarters.
A lot can happen in half a decade, and for anyone based within the UK, we’re still enduring unwelcome Brexit turbulence, alongside the Covid-19 pandemic, which would be enough to test the resolve of even the most optimistic of enterprises. While the MD acknowledges there’s been something of a transition phase for its employees in recent years being part of a new corporate branding, he believes there’s real strength within the team. As Joe (pictured below) observes, unprecedented business conditions ensuing from the pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns, in fact brought the team closer together. Crucially, it was far from idle during that period, with its management revealing those two years were in fact a remarkably creative time regarding strategic developments across its operations.
To its credit, the company shut for just a single month at the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, which quickly saw it bounce back operating on a strictly rotated basis, with production volumes continuing to move forward with increasing confidence. In terms of his own role, Joe appears to be thriving in leading the business, though he is quick to direct praise to its skilled base of operatives and engineers making up the backbone of the firm.
“I don’t feel like anything’s really changed in moving into the role of MD over the past few years. We still had the same vision and discussion on how we were going to move the development from being Low and Duff, and then being part of the Probat and HDM group. “For me personally, it was about the development of the team, pushing through the designs and changes for the machine in terms of where we needed to go, which is very much discussed as a team. “It’s been fine, and I think we now have a true identity.
There’s been some fantastic milestones and investment in that time that Probat has brought to the business, which has been excellent,” adds the MD, saying that introducing upgrades to its machinery and building fabric is continuing to make a major difference to the company. As his colleague George Johnston, explains, joining the business five years ago as an internal sales manager, he agrees there’s been a positive shift, with its loyal teams seeming more passionate than ever about their respective work. “When I walked through these doors five years ago to breeze blocks, orange lighting and dusty walls, to what is out there now, it is a different world,” he states, explaining that a real game-changer has come in terms of its five tonne machines are now capable of almost doubling their production capacity to around ten tonnes. Leading a tour round its site, he reaffirms that its operational investments are paying dividends, from general enhancements of its main manufacturing halls’ layout and walkways, through to the range of improved equipment it is now utilising. This includes a recent major acquisition of an advanced CNC computer-controlled lathe system for machining work on the core shafts for its refiner/conches. Since my last trip, there appear plenty of other touches that are streamlining its operations, including greater segmentation of its welding operations, which are in full swing during my visit.
Significantly, the firm prides itself on manufacturing its refiners and additional systems on-site, though as the company’s MD reflects, components shortages that were occurring in the past few Brexit-impacted years, are now reportedly stabilising. “When we were having issues of the pandemic, pricing of metal and electronics were a problem – but we came through it as we have had a really robust supply chains, which is testament to our teams and our partners who got us through Brexit as well,” explains Joe, who concedes that one of the negatives of the ‘no deal’ exit from the EU was the impact on customer materials from the continent, that are now proving logistically slower in reaching the UK than previously, as well as export time issues.
Notably, the company’s refiner conches have a central principle of being compact in their design, spanning 500kg, 1250kg, 2000kg, 3000kg and 5000kg Duplex models. They are now benefitting from performance enhancements including delivering continuous operation, supported by upgraded IE4 energy efficient motors. The refiner series is also considered low maintenance through bringing in longlife pressure seals. Consequently, its base RC500 model is re-aligned in design terms with the larger 1250kg variant, which the firm’s director explains allows greater commonality with machine parts. The latter, larger series model has also been engineered with energy efficient spherical bearings, with that model now being standardised up to its latest six-tonne model gaining its release this summer.
As the company’s MD explains, the business is still sifting through the hugely positive responses and orders from the pivotal equipment show of the year, Interpack in Düsseldorf this May. The event saw its Next Generation RC2000i Refiner/Conche, take pride of place on the company’s stand, offering a key combination of mixing, refining capabilities. Moreover, it explains, this incorporates a number of new enhancements, including particle analysis capabilities, producing real time guidance adjusting parameters to deliver optimum performance for the refiner/conche.
This enables smoother processing using minimum time required, avoiding over refining. Another highlight of the event placed a focus on its Lights Out, Industry 4.0 factory of the future, enabling customers to see all their latest developments in sensors and controls, placing full automation at the heart of its designs. “I think the real beauty of a MacIntyre is that they’re so versatile and flexible in terms of the products they can actually process. It’s not just standard chocolate and compounds. It can really do cremes, fillings, nut butters and spread, as well as rework. Because it’s such a small footprint compared to other systems, that are generally quite large sizes that can be really expensive from a capital expenditure point of view, so our MacIntyres offer that flexibility, and payback on the investment made really quickly. “We’ve also made design changes in terms of cycle time reduction, and also energy reduction. In today’s world, it’s crucial that you get your “bang for your buck,” so energy for us was a big element,” observes Joe, who says there’s been a marked sales growth for its five tonne Duplex models in particular.
- To see the full version of the feature, see our September 2023 edition. Register for our World Confectionery Conference on 5 October at www.confectioneryconference.com