The sole processor of the UK’s beet sugar crop, British Sugar works in partnership with around 3000 growers to deliver a range of world-class products made to the highest standards for its customers.
With factories that were first built more than 100 years ago, British Sugar processes around eight million tonnes of sugar beet and produces around 1.2 million tonnes of sugar each year to the British and Irish markets as well as exporting to Europe and around the world.
Creating a Factory for the Future
British Sugar has invested £250 million over the last five years into transforming its four sugar factories into digitally enabled manufacturing plants. Its Factories of the Future deliver over 50% of the UK’s demand for sugar. In fact, it manufactures more sugar than the 18 factories operated by the company in the 1970s.
Sugar processing is complex, energy-intensive and takes place across 42 weeks of the year from September, following once the sugar beet harvest from across East Anglia and the East Midlands, UK. Once harvested, crops travel to one of four sites in Bury St Edmunds, Cantley, Newark or Wissington, before being washed and processed.
The sugar beet is then sliced into thin strips called cossettes and mixed with hot water to extract the sugar, while lime solution removes any impurities, creating a syrup. The syrup is then filtered, heated, concentrated and seeded with tiny sugar crystals, which then grow into the required size prior to being washed, dried and cooled.
Asset Performance Management
The scale and specialist capabilities of equipment involved in this process means that effective maintenance is crucial to optimise availability throughout the Autumn/Winter processing window.
British Sugar has relied on Infor EAM for many years to support its maintenance operations, and recently embraced the benefits of multi-tenant cloud to enhance safety, reliability, productivity, efficiency and engineering productivity across the entire business.
The shift helps British Sugar move from a planned maintenance model to a predictive maintenance one, whereby monitoring takes place to identify where equipment is falling short of performing optimally, so that remedial action can be taken before it breaks. In turn this reduces downtime, maximises quality and minimises risk.
In order to realise the potential of a predictive maintenance model, optimise benefits, and deliver against Industry 4.0 and IIOT principles, including sensor-derived insights, connectivity across the company’s core systems is paramount.
Because British Sugar’s sites are all in rural areas, network reliability represented a barrier to achieving a truly connected enterprise as the digital enablement was deployed. In addressing this challenge, the company is installing private mobile networks in order to ensure secure, high performance, robust connectivity.
These networks are crucial as British Sugar deploys Infor Mobile, which allows Infor EAM to be used by those on the shop floor, irrespective of site or location. Having access to the depth and breadth of maintenance-focused insights within Infor EAM at the source, or machine, means that British Sugar plant employees can observe, record, input and retrieve insights in the moment. Previously, they had to make notes manually, risking time lags and errors pending a return to a desktop in an office.
“As a large site, the time taken to walk around a plant, make notes and return to an office is not insignificant,” comments Nick Smalley, Programme Manager, British Sugar. “Running Infor EAM on mobile devices not only provides us with a modern, real-time way of working, but can save hours potentially in a single day.
“We can also use mobile applications to contact remote specialist support at the site of respective equipment, which helps to demonstrate the specifics of the issue and expedites fault resolution.
“Through being able to access high quality information, such as a full equipment record, comprising work orders, plant history and supporting information, we can quickly complete details and take action immediately.”
Not only does the software improve accuracy, efficiency and reduce risk, it also helps British Sugar to attract new talent.
“It stands to reason that young talent is unlikely to be motivated by the prospect of working with older, manual systems, so while it’s hard to identify a bottom line benefit, the ability to compete for the best talent is hugely important for us strategically,” Nick explains.
Sustainability is at the forefront of British Sugar’s strategy. Sugar beet travels on average just 28 miles from farm to factory. As part of its Factory of the Future investment, supported by Infor EAM, its operations are incredibly efficient, as illustrated by less than 200g of waste for every tonne of sugar produced. This is because process outputs are used to make products including aggregate, topsoil and animal feed, thus making the best use of all available resources to minimise cost and operate efficiently and responsibly.
Realising the Vision
Looking ahead, British Sugar is looking forward to leveraging its Factory of the Future to explore more ways in which to drive performance improvement and enhance sustainability activities.
“Infor EAM is one of our core pillars moving forward, helping us to take our maintenance practices to the next level, consolidate our predictive maintenance model, and use EAM as a springboard from which to capitalise on new technologies. There are a million different ways to use the insights Infor EAM provides us with. Specific initiatives we’ve earmarked as having a great deal of potential include using AI to analyse sensor information and raise work orders automatically; supporting resource planning to refine skills utilisation and uphold stringent safety parameters; and integration with British Sugar’s ERP system to automatically order spare parts, streamline inventory and assume greater control of stock,” Nick concludes.
“As our Factory of the Future evolves, we look forward to Infor EAM evolving with us. Twenty years ago, our maintenance was reactive, and for the last 20 it has been planned. Today, we’re excited to embrace an era where sensors and AI can help us to realise a truly proactive, predictive maintenance model which not only helps us to maximise uptime and quality, but also capitalise on IIOT and Industry 4.0. Infor EAM will help ensure that we make the right capital investments to avoid unnecessary spending.”