Wymbs makes strides with its confectionery depositing systems
Supplying some of the industry’s biggest names with specialist confectionery depositing systems and processing lines has offered plenty of challenges for UK-based Wymbs Engineering. Neill Barston examines its expansion
Hailing from a region historically renowned for its manufacturing prowess has meant Wymbs Engineering has taken particular pride in setting quality standards for its equipment development.
While the traditional cotton mills that once enriched the company’s location of Stockport and neighbouring Manchester have long since gone or been duly converted into warehouses or housing, the area retains a strong pool of entrepreneurial talent that has applied itself to 21st century commercial demands.
So it has proved with Brendan Wymbs, who founded his specialist confectionery machinery business after gaining decades of knowledge working in the sector.
As he explains during a tour of his company’s well-equipped site, he remains very much hands-on as the firm develops increasingly advanced equipment focused on delivering key characteristics of enhanced capacity, speed and accuracy.
Despite some testing moments over the past 35 years that have gone into forging what is now a resilient global business, he says he is proud of his family’s achievements.
As he reveals, he has been especially keen that his children have played a key role within the business. This includes his two sons Kevin and Sean, who are both directors.
Underlining the company’s positive momentum, it moved to its present site featuring modern production facilities three years ago, having formerly occupied an old mill facility nearby.
According to the team, the move has helped provide valuable impetus in expanding its range of machinery, which required additional space.
The company’s series of pressurised manifold depositing systems have been developed for light and aerated products, with its directors stressing their desire to create genuinely innovative equipment that has been applied across both the industrial confectionery and bakery segments of the market.
Recalling the formation of the business, Brendan Wymbs, whose family originates from western Ireland, relates that it was his unexpected departure from a long-term role with US-headquartered business (Oakes) as it underwent major restructuring of its UK facilities that prompted him to strike out on his own.
“It was a bit tricky starting out originally, but I invested some of the money from my redundancy into machine tools, and started producing manifolds and depositors, which is what we’ve been doing ever since.
“We feel we are in a strong position now, but there will be a step change from this point onwards with the company, as we deal with challenges such as Brexit.
“However, we’re proud of what we have done here in producing modern equipment that makes the most of technology, with everything being produced in-house with 3-D solidworks computer modelling,” explains the senior director, who says it has proved especially rewarding to see digital concepts for the company’s machinery brought to life through its computer-based design capabilities.
Though the founder of the business remarks he is under no illusion about the challenges presented within its international markets, he enthuses that there appear positive times ahead in spite of the UK’s imminent departure from the EU.
This has been evidenced by the company’s continually expanding product range, which has grown to include complete processing lines for items such as cream doughnuts. It also produces dedicated confectionery injection systems that have added to its capabilities.
Considering the company’s lean structure, employing a total of 20 employees, it has established a strong foothold within the industry during its history.
From its facilities in the north west of England, it now exports around 90 per cent of its confectionery systems outside the UK.
Its customers are based as far afield as Brazil, China, Australia and the US, through to Mexico and South Africa and the Philippines, with the team personally overseeing the installation of bespoke depositing machinery.
As Kevin Wymbs explains, the company’s belief of going the extra mile to find individual solutions for its clients has proved a critical factor in its success story to date within the sector.
“There hasn’t been a machine here that myself, Brendan or my brother Sean hasn’t finished and checked ourselves,” notes the director on the firm’s operations.
“I’ve worked with the family since I was a boy and it has been an honour. We’ve had our ups and downs like any business, but we have constantly progressed. Every year there have been new product developments – from variations on existing designs, to something that’s outright a new product.
“To do that, we have had to constantly strengthen our structures, including our software and design capabilities, as well as our manufacturing capabilities. We’ve also invested in staff here, training them to enable them go to sites and install equipment themselves,” adds the director, who says the travelling side of the work around the world has offered plenty of memorable moments.
He reveals they’ve been fortunate to visit some fairly remote and exotic locations along the way, but a personal favourite was South Africa for a project installation.
As he enthuses, despite its comparatively small size, the company’s client list is extensive. To date, it has supplied to leading market names including Swiss-based global confectionery group Mondelēz, as well as delivering ventures with a number of well-established brands operating within Europe.
The company has also worked with other key British brands such as Jacobs biscuits and the Bakkavor food group, as well as French-based artisan bakery business, Brossard.
Among its most notable projects has come in providing aeration solutions for the famed Wispa bar, which has a strong UK market share.
In fact, so popular did the Cadbury-owned product prove, that attempts to rebrand it in the early 2000’s were rejected by customers, who reacted against the change. They demanded its re-instatement with a successful online petition.
Another personal highlight for Brendan came in gaining a contract with Fox’s to develop the company’s Rocky brand of bars, as well as assisting with production solutions for the firm’s renowned, family-friendly Party Ring biscuits.
“For that project, we had been invited by Fox’s to help them after it was decided to move production facilities, and we were asked us to look at how it might produce its products and guarantee thickness of icing.
“So, we developed a processing line that was six metres long and producing 2,000 an hour of these biscuits in five different colours on one conveyor. It was also designed to decorate with a guaranteed thickness, which was quite a success for us.”
With the manufacturing sector adopting a strong focus on Industry 4.0 solutions for equipment and processes, many manufacturers including Wymbs have responded with its own range of technology-enhanced machinery.
As the company’s founder points out, the drive for ever more efficient systems has intensified as the price of raw materials for many in the global confectionery sector continues to rise.
Clearly, this is a major factor facing all machinery manufacturers in seeking to develop equipment that is high-performance, durable and flexible to meet demands.
But, as Brendan explains, the company’s experience in developing advanced solutions has meant it is well-placed in refining its capabilities. “Sometimes, our customers have found it hard to understand we are able to provide everything that we do as a ‘one-stop shop’ service including installation of equipment, but it’s something they like,” says the director, who confirms there has been considerable demand for depositors designed with extended lifespans of least around 25 years.
In responding to this challenge, one key means of honing machine performance has been in implementing programmable controls and easily understood touch-screen user interface systems.
Such features form a major part of its over head depositor, and its smaller compact depositor system, which the business has created for depositing aerated chocolate products.
According to the company, these two models combine its hopperless manifolds with dedicated manifold drive systems that are said to enable users with a number of options for depositing bubbly chocolate masses used within major confectionery brands.
In addition, they are also used for filling hollow wafers with aerated creams and pralines – which are enjoying a particular upturn in demand within a number of markets.
Also within its range are pressurised depositing manifolds, which have been developed for direct connection to continuous aeration systems or pumping units. These include its MK2 plain manifold, which has been devised to handle a diverse range of items spanning marshmallow, aerated and tempered chocolate, through to fondants and icing, or biscuit creams.
Another key focus for the business is its centre-filled depositing systems aimed at everything from jam in marshmallow (for teacakes), to processing soft caramel items. This system claims a unique design in having two product chambers supported by two rows of flow control valves, which enables depositing of entirely differing material simultaneously through one nozzle. Such features have been designed to maximise large-scale confectionery operations.
Furthermore, the business also has an established line of volumetric depositors, which have been developed with a focus on heightened accuracy, while maintaining the hopperless principles that aim to maintain close control of masses being deposited.
In addition, its equipment series also includes underband depositing systems designed for use in conjunction with steel oven bands for Jaffa cake style products, as well as building overhead depositing systems for use with a range of conveyer belt operations.
The company has also developed its own processing lines that have been developed to receive products automatically from a primary conveyor.
Their key features include multi-axis depositing and injection stations, devised for items such as injecting fresh cream into eclairs or topping deposits of fondant icing.
In terms of research and development, the company’s engineering director Sean Wymbs has developed considerable experience across its full range of equipment.
As he says, it has been a question of working closely with customers to ensure they gain the most appropriate systems for their respective production requirements.
“I had started out with the business when I was just 16 and moved through different areas of the company. With my position as engineering director, I play an active role in installing equipment.
“I would say that one of biggest challenges are the strict deadlines we have from customers. But through working on site with the equipment we have designed, we’re able to gain an insight into what operators’ needs are in terms of functionality of machinery, which is something that has been really beneficial,” he explains of their approach to product development.
Sharing his enthusiasm for driving the business forward, his brother Kevin adds that 2018 continues to show promising signs for the business.
He adds that while its exports have been extremely encouraging, the company is also focusing on growing its share of the UK market. “We’re looking to work with some smaller scale producers that are starting up all the time, and expand our product range to enable smaller companies to use our technology to process their bespoke products with equipment, such as our Mini Wymbs systems that they could benefit from,” concludes the director. He, like the rest of his family, has shown determination in playing his part in seeking to take the company to the next level, working on a wide range of global projects.