MacIntyre gears up for ProSweets Cologne international event
With ProSweets around the corner in Cologne, Scottish based confectionery equipment business MacIntyre Chocolate Systems has been hard at work readying its latest refiner conche series. Neill Barston visits its Arbroath facilities
Occupying a position on the wild and rugged east coast of Scotland has instilled Arbroath with especially strong maritime connections. Even from the main approach roads to the town, it’s easy to grasp the integral role that the sea has played upon the area both on a cultural and economic level.
While the thriving commercial port and fishing industries that initially proved a cornerstone of its financial fortunes may be some way from its Victorian heyday, the area has continued to enjoy prosperity within other spheres of business. During the past few decades, the region has drawn a strong pool of engineering and manufacturing talent, with Aberdeen just over 50 miles to the north remaining a globally-renowned centre for production of North Sea oil.
Though Arbroath is smaller by comparison, it is far from lacking in enterprise opportunities, with one of its most notable internationally-focused companies being MacIntyre Chocolate Systems.
The business has been at its present site on the edge of town since the 1970s, yet its heritage stretches back well over 100 years under its original incarnation as Low and Duff. Over the past few years, the firm has become part of the German-headquartered Probat industrial technology group, which marked its major milestone 150th anniversary this year. Its broad range of specialist coffee roasting plants and machinery have been exported around the world.
It is now able to offer manufacturing services across the complete cocoa and chocolate sector through its significant family of companies that now includes HDM in Germany, together with MacIntyre’s facilities based within the UK. As my Scottish hosts explain, the company’s doors remain very much open to customers from around the world, even if the journey is a fairly lengthy one for most visitors. For my own part, it’s a good 500 mile trip north of the border from the south of England by car.
But it’s an intriguing journey that is well worth it in gaining the chance to explore a company that remains fiercely proud of its roots, yet it is fully engaged in applying the latest technology to its series of confectionery equipment. The firm’s series of equipment is led by its new generation refiner conche with processing capabilities up to 5,000kg that gains a major showcase at ProSweets in Cologne next month. There are plenty of other options in its line-up, including the MacIntyre 45 refiner/conche, developed as a pilot lab testing model working with batches of product as small as 25kg, which is thought to be the most compact machine presently on the market.
Such systems are proving increasingly valuable to manufacturers, enabling cost-effective trials as product development continues to evolve rapidly. Beyond this, the business produces other processing equipment, including a product rework system, and its artisan line incorporating roasting, winnowing, liquor pre-grinding, chocolate refining and conching, for the manufacturing of fine chocolate mass using raw cocoa beans. As the production team explains, it is factors such as speed, flexibility and reliability of equipment that remain vital to manufacturers in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
According to sales manager Linda Mather, who has spent over 30 years with the business, this year is proving particularly memorable. She explains the company has been on a ‘tremendous journey’ over the past five years in particular.
“With Probat celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, MacIntyre also has a similar history. It’s been a big celebration, and it’s really exciting to have such a wide range of products available from across the company. We’re a good support for each other in the industry,” says the manager, who adds that there is a real sense of family within the 54-strong team at its Arbroath site, which she believes continues to play a significant factor in its success story.
As with any business, there have been production challenges along the road, including streamlining its operations and handling potential challenges surrounding Brexit on the horizon.
However, it appears there’s a good deal of optimism within the company moving forward to 2019, with a healthy order book indicating a positive outlook.
Moreover, as Linda explains, with export being the prime focus of its business, the company has retained momentum with a broad spread of project installations around the world. “I have spent most of my working life here. I’ve very much grown up in the chocolate world and I’ve found it’s been an interesting time being part of the company.
“MacIntyre itself is an important company for Arbroath, and a big employer for the area. If you tell people you are involved with a business that builds machinery for chocolate, it’s much more exciting, as everyone loves chocolate,” explains the sales manager, who adds it has been especially rewarding to build up strong working relationships with customers over her career to date. In terms of wider industry changes she has experienced, she adds that product development has altered in regard to a greater level of allergens affecting consumers.
Furthermore, she adds the issue of sugar reduction has become an increasingly significant factor that is driving innovation, with the company able to offer access to its specialist labs for the purposes of product research and development testing.
Leading a tour of the firm’s facilities, Joe Gorman, operations director, who joined the firm 18 months ago, has found his international experience in the oil and gas industry of great value in taking a lead in setting new benchmarks for the business.
There’s certainly a hive of activity as we head through the company’s production halls, with specialist welders and engineers hard at work in forging the majority of the components of its series on-site. “With well over 100 years’ experience in chocolate manufacture, The MacIntyre Refiner/Conche has consistently set the standard for production of high quality chocolate and compounds,” says the manager, who explains the new line is already gaining a positive initial response.
He adds the latest system takes strong strides forward over its predecessor, including additional levels of automation to meet Industry 4.0 demands, and improvements to its ease of maintenance. The new flagship equipment series is regarded by the company as the most effective and simplest means of mixing and refining fat-based masses, and developing the highest grade of chocolate possible, achieving critical particle sizes as low as 15 microns. In terms of its capabilities, the new machine – which has already seen an initial batch of successful installations, is capable of grinding nuts into paste and also cocoa nibs into liquor. Its flexibility also extends into handling ice cream coatings, chocolate spreads, yoghurt coatings, and sweet and savoury crèmes.
As we explore the site’s research facilities, one of the new refiner/conches is being discreetly put through its paces for a significant UK confectionery project. According to the operations director, the system’s features of the company’s new release is its enhanced capabilities within its PLC software, which now includes upgraded multi-step programming. This features a product specific set of process parameters or ‘recipes’ that can be stored in the system allowing the correct set of process parameters for a given product to be selected with a single touch of the control panel screen, which has also been enhanced.
The system also features a high degree of data monitoring, which the company says is vital for production traceability. As well as accurate control of water and product temperatures, the new range features a ‘non-contact’ transducer which is used to control and monitor the system’s refining pressure, creating a virtual pressure scale viewable on the machine’s control panel. In terms of design, it has made use of advanced technology for castings with increased strength and durability as further key features.
The introduction of a pressurised air chocolate seal, and redesigned sealing assemblies improve seal life to enable simpler maintenance and reduced downtime. It has also been instilled with a hygienic cable system designed for ease of installation.
“For 12 months we undertook extensive customer visits here in the UK and internationally to gather industry input for the new machine development, listening to their feedback, and we have taken some of that and implemented it into the design for the new generation machines, which has been really important,” explains Gorman of the company’s latest series of equipment.
He says there has been some significant re-organisation within the company during the development of the refiner/conche, which he enthuses has enhanced the sense of innovation within its teams. “One of the things for me in coming on board to the company was to understand the way we manufacture and design, and remove the waste from within existing systems.
This has meant we have significantly reduced lead times on delivering project for refiner/conches to around seven to eight weeks, which has seen a big change. “The UK and Irish markets are still strong, but Asia and the Middle East are the main global markets, as well as developing markets that we have identified for the next three years,” explains the operations director, who highlights that its reputation for equipment reliability and quality remain the mainstay of driving the firm’s growth.
He says in terms of market trends, the company has seen a rise in demand for products relating to coating and spreads, which its new generation RC series is able to meet, serving a full spectrum of customers, from small manufacturers to major industrial clients.
As he acknowledges, ensuring a high level of customer service remains a clear priority for the business, which through its connection to a larger global group, has given it a broader scope than ever. “We are aiming to grow the company even further, and we have supplied our machines to the global market for over 30 years. So hopefully we will see those customers return to us for the new generation machine. “There are a number of market areas we need to look at, but as an export company it’s what we do, sending machines to 134 countries,” adds Mather, as the business gears up for another major international showcase at the upcoming ProSweets event.
One of MacIntyre’s most recent recruits is Jamie Hutcheon, a former chef and chocolatier, who joined the company this summer as a business development manager. Having seen his confectionery business, Cocoa Ooze, which is now managed by his sister, feature on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den entrepreneur TV series, he says moving into a very different, yet related, equipment field is proving a rewarding experience. As he explains, his first few months with the firm are proving a richly rewarding experience, visiting clients across the UK, and as far afield as north Africa.
He remains a member of the Board of Scottish Chocolatiers, working hard to champion what is at present a booming business. Hutcheon enthuses that within food and drink, confectionery is growing considerably, with chocolate being the second biggest export product in Scotland (valued at £663.4 million in total for the UK last year), which he says underlines the fact there is export potential and opportunity to support manufacturing clients. “I was a chef before becoming a chocolatier – I fancied being a bit more creative and offering something different for the local marketplace in Aberdeen, which was predominantly about oil and gas. ” I was approached by MacIntyre to join them and there’s been no two days that are the same here. I’ve been involved with confectionery trials this week, as well as a project in Dresden with colleagues from HDM at its test facilities, where we were looking at their machines against well as our own.
“What we are trying to achieve at McIntyre is to build our business for the future to support our customers and clients even better. “I was also out in Morocco visiting clients, so the work here is very varied, and it has been good to hold events both internally, as well as externally. “So I think it is critical for us to show how we can support companies – we’re not just a machinery manufacturer, but we can assist customers as a full package right from the start of an initial idea.”