Bühler’s Swiss cubic innovation centre opens digital doorways

With major investment into its construction, Bühler’s Cubic centre is anticipated to deliver a host of creative food solutions, including new confectionery ranges. Neill Barston returns to report on the Swiss facility’s completion

“The Cubic innovation centre brings people together, which is the most important part of its story,” enthuses Thomas Breg, Bühler’s marketing director for consumer foods.

As he explains, the flagship digital enterprise facility, which has seen multi-million investment, offers considerable creative potential across the company’s global business operations.
From confectionery and bakery equipment, through to its wider portfolio spanning the drinks, grain processing and automotive industries, a drive to develop more sustainable solutions including a host of inventive food products lies at the core of Cubic’s creation.

Underlining the company’s goals, CEO Stefan Scheiber set an ambitious target of reducing the company’s waste and energy usage by 30 per cent by 2020, with the new facility set to take centre stage for the firm’s international operations which now amount to an annual turnover nearing €3 billion.

Gaining global media attention, there has been no shortage of expectation surrounding Cubic since initial on the venture were laid at the company’s already extensive headquarters in Uzwil, near Zurich, in 2017.

The building’s striking two-storey, glass-fronted design reflects a level of confidence within the company, which reaches two billion around the world with its food products. With 13,000 employees across the globe, the company’s focus on digital services clearly chimes with wider global trends within the sector.

Certainly, from my initial visit a year ago when the facility was just a mere outer shell, it now stands dramatically transformed into fully functioning building.

This major addition to the site gains its inauguration later this summer, seeking to stake its claim as a market-leading facility within the industry.  It is envisaged that Cubic will attract an eclectic mix of its own research and development teams, to entrepreneurs from start-up ventures from across the world. Indeed, such is the enthusiasm for the initiative, many of the teams due to use the site are already taking up residence within its open-planned facilities.

Its distinctive free-flowing design focuses on providing a direct link with existing test labs including for chocolate processing and bakery product development.

Among some of the most notable groups operating from the site are project managers for Cubic’s My Bühler programme, responsible for ordering spare parts and maintenance of equipment, which the company says is growing at a considerable rate.
As the team leading the project, which has now been running for several years, explains, its something that customers are increasingly valuing.

They explain that the online ordering systems as it enables customers around the world 24/7 access to efficiently order new parts and arrange systems support.

This includes potential for connection with e-monitoring Internet of Things (IOT) equipment monitoring, access to training videos, as well as offering a point of contact for the company’s technical staff.

There are now thousands of customers signed-up to the initiative, which the company believes will prove critical for delivering digital support for its global client base.

In addition, Cubic is also hosting the team operating its Safefood.ai food safety website. This provides news, insights analysis into key matters affecting production chains, enabling customers to gain awareness of key trends as they unfold internationally.

According to the team delivering the system, the initial take-up among its client base is proving encouraging, given that manufacturers face increasing pressure to maintain high levels of food monitoring standards.

As Breg continues, with the company now operating 100 service facilities around the world, the development of Cubic enables the company to meet its customers’ expectations across both online and physical product and equipment support.

“For success, you need tools, workshops and space to create, as well as hardware. But innovation is in fact a combination of the spirit of people, and the spirit of technology, and I believe this is what makes Cubic’s design a perfect match in terms of its architecture,” explains Breg on the company’s new building, which complements the open, minimalistic style of its recently-developed visitor centre.

By chance, the architect for Cubic, Elvis Pidic, is also in the building overseeing some of the finer details of its delivery before a formal launch this August.

“I’m really proud of the new development, but in designing it, I wondered quite whether people would sit and use all the spaces that we’ve created for them, so I hope that they do,” he remarks on the building, which is expected to offer a renewed focal point for the business.

Confectionery potential

Further exploring the newly created space, Ian Roberts, the company’s chief technology officer, takes up leading a behind-the-scenes preview of Cubic. It already appears a hive of activity with visiting businesses and internal workshops playing out all around us.

There’s also an inviting bar and café area adjoining the area of the auditorium which serves to further underline its design to encourage a sense of teams working together in an open and inclusive manner.

As Roberts reflected on my previous visit, the construction of Cubic “re-centres innovation back in the home of the company,” which he believes comes at a timely moment as the business continues to evolve.

According to Roberts, one of the building’s founding principles is in working with new businesses to spark its reputation as a centre of excellence.

One of the very first projects hoping to make its mark is from a team producing Legria (meaning delightful in Romanian), which is a sugar reduction formulation for a wide range of applications including chocolate spreads, and bars, cookies, as well as other baked goods.

“Even when you have times of economic downturn, I think people deserve affordable treats like chocolate, and I believe the confectionery market, and also that of bakery will benefit from what we are doing here. It’s important that we embrace enterprises like Legria as part of our work here,” says Roberts, who says that it is such enterprises that will prove integral to the perceived success of Cubic.

The venture’s co-founder Dr Carsten Petry explains the project, which re-uses brewing grains, addresses a key area of sustainable sourcing.

He reveals that the small team working to refine Legria’s application range are excited to see their hard work pay off, with its formal launch expected at the company’s networking days event at Uzwil this August.

“I think it’s been a real success for us, as we are now able to create products that we will be able to bring to market over the next few months,” he says of the venture. In terms of wider food market projects, the centre will also support some of Bühler’s work on one of its other key projects in devising greater use of insects for animal feed.

This has been devised as a major sustainability initiative in response to concerning statistics revealing that globally, between field-to-fork, an alarming total of 30 per cent of our food goes to waste.

Major restructuring

With the acquisition of the Austrian-based Haas equipment group 18 months ago making significant strides, Roberts says that bringing together combined resources within the expanded facilities at Uzwil is of vital importance.

As both he and other senior figures explain, ensuring that all divisions of the combined company buy into its shared vision of providing more cohesive equipment and solutions together is a strategy which appears to be paying off strongly for the business.
Continuing the discussion on the broader prospects for Cubic, Breg explains, it represents a cultural shift for the business, as fresh minds enter the business.

While he concedes there’s a learning curve for all involved, he’s optimistic that it will prove a valuable platform for all within the company.

This includes its global bank of apprentices, which now totals around 600 young people, who will have access to the newly expanded facilities in Switzerland.

“For me, Cubic is a mind opener for ideas, and door opener into topics that maybe we couldn’t have thought about in the past. So, I’m absolutely enthusiastic about it, especially when you see what’s possible. It’s a learning process for a lot of employees here. We’ve just started here, and it’s not officially opened, but even so, the spirit of the place when you go up the stairs, the spirit of the place really catches you,” adds Breg of the centre which is expected to set the digital heartbeat of the business as its workforce to deliver solutions for markets around the world.

–  Watch our behind the scenes visit to the company’s new Cubic centre in Uzwil, with our interview featuring Thomas Breg: https://bit.ly/2Jqs7aV


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