BCH equipment counts down to ProSweets Cologne opening this weekend

With a history dating back to the 1830s, the UK’s process engineering firm BCH Ltd has built up a notable global profile within the confectionery sector, as Neill Barston finds on his latest site visit, as it prepares to showcase its ranges at ProSweets

Having been interrupted for the past two years amid the pandemic, ProSweets and ISM trade fairs are set to make a highly welcome return within the live events sector later this month.

While this year’s showcases have indeed been impacted by uncertainties over travel restrictions affecting a number of global locations, there’s an underlying optimism that the 2022 editions of these key confectionery extravaganzas will prove highly memorable.

Clearly, preparation for the fairs remains challenging for both exhibitors and visitors alike, yet its hosts stress the importance of seeking to stage both ISM and ProSweets with enhanced hygiene precautions including wider aisles, mask wearing and additional sanitising measures that the venue believes will make a difference.

Among those equipment manufacturers ploughing on admirably with plans to exhibit is UK-based equipment specialist BCH Ltd, located in Whitworth, Lancashire, which is reporting sustained demand for its lines, including its well established depositing systems (see our exclusive video with the company here).

As operations director Stuart Grogan explains, while the trading landscape remains demanding, he’s encouraged by the fact the business has ‘been working at capacity for the past 18 months’ which has seen a buoyancy within its experienced team, that forms part of a business with a heritage stretching back as far as the 1830’s.

Its determination to succeed in the face of continued trading adversities was witnessed at the end of last year, with the company successfully exhibiting at the much-anticipated Gulfood Manufacturing event. It was one of the very few live shows to have gained a ‘green light’ globally within the past year. Significantly, Grogan notes there were plenty of strong business leads emerging from the trade fair, making the long trip to the Middle East well worth it, which he said leaves them with a key sense of momentum heading into ProSweets.

“For us, ProSweets is probably more important now than ever before, as it’s been such a long time since we have been able to exhibit our confectionery equipment and latest developments. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to network with new and existing clients, and I think it will facilitate quite a lot of discussions.

Other than Interpack, it’s the next biggest thing in terms of its size. It’s very focused, and the only show that’s entirely confectionery based, and we enjoy it for that reason,” notes the operations director. For those unable to attend physically, organisers have devised a hybrid element to arrange meetings virtually through creating a dedicated app for the trade fair.

As Grogan notes, despite the backdrop of industry issues, the company is continuing with its plans for developing new equipment and series, even if the physical costs of doing business appear to be facing unwelcome increases. It’s this downward pressure that has somewhat put the brakes on wider economic recovery for many segments of industry, with the food manufacturing sector being no exception to this unexpected state of affairs.

“The most challenging time for us is right now, rather than earlier in the pandemic, as we had all the systems in place from an early point. The workforce has been fantastic and been totally dedicated, we have the government’s plan B in place now, but everyone is used to these kinds of working relationships, it’s almost the norm,” notes the managing director, who says the business is continually striving to extend its international reach, having recently completed a key project in Australia. As he explains, keeping a strong profile at core trade shows has proved crucial to maintaining its global profile in becoming a known quantity within confectionery machinery markets around the world. “Workwise, we’ve been at capacity for 18 months – that’s evolving to a greater level with the current order pipeline in place.

The biggest challenge now is the supply chains with rising costs, stainless steel particularly. Across all industries, the electronics supply side of things has taken a real hit in terms of being stop start with deliveries, so it’s become difficult to obtain parts, that are on a longer lead time than the entire project that we are working on, but I think ultimately people do understand the situation,” adds Grogan with a degree of frustration at a still-unfolding global scenario beyond the company’s control.

Machinery trends

As Grogan notes, as a worldwide brand, the company is still servicing some of its equipment originally placed with customers in the 1940s onwards, which he believes is a firm testament to the quality of its construction.

While core designs have remained fairly consistent, he says that enhancing its range of equipment on a regular basis remains particularly significant for the business.

This is all the more significant given that the machinery and systems sector remains especially competitive around the world. In terms of trends, BCH’s director believes there have been a number of developments concerning industry progress. that are playing their part in influencing the design and construction of equipment.

“We have found the 100 per cent fruit side of our lines is shifting, as there’s interest in snacks perceived as being healthier, and we are doing a lot of work across the world in taking that forwards, whether it is a processing system, or one of our existing extrusion lines, we have options available.

“There’s also been an increased focus on power and energy costs, and we are constantly developing our equipment, offering some of the most efficient cooking and extrusion systems on the market. “There’s also a big focus on hygiene, so the benefit of our systems is that you can clean in place with the whole cooking and extrusion side of things, and we’re moving standards forward,” adding that it has often been a case of devoting time to enhancing existing lines to bring them into line with enhanced requirements from customers.

Company expansion
As his colleague Lee Fish, a senior process engineer, explains during a site visit, they may well be operating amid a complex trading backdrop including navigating Brexit-related issues, yet the company is far from standing still.

Leading the way through its distinctive warren-like site, a sturdy former Lancashire mill, he explains that it has one eye on the future in having purchased a large parcel of land at the rear of the building to factor in expected further growth.

Significantly, he believes the additional space will prove crucial for expanding its innovation centre, which he notes is proving an especially valuable testing ground for customers operating in a number of market segments.

As we explore its facilities that are home to over 60 people, spanning everything from its design working for the company extremely rewarding over the years. He reveals the firm was heartened by its performance at the recent Gulfood event in Dubai, delivering a core line of enquiries painting a picture of increasing demand for high quality machinery.

“There’s no chance you’d be at all bored working here, as every day is so different,” enthuses the engineer, who says he’s found working for the company extremely rewarding over the years.

He reveals the firm was heartened by its performance at the recent Gulfood event in Dubai, delivering a core line of enquiries painting a picture of increasing demand for high quality machinery.

Though he concedes there have been some initial pandemic setbacks with Covid impacting on staffing levels, he believes the team has pulled together commendably and is continuing its upward trajectory.

“Over the past couple of years we have been doing a lot of work in Australia, and historically the company has been in South Africa, as well as places like South America, and the US from time to time as well. So the confectionery market does seem to be expanding, particularly in the liquorice and fruit processing lines we do that are the bulk of our work in that market.”

As the senior engineer, who started out on his career as a design draughtsman, adds, its customers have shown especial interest in flexible multifunctional processing lines capable of producing a variety of products with its liquorice and fruit systems, opening up a diverse range of potential markets.

Encouragingly, he enthuses that the company’s equipment order book is in a healthy position in spite of conditions, and says he’s greatly enjoying helping steer the business forward with upcoming projects. “I would say we’re an adaptable business, and though we’re a small company, a lot of those who are here have plenty of experience with our equipment.

“That has helped us develop efficient and reliable systems. In the last few years, we have been allowed by our owners to invest money in development and refine our machines and processes to how we would like them to be – we want them to be the best in the world,” adds Lee of life at the company that he is keenly helping oversee continue to expand, in spite of wider ongoing challenges within the industry

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