For many food manufacturers it can be challenging to demonstrate and quantify sustainability. Sarah Ketchin reports
There’s no getting away from the fact that food manufacturers have a lot on their plate right now, including how to balance being more cost efficient, productive and competitive with investing in more sustainable line equipment. Given that we live in a throwaway society, the big question is how can a manufacturer of metal detectors assist food producers to be more sustainable with their equipment purchasing decisions?
As proverbs go, ‘waste not, want not’ is one that resonates highly at Fortress Technology and this filters across our entire metal inspection range.
One of the underpinning themes of the Save Food initiative is giving manufacturers access to more sustainable production systems and methods. That’s where we can help. With 90% of Fortress metal detectors sold to UK food factories, extending the lifespan of equipment and optimising ROI for our growing customer base is where we focus a large amount of our R&D efforts. In turn it means we can assist food factories to be leaner and act greener.
Making sustainable equipment purchasing decisions
Arguably, food waste is where the real sustainability agenda lies. It was good to see the recent report from the Environment Agency praising our food and drink sector for being more resource efficient and cutting down the amount of waste. False product rejects as a result of false metal detection readings can amount to £14,000 annually per production line. This is partly down to the way the magnetic field reacts to the product characteristics, especially in wet products, so the sensitivity of the detector head plays a big part. But I agree with Lord Smith that we must continue to strive for more improvements.
Fortress recognises that for many manufacturers it can be challenging to demonstrate and quantify sustainability. Even the word itself means different things to different generations, from environmentally friendly to organic, or ethical or transparency. Another challenge is the split about what constitutes sustainability between consumers and industry. This is in part due to the fact there are so many aspects to the agenda - from acting more eco-friendly by reducing energy consumption and your carbon footprint, to tackling the volume of food that ends up in landfill.
Many larger EU businesses today are finding themselves under pressure from investors to provide hard evidence of sustainable actions. It means you can’t just claim to be sustainable; you have to prove and rubber stamp it.
Not backward in coming forward
A backward compatible offering might sound a bit retro. However, every one of our customers tells us that the ability to upgrade equipment with the very latest technology so it is ‘fit for purpose’ for years to come helps them to achieve their sustainability goals and save them significant money in one swoop.
It was a real swing factor for Nutrition Group which ordered six Stealth metal detectors. For a new customer Fortress regards this as a sizeable order and a real vote of confidence for our sustainability proposition.
Tim Edwards, Facilities Manager at Nutrition Group agrees: “The problem with a lot of equipment is that it can quickly become outdated, but Fortress says that it will guarantee to support its metal detectors, even if I call them up needing a part in 10 years’ time. That’s a big commitment.”
Realistically, with the right maintenance, a well-built metal detector can run for 20+ years. Machinery innovation isn’t going to slow-up. There’s always going to be faster, more efficient and cutting edge technological solutions coming to market. But that doesn’t mean you need to prematurely bin your perfectly functional kit because it doesn’t comply with the latest retail inspection standards or regulations. A metal detector is big hunk of equipment, most with coils embedded in epoxy or even concrete, making it harder to reclaim and recycle components when it enters the waste stream.
Legacy systems have a reputation for being expensive to maintain. But there are viable alternatives. Much of this will be directed by your supplier, their R&D capabilities and experience, and willingness to look beyond the order list to invest in upgrades.
A good example of this is when M&S revised its Codes of Practice in 2012. Within weeks Fortress issued the required software and safety feature upgrades, costing approximately 70% less than acquiring a brand new metal detector system. Also, I don’t know many suppliers willing to bolt their technology onto another’s. But it’s how the sector is evolving. Up to 15% of global equipment sold by our company is integrated into non-Fortress units. Customers value it because it optimises their ROI.
There's much to be said, from many environmental vantage points, about postponing replacement purchases of anything, not just metal detectors. If we can do our bit to keep what's already made out of the waste stream and delay the additional environmental costs of making something new, in my view that’s responsible waste stewardship and a big tick for every manufacturer who is striving to achieve their sustainability goals.
Sarah Ketchin is Managing Director, Fortress Technology.