Change continues apace at the Kraft Heinz plant at Kitt Green in north-west England, the largest food production facility in Europe and best known as the home of the Heinz brand.

The integrated canmaking and canning plant continues to invest in its people and infrastructure with a new site director, Luis Spinardi, who took over from Stuart Lawson at the end of September 2019 after a seven-month handover.

Spinardi has taken on Lawson’s mantle, continuing the changes at the plant that he initiated while bringing his own experience and expertise to bear. He gained this while working at Kraft Heinz’s supply chain hub at Zeist in the Netherlands and then running its baby food factory in Latina in southern Italy.

When The Canmaker interviewed Lawson in 2018, he was in the process of modernising the factory’s infrastructure, which dates back to 1959, together with the culture and working practices. He was also in charge of major investments to improve operational efficiency, which amounted to US$160 million over the previous five years.

Kraft Heinz’s 55-acre site houses six main buildings, including operations, warehousing and offices and has expanded considerably over the past six decades. Facilities include separate buildings for canmaking; manufacturing and filling (on three levels) – which includes eight cooker-coolers for beans and pasta, three hydrostatic sterilisers for soup and six rotary retorts for Snap Pots; and packaging, where products are labelled, collated and packed in singles and two multipack lines before being palletised.

John Brockley, operations manager for canmaking at
Kitt Green, has supervised modernisation at the facility

There are also two warehousing facilities – a distribution centre at one end of the site, and a national distribution centre (NDC), run by Wincanton, at the other that was opened in 2002. This has more than 70,000 pallet spaces in high-bay facilities with automatic craneage. The two distribution centres are linked by an internal road, which passes the multipack lines and canmaking buildings.

The site is highly utilised, operating three shifts, 24 hours a day, five days a week with maintenance carried out over weekends and with 850 people employed, all under the supervision of an SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. On-site safety remains the main priority. “Today we are 100 days without a recordable incident and last year has been one of the best out of the last ten,” says Spinardi on the day in early February that the visit took place.

Another priority is maintaining the quality of products made using an extensive range of checks and control measures throughout production. Spinardi is proud of the site’s low complaint record of 3.19 per million cans sold. “This is the lowest point ever for consumer complaints,” he says. “Having consumers happy with our product is a priority for the site.”

Since the majority of the output from the factory is for domestic UK consumption, Spinardi isn’t overly concerned about the impact of Brexit once the transition period ends on
31 December 2020. While the site’s tinplate for can bodies comes primarily from Tata Steel in South Wales, it is only sanitary and easy-open ends that are sourced externally, from plants in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic operated by Trivium, formerly Ardagh.

One of Spinardi’s current priorities is to raise the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) at the site, which he admits is not at the world-class levels he would like. Unplanned losses in particular are an area of focus. “So, there is a big job to be done in increasing efficiency on this site,” he adds. “There is huge work to be done in implementing an improvement culture in the site, which we are starting.”

Team structure changes
At Spinardi’s instigation, Heinz has begun a major programme of team structure reorganisation to change the ways of working. It’s all about moving to continuous improvement using more “autonomous maintenance” by smaller teams of workers, for which training began in January 2020.

Spinardi explains it is important that staff are brought on board with teams led by “champions” who disseminate best practice. He stresses that to be successful, collaborative engagement with workers and unions at the plant is essential.

“Our people need to be given capabilities for increasing their skill set for running a successful shift: problem solving, defect understanding, autonomous maintenance, which we will do over the next three years. But it won’t be a quick win because it is a tough job,” he says.

One of the main changes in the past two years has been prompted by a decision at the world’s third largest retailer, Tesco, to move away from selling plastic-wrapped multipacks and instead use IT systems to handle consumer discounts for purchases of multiple cans. It is a trend that other retailers are likely to follow. As a consequence, Heinz’s packaging department and multipack lines are destined for radical change with more single cans being shipped over the next few years.

“So, we are very tight and constrained on singles capacity, which needs to be increased to cope with this new moment we are living in,” says Spinardi.

Historically, investment at the plant has concentrated in areas such as the four packaging halls (Ph1/2, Ph3, Pasta and Multipack), to ensure product “pull” through the factory to avoid bottlenecks in areas such as canning and cooking/sterilisation. “The mindset in the packaging hall has changed a lot over past years using preventative maintenance activities to keep equipment working and to make sure we always have excess capacity downstream,” notes Spinardi.

With more retailers likely to move away from wrapped multipacks to single cans, this will inevitably put strain on this area to improve packaging and palletising efficiencies. It is also why Spinardi is focusing on retraining workers in more flexible ways of working and to accommodate seasonal changes in demand.

Investment at the factory continues with around £13-14 million (US$16.6-17.9m) scheduled for this year for the replacement of older equipment and completion of Project Darwin, the site’s new high-speed 1,200cpm canning line, together with the site’s new plastic Snap Pot line.

Canmaking upgrades
Last year Kraft Heinz spent £22m ($28m) in the canmaking lines. This included the upgrading of line 2, a Soudronic three-piece canmaking line, used to make smaller 200g size cans, which was completed in May 2019. In November 2019, the site’s high voltage (HV) cable distribution system, including electrical sub-station, was also completed. Upgrades to process control for can distribution in the factory were completed 18 months ago. This involved the replacement of old programmable logic controllers with Allen Bradley PLCs.

The refurbishment of line 2 involved replacing almost all components apart from the bodymaker frame to bring it up to modern standards. It is now capable of speeds of 1,100cpm compared with 870cpm previously, explains operations manager for canmaking, John Brockley. The bodymaker was first upgraded to incorporate the latest welding technology and increase speed and an old Borden tester was replaced with a new Soudronic Test-o-Mat leak tester.

“We have now commissioned that, which is now at full operating speed, making 370,000 cans every shift to keep up with supplying the factory,” says Brockley Prior to line 2, the last significant canmaking investment was in the new Soudronic line 10 installed in 2015, which sits next to line 2 and was described in the previous article in The Canmaker in 2018. This line is used for producing 400g size cans as ‘two-up’ cylinders that are parted into two cans at a rate of 1,000cpm. These are then beaded, flanged and ends added on Can-O-Mat machines – basically four machines in one – before being sent for pressure testing to check for weld and seam integrity and subsequently on to washers and deionising rinsers to the filling department.

“Over the years we have downgauged the steel, which is better for the environment and saves money,” says Brockley. “At the moment, we are on 0.155mm thickness. We roll beads on to the cans which gives strength.

“Before investment in line 10, we used to do a six-day week and would keep about 35m cans off site at a cost of about $500,000 a year. Now we only carry 12m cans across all sizes and SKUs and we have no off-site costs at all.”

Cans made on all production lines are then tested and sent directly on overhead conveyors to the canning department. Around 95 per cent of cans used on site are made there, with just 5 per cent of catering size and smaller cans bought in.

“It’s very important to all our processes that we keep everything flowing smoothly,” says Brockley.

“So, it’s one continuous process from manufacturing cans and up the elevator; you want it seamlessly then all the way through the filling line, through sterilising, then being pulled through into packaging.”

Investment in filling
Various investments have been made in the filling department, including the replacement of four old fillers for beans with a single modern high-speed vacuum filler capable of 1,200cpm, which is now also used for soups. A new X-ray inspection system was also installed on a soup filling line last year. Control procedures include laser inspection for bean colour and metal detection to ensure the quality and safety of products delivered to cans, while level detection sensors ensure filling accuracy for the correct amount
of beans and sauce.

Filled cans are then seamed to put the lids on before passing through more quality checks, including X-ray checks, and then on to sterilisation/cooking and cooling. The department operates eight FMC Foodtech cooker-coolers for beans and pasta; three Hydromatic hydrostatic sterilisers from Stork  (now JBT) for soups; and six rotary retorts for the Snap Pots.

Kraft Heinz operates two plastic Snap Pot lines, with the most recently installed having a much higher capacity. “The market place is very buoyant on Snap Pots and has attracted significant investment in the past 12 months. We’ve gone up by half as much again in capability,” says Brockley.

Within the packaging halls, life can get even more complicated because of the array of different formats and labels handled. “Whereas you start with about 200 SKUs at the front, you go up by about a third in packaging,” he says. This is as a result of different formats of labels: 12s, 16s, 24s and multipacks in fours and sixes. Over the past 18 months, palletisation has benefited from investment in robot technology.

All cans are coded to provide full traceability in the event of problems after canning. While Kraft Heinz previously used barcodes as its basic label check, it has now moved on to vision technology, in which it considers itself a leader in the field. The system checks against both the barcode and Heinz ‘keystone’ labels on the front of cans to provide two forms of verification.

“Our business is now changing where packaging is going to get sweated probably for some considerable time,” says Brockley. “So, we need to make sure we are on the ball, get the machinery up to optimum speed and make sure all of our operators are more than capable of handling the process.”

Upgrades to process control for can distribution at the Heinz plant were completed 18 months ago

Future investment
Looking to the future, Spinardi has approved plans to improve the site’s energy efficiency thus reducing its environmental impact. This will be achieved by installing a combined
heat and power (CHP) unit to generate electricity and steam using biogas generated from anaerobic digestion  of the company’s own waste.

“We have a big mass of organic load in vegetables, meat and beans,” says Spinardi. Currently, the company separates the solids from these waste streams before the effluent is discharged. “We could do a better treatment on those effluents by taking value out of them,” he adds. “So, you have two gains in the same initiative. Utility-wise we are going to be more efficient and greener as well in the near future.”

Looking even further ahead, Spinardi expects the Kitt Green site to work ever closer with the Kraft Heinz R&D centre at Nijmegen in the Netherlands, where around 200 researchers are based, to develop alternative processing techniques that improve quality and maintain safety of canned food, while reducing the amount of thermal treatment it undergoes.