Global market leader Mettler-Toledo Safeline Ltd is on a major drive to improve its operations across all aspects of product, manufacturing and sales
Founded in Salford 26 years ago, and since being bought by precision equipment manufacturing group Mettler-Toledo (MT), Safeline has grown to become a global leader in its market. Manufacturing inline metal detection systems for predominantly the food and pharmaceutical industries, Safeline estimates to have in excess of 80k units currently in continuous operation around the world with a 25 per cent market share. In order to achieve this level of brand reputation and international excellence, the company has undergone a major drive to continuously improve manufacturing processes, innovate technologies and establish an unrivalled regional sales and service network across the globe. “We employ about 300 people in Salford where we design and manufacture the majority of our equipment,” explains Managing Director, Alan Purvis. “We then support 35 different sales organisations in all the major countries to supply global products with local excellence in service, knowledge and customer relationships.”
With 90 per cent of all sales going to the food industry, market conditions across the globe are positive for Safeline at the moment. “With urban migration occurring throughout the world more and more people are turning towards large scale produced food,” outlines Alan. “Therefore, there are more mass-producers of food in the world, and we supply the equipment to provide those manufacturers with brand protection.” Equally as positive for the company is the increasing regulation on food safety standards (such as BRC, IFS, FSMA to name but a few) imposed on manufacturers by retailers and government bodies. “There are lots of regulatory bodies that are trying to protect people from contaminated food, and the equipment we supply is one of the technologies that can help them do that,” Alan highlights.
The strengths of Safeline centre heavily around the reputation for quality and service established and maintained by the company over its history. “Over the last 26 years we have consistently provided high performance, robust, market-leading products,” continues Alan. “It is our history of innovation, which has accelerated over the last five years, and the improvements we have brought to performance capability, ease of use and regulation compliance. We invest a lot into the training, skills and continuous improvement of our employees to become more lean focused. We have run a successful apprenticeship scheme for the last six years, which ensures a constant stream of skill flowing through the company. Because of this our agility as a company has improved and therefore our ability to respond to problems, or to avoid them, has increased dramatically over the last couple of years.” On top of this, Safeline’s ability to quickly and effectively train its global sales and support staff ensures that it can deliver the right expertise quickly in fast growing and emerging markets across the world. It also has the full weight of the MT group behind it and its superior B2B marketing abilities. “Our marketing machine frightens a lot of smaller competitors,” notes Alan.
The food industry is a diverse and wide ranging industry, and Safeline’s products have applications throughout. Therefore, the company has developed a wide range of configurations and, whilst trying to standardise where possible, a lot of bespoke engineering goes into meeting demands. As well as ensuring the best detector performance – reliability, uptime, ease of service and long lifetime are also demanded by its customers. To achieve this, the company invests heavily into continuous improvement across its operations.
“We work very closely with PhD students and senior researchers at the University of Manchester to continuously enhance our technology,” says Alan. The most recent development to come out of this programme of innovation is the Profile Advantage metal detector, which came to market in September 2014 and has achieved significant success, already accounting for a higher than expected percentage of the company’s current sales. Improvements in electronics, software and signal processing make the existing range far more advantageous to customers over competitors’.
“Traditionally the technology has used a single optimised frequency to find small metal contaminants in a range of different food or pharmaceutical products,” explains Alan. “The new product however, utilises multi-simultaneous frequencies, which has been achieved by updating signal processing so we can now find even smaller metal pieces in an even broader range of challenging products, but with a lot more accuracy. For instance, a major manufacturer in America was rejecting about 30-40 products out of 70,000 chickens per day that were not actually contaminated, from a competitor’s machine. We completed a field trial there and the company put seven million chickens through one of our detectors, which only ever rejected genuinely contaminated products. So the Profile Advantage’s change in sensitivity converts into really meaningful productivity, cost reduction and brand protection improvements for the customer.”
Innovation and continuous improvement are not reserved solely for products at Safeline. Alan explains that the company now sources about 15 per cent of its material spend on standard components from China, which has had significant cost saving and supply chain management benefits. The business has also followed this initiative by setting up its own production facility in China to specifically serve the Asian market more responsively. Today, 20 per cent of global sales are manufactured in China, which translates to 80 per cent for the Asian markets. Within the Salford factory, the company has recently invested in a £100k potting machine, which has had major impacts on waste reduction and time efficiency, and was accompanied by a patent pending change in product design and a new optimised production layout. “All sorts of innovation are going on all over the factory but we are far from perfect, we are about halfway through into a journey to become a highly efficient, lean manufacturing company,” he adds.
Safeline is one of four companies in MT’s product inspection division and Alan is keen to point out that they all share the same strategy to achieve future success, particularly as working together they can offer a complete service package to their shared customers. Elsewhere, Safeline’s vision for the future is very much focused on increasing its competitive advantage within the market and to continue its growth through product and manufacturing innovation. In partnership with the University of Manchester, the company is already working on its next major development, which will be a complete replacement of the company’s range and is due to be rolled out over a three year period from the end of 2016. Ultimately, continued respect for its reputation and dedication to its ever-changing markets will secure the future for Mettler- Toledo Safeline Ltd, an attitude of continuous improvement flows through the company and it is taking positive steps on the journey to achieve its vision.
Mettler-Toledo Safeline Ltd
Products: Industrial metal detectors for food and pharmaceutical industries
Sites: Manufacturing sites: USA, Germany, UK and China