A Cumbria-based chocolate maker is set to enhance its productivity by automating its manufacturing process with a £850,000 investment.
Friars started making its own brand of premium chocolates by hand last year, after nearly 100 years of retailing confectionary products.
Now, to meet increasing demand and to accelerate growth, the third-generation family business is adopting a process solution which will automate the labour-intensive element of its production line while retaining key handcrafted elements.
The £100,000 investment will enable Friars to increase its output from 30kg per day to 250kg – an increase of 733% – with significant scope to scale up production.
Automation will make it almost three times cheaper to produce the same amount and maintain a consistent quality.
The business also plans to invest £750,000 in a new factory and distribution centre near to the motorway in Penrith.
Friars has been supported by the Made Smarter North West Adoption programme which for the last two years has worked with 1,200 makers in every corner of the region providing advice, expertise and financial support to help them grow their business, increase competitiveness and reduce inefficiencies through digital tools and technology.
Managing Director Michael Webster, who runs the business with his brother Richard, said: “Our ambition is to become one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of quality chocolates, but in order to do this we need to look to technology to enable us to scale up our operation while producing the highest quality possible.
“Made Smarter’s support and advice has accelerated and de-risked our investment in process automation technology which will take the brakes off our growth plans and transform our business.”
Donna Edwards, North West Adoption Programme Director at Made Smarter, said: “Friars is a superb example of a Made Smarter-supported business which has identified the value technology can bring to its operations.
“By combining automation technology with its handcrafted techniques, Friars is forecasting significant growth, and productivity and efficiency gains.
“Friars is among hundreds of manufacturers in the region grasping the opportunities offered by Made Smarter which include expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help take that first step to transform a business, a leadership programme, and funded digital technology internships.”