Roy Fowler, founder/sales director, UPM Conveyors

Friday Feature: ‘The need for speed has been a driver of change for the conveyor industry’

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Roy Fowler
Roy Fowler

Related tags Conveyor belt

Roy Fowler, founding member of UPM started the company in 1975 from a bedroom in his house where he imported equipment from manufacturers in Denmark and Italy.

He eventually rented a unit on Slough Trading Estate in the UK, before buying a 10,000 foot square factory, moving to Langley Business Park in 1987 offering in-house orders including fabrication programming and control build.

In 2008, the firm won the Queens Award for Innovation based on a radical approach to belt conveyor construction using High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (HMWPE) in 3M x 2M sheets, which formed the side members of the conveyor.

Here, Fowler speaks to FoodProductionDaily about how some 40 years ago when UPM began to manufacture belt conveyors the applications tended to be moving product from A to B within the production area but this has changed to become a quest for a multitude of tasks and products/packs at incredibly high speeds.

This in turn, has demanded a new approach to bespoke conveyor system design which has presented challenges to not only conveyor builders but suppliers of printers; labellers; bar code readers; vision systems and robotics.

The company has used AutoCAD from day one but Fowler said it only offers a 2D view so it has invested circa £50k in 3D software as more clients want confirmation that its proposals for product handling would interface to existing equipment and locate with the allocated production area.

UPM finds 3D also allows it to rotate designs 360 degrees and to run simulation tests with a client's product.

‘My role as sales and marketing director is a balance to ensure sufficient exposure via exhibitions; press releases and SEO as any order begins with an enquiry and for each enquiry we offer a fully dimensional 3D drawing which  after acceptance by the customer is transferred to our in-house router.

We cut the HMWPE sheets and the innovation lies in running the belt in a channel either side plus top and bottom so eliminating the need to track and tension the belt as is required with conventional belt conveyor construction.

UPM is now in its 40th​ year and we have been fortunate that as we have grown we have been able to expand from our original 10,000 foot square facility, allowing us to remain on the geographically convenient Langley Business Park.

UPM exports worldwide via achieving preferred supplier status with UK based Proctor and Gamble; Unilever and Lindal Group’ Findlay’s Fresh Foods Produce plus a European network of agents and we do not see any limitations in the future to offer product handling technology to China and the Middle East.

A typical example of this is the recent installation of a circa £200k order in Mexico for Lindal Valve.

The original structure of UPM has changed dramatically with five board level directors who are all much younger than me to ensure the future of the company and we offer apprenticeships to young school leavers to guarantee a skilled work force will be available.

One of the most difficult problems is finding skilled labour which is entirely logical given the lack of training/apprenticeships available over the past five years resulting in a lack of skilled personnel and only of late has the government emphasised the need to boot the manufacturing sector.  

Every company is only successful due to team of people and UPM has long term employees where each year we recognise their loyalty with bonuses with people celebrating 35 and 30 years of service.

Our focus in 1975 was the plastics industry but, in 1995, we branched out into food processing and packaging, which presented fresh problems to solve in respect of handling raw food such as mincemeat.

Today we have established an enviable reputation for offering reliable competitively priced equipment with a performance guarantee based on the equipment conforming to the agreed technical specification but in the event of any issues arising UPM will provide all necessary parts and labour free of charge to resolve any problems.

Since the last election we have seen a resurgence of confidence from customers who prior to that were cautious about investing in new equipment and understandably so with the prospect of an SNP/Labour coalition.

Various sectors are proving very successful like the automotive sector but whereas the plastics industry is based on circa 900 injection moulders the food sector has approximately 60,000 food processors ranging from airline snacks to oven ready meals and at each stage of production belt conveyors are required to transport a product from each stage of the production process.

Probably the major influence has been the variety of products now being packed and the speeds required. PLC interfacing is common to provide an overview control of a conveyor system that may incorporate product separation; centralising; orientation and merging or just simple interfacing to index product through stages like metal detection or check weighing.

The actual conveyor construction has also changed with the introduction of plastic sided conveyors made from High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (HMWPE) that conform to all FDA criteria for food contact applications plus full pressure wash down which eliminates the problem of traditional painted steel chassis that could be chipped and subsequently oxidised so rust became apparent.

UPM also belongs to BARA which is the British Automation and Robot Association so we are continuously aware of developments which naturally included belt conveyors to interface with robotics.'

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