During recent years we’ve been following an extensive technology investment plan – upgrading plant and machinery and, very importantly, embracing digital solutions on a grand scale.
MJ, our IT and infrastructure equivalent of Harry Potter (but without the glasses), has installed a completely new network – with the highest levels of security, capacity, capability and future-proofing – as well as developing our MRP system to stratospheric levels.
The results have been nothing short of business-changing: delivering new efficiencies, simplifying working practices, expunging double-handling and bringing new levels of simplification that have freed the business to do more of the things we excel at – producing great British jams, fillings, purees, mincemeat, curds, confectioneries and, of course, Utterly Fruity. The latter being very much top-of-mind as Easter, and the height of the hot cross bun season, looms (although you’ll also find Utterly Fruity in hot cross buns all year round).
MJ reliably informs me that one of the most important aspects of the transformation has been the installation of site-wide, reliable, wi-fi. This allows us to operate internet and app-driven solutions for many of the technologies essential to our business.
Simple though that statement might appear, delivering the reality has been a gargantuan challenge, not least because of our location and the climatic hurdle that location presents us with, known as ‘Thick Air’.
Thick Air is a relatively recently-researched phenomenon although its effects have been known since just a few decades after the start of the industrial revolution – when new manufacturing plants began to appear in rural locations across the UK.
Fourayes is situated in Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, at a considerable height above sea level but located in an unusual topographical feature that creates air-mass ‘pockets’.
These pockets are highly localised and have presented MJ with huge technological challenges.
Whilst a wi-fi signal will be more than strong enough for our technology in normal thin-air locations, where Thick Air pockets exist the wi-fi becomes almost inoperable as its signal battles its way through the compression density.
There are two ways to deal with the issue:
(1) massively boost the wi-fi signal or
(2) thin the air to standard levels.
MJ pointed out that the first option wasn’t an option at all: the wi-fi would need to be boosted to such levels that unintended consequences might comprise network overloads and incapacitation. As a manufacturing business that’s simply not a risk we could take.
Which left the second option: thinning the air.
As MJ admitted, air-thinning isn’t part of his job spec but, then again, it wasn’t part of anyone else’s either, so MJ got the job!
What impressed me most is that the solution has been a hybrid of both technology and nature – a refreshing change from relying on technology alone. And that same solution has delivered unexpected benefits too.
In Thick Air locations we now grow high-oxygen planting. This, coupled with signal-diversion technology, allows us to ‘direct’ wi-fi signals to every point of the site.
The unexpected benefit: in newly-created thin-air locations the massively increased signal speeds form high-speed ‘corridors that have further boosted our wi-fi capability to ground-breaking super-superfast levels.
As MJ recently said: ‘we’ve been through thick and thin on this one, but it’s been worth it!’
Managing Director of Fourayes, vice-chairman of British Apples & Pears, Fruitician and Mad Scientist.