Words by Hoe Ziqian
Some business owners set up their operations to carve out a strong local foothold, but there are others who have their eye on a bigger prize - regional expansion.
Since its humble beginnings in 1995, F&G Food Pte Ltd has gradually established itself as a leading supplier of Chinese sausage and waxed meat in Singapore. In fact, its signature product line, Golden Palm Chinese Sausages, was awarded the Promising Brands award in the Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2014. Today, the company’s products are listed at major supermarkets all over Singapore, but Patrick Tay, Managing Director of F&G is already looking beyond our shores in his attempt to take his business to the next level.
If you think Tay is being overly ambitious, all it takes is a visit to his Woodlands factory to change your perspective. Walking into the F&G production line, amidst the monotonous hum of machinery running in the background, one cannot help but admire as rows and rows of canned luncheon meat are flying through the production line and packed by workers with almost clockwork precision. The company has a clear blueprint for success, and that winning formula is the appropriate use of automation by workers who have a deep passion for the business. Some businesses focus too much on the technology and end up losing that human touch, whilst others cling on to their antiquated processes and eventually struggle with the financial burden of an excessively large workforce. It feels like Tay has managed to hit the sweet spot with his approach.
Tay is certainly no stranger to automation, having previously mechanised the production of his signature product – the Chinese sausage. Being a traditional product, one would think that the production of the Chinese sausage is likely to be a highly manual and labour-intensive process. This cannot be further from the truth as Tay had employed the clever use of industrial-grade choppers and mixers to prime his minced meat before piping them into a sausage making machine to churn out huge volumes of the product with minimal human intervention. It is no wonder that he has once again tapped into that same winning formula for his line of canned and ready-to-eat products.
Tay played host to Gilbert Tan, CEO of NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to showcase the recent productivity gains that they have introduced to their production line with e2i’s support. According to Tay, what they have achieved so far is merely the beginning. The company is already in the midst of planning a larger manufacturing plant to house all their production lines, with their sights firmly set on the regional market, especially cities with a strong Chinese demographic.
While the plans on the new plant are slowly taking shape, it is remarkable what F&G has managed to achieve with their current small-scale production setup. Tapping on the WorkPro Job Redesign grant, F&G enhanced the design flow of their automatic electric conveyor line. This increases the number of cans that can be accumulated, allowing the older workers in their production team more time to pack the finished products. With a vast selection of canned products, this initiative will certainly prove to an integral part of the company’s future growth.
With quality assurance being a big part of any packaged food product, F&G has also leveraged on the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) grant to add a host of industrial-grade machinery to its production line. An automatic rotary stir fry machine helps to automate the tedious frying process on a large scale. Workers only need to pour in the ingredients and the machine will take care of the rest with the press of a button. This ensures a greater volume of output at a consistent quality, and most importantly with a lower dependence on manual labour. This allows the current production workers to focus their attention on other more value-adding activities to keep the whole production line churning along.
The implementation of an automatic metal detector helps F&G to pick up any traces of metallic content in the products. Upon detection of any metallic content, the machine will seamlessly flush out the impacted portion before resuming the production process, ensuring that only products that meet the highest safety standards pass through the doors of the factory.
At the stage of packaging, a vertical continuous sealing machine has been deployed to cater to the varying specifications of F&G’s diverse product line. All the workers have to do is to pre-set the temperature and speed of sealing according to the specifications of each product, and the machine will execute this at speed with both consistency and precision. The sealed product then proceeds along the conveyor belt to the last stage where an industrial inkjet printer prints the batch code and expiry date onto the packaging. This resembles a seal of approval and gives customers the confidence that they are buying a product that has been prepared with the greatest care and diligence.
The journey to automation can often prove too daunting for many a traditional entrepreneur. Hopefully the transformation of F&G can help to inspire the confidence of those who have so far refrained from taking the plunge. With the support of partners like e2i, local companies can seek out their own transformation journeys knowing that they are in safe hands.