For sheer pace, Moy Park's Coolhill factory is hard to beat. Every week over 500,000 chickens are received, slaughtered, processed and shipped out again. About half of them end up on supermarket shelves. The rest are transported to the company's nearby Craigavon factory, where they are processed into oven-ready meals.
Each morning general manager Ian Mairs sends a team of catchers and loaders round the farms to gather in that day's supply. The birds are hung upside-down from hooks on a conveyor, electrically stunned, and carried to the rotating blades at a rate of 120 a minute. The conveyor passes them over a blood draining bath, through an automatic plucker, on to three successive eviscerating machines, and through to grading and weighing. The process is designed to wring every penny of revenue out of each bird. Northern Ireland is not the most obvious location for a business 50% of whose output is bought - fresh not frozen - by consumers on the UK mainland. Freight costs £25 a pallet, Mairs points out.
The pace of work at Coolhill is prodigious, with gore bespattered white-coated workers grading, packing, basting and disassembling chickens. (Although workers come and go, the backbone of the labour force has been at the plant for all its 17 years.) Almost no one ever carries a chicken. Every single activity adds value, and the whole operation is orchestrated by the ever-present conveyor. The flow of chickens about the plant has absolute right of way over people, who have to squeeze by, past or underneath it.
A long automated weighing section of the conveyor drops weight-optimised chickens into grading bins. Supermarket weight bands rise in 2 oz steps. The aim is to hit each specification and no more, otherwise Moy Park is literally giving chicken away. At 7,000 birds an hour the loss could amount to £8,000 a day. The company developed its own MRP-based planning system, PIPPS. Computer schedules control everything from the egg hatching through to bar-coded labels on the boxes.
Activity: Supplying fresh chickens to supermarkets and for oven-ready dishes
Size: 600 employees
Outstanding Features: Factory layout, labour efficiency, planning, yield optimisation.
Regional Award: Northern Ireland - Sponsor: Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland.
The Industrial Development Board's role is to play an active supportive role in assisting the profitable growth of Northern Ireland's manufacturing and tradeable services sectors, both by stimulating and encouraging growth through the development of existing companies and by securing new investment projects from outside Northern Ireland. IDB's actions are designed to help build a vigorous business sector, leading to long-term employment.