Digital support raises company's food standard initiative

22 March 2023

A digital collaboration is helping a St Asaph company push forward in the field of lateral flow development. 

Bio-Check, which provides expert knowledge that enables it to be specialist developer, manufacturer and distributor of test kits for food, healthcare and veterinary applications, is one of a group of Denbighshire businesses to benefit from a research and development collaboration designed to boost digital support.

Engineers from AMRC Cymru, part of the wider University of Sheffield AMRC cluster of research and innovation centres, are working alongside Denbighshire County Council, as part of the individualised digital transformation project, designed to help local businesses understand and realise the benefits of smart digital technologies.     

The project is funded by the Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund, all businesses taking part receive expert support on three-month intervention projects from a digital specialist - with the aim to improve their product development and manufacturing processes through smart technologies.             

The collaboration is providing support for the company with its latest onsite lateral flow tests. 

Richard Fielder, business manager for Bio-Check, said: “Bio-Check has been working with an external partner on the scale-up of its manufacturing capability for an onsite veterinary lateral flow test to be used by dairy farmers. Bio-Check also has other plans to develop its own range of lateral flow tests such as for the detection of food allergens for use in food manufacture.

“The AMRC is supporting this immediate goal of scaling-up by helping us understand how to achieve greater manufacturing efficiencies for lateral flow tests with its current resources with a defined range of improvements. The work is also helping to support broader shared goals of meeting the wider needs of the food and drink sector.”

Dr James Allum, senior manufacturing research engineer at AMRC Cymru, which is a member of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult network, said: “AMRC Cymru was able to support Bio-Check through a range of manufacturing innovation activities. We initiated the process by reviewing the existing manufacturing steps involved in lateral flow test production - and generated a digital process flow map, which informed process improvement through analysis and discussion. 

“Discrete event simulation (DES), was also used to review opportunities for efficiency optimisation by comparing existing manufacturing processes data, against that hypothetically feasible through investment in semi-automated solutions. 

“This research demonstrated potential staff time savings of up to 47 per cent, via semi-automation of some aspects of the production process. In addition to this, the AMRC supported Bio-Check by running a workshop to develop methods for digitising paper-based documents, (such as SOPs and batch records), to support future digital process management - with a vision to utilise tablets to display and capture data and collate it digitally, removing the time-consuming need to retrospectively translate paper-based forms into a digital format. 

“In addition, Additive Manufacturing was utilised to develop replacement parts for lab-based components that were no longer commercially available, preventing the need for a potential costly investment in a replacement system.”

Bio-Check (UK) started life in 2012 and is part of an international consortium of companies, working in the field of food safety and quality testing, training and consulting.

Based in St Asaph, the company employs 11 staff, who provide the skills and knowledge to develop and manufacture onsite lateral flow tests, laboratory tests for applications in food safety and quality that are supplied globally from Wales.

Richard said that the company has seen some big trends within the sector, such as sustainability and traceability, driven by consumers wanting to know about the farm to fork supply of the food they eat. 

“We see the greater use of rapid lateral flow tests to provide real-time data from bigger sets of data to support systems for sourcing, supply, manufacture and distribution of foods in the future,” he said. 

The project with AMRC, which started in April 2022, has involved a number of their advanced manufacturing specialists coordinated through a designated project lead. 

Richard added: “We believe that several areas for improvement will be identified, though equipment will provide some of the solutions such as for pouching the tests (to ensure their stability) will reduce the labour intensive nature of this process and help redirect resources to areas requiring more appropriate use of staff skills. 

“Importantly, the implementation of an e-documentation system is envisaged in manufacturing to allow for a more portable and accessible record of monitoring and inspection, so that the data collected can be reviewed in real-time for better decisions.

“Shifting to a more knowledge and digital-based business will help us better understand the characteristics of our processes and how they must fluctuate with changing demands, so that we can change the business in more predictable and sustainable ways.

“We believe that this will lead to sales growth and success which should mean working with new partners and more skilled staff.”

The collaboration has been a privilege to take part in according to staff at Bio-Check.

Richard said: “It has been a privilege working with AMRC and inspirational to have access to their world-class leading expertise and technology; a collaboration we wish to continue in other ways.

“It has also opened up a network of potential contacts and support in Denbighshire and Wales for our business which will be helpful for tackling new and emerging challenges.

“In a discernible way, it has changed our thinking on our business path ahead and how we might tackle future challenges for all our various stakeholders.”

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