Why did Commonwealth Capital Group decide to move to the new facility?
We wanted to streamline our operations under one roof. Commonwealth Capital has grown significantly since our first F&B venture in 2002, and we are looking to take our development even further. With rapid developments in the F&B industry today, making significant investments in automating our production and logistics processes can help us remain efficient and seize growth opportunities quickly. Additionally, the new headquarters brings together and supports the operations of our 10 F&B brands. With this synergy, we can be better positioned to enjoy strategic collaborations with other well-established F&B brands, and grow our portfolio.
How did moving affect the bakery’s operations?
CCC runs the central halal-certified bakery spanning 30,000 sq ft. This is more than double the previous floor space. The bakery produces a range of breads, pastries and muffins for the hotel, restaurant, café (HORECA) and FMCG segments. Prior to the move, only 20% of baking processes were automated. Today, we have automated up to 50% of our processes, ensuring higher safety and quality standards. We have also obtained ISO 22000 certification, an internationally-recognised food safety management system which allows us to guarantee food safety and confidently reach out to customers beyond Singapore’s shores.
What attracted CCC to automation?
Previously, we had a partnership with a company that produced some of our layered pastries like croissants and danishes. However, as we were getting these pastries from an external party, we found it difficult to meet our customers’ demands for new unique products that were not yet available in the market. So when we moved into a larger facility, we decided to start producing pastries on our own. We needed the ability to produce in larger volumes, and the flexibility and speed to respond to market demands.
We also saw automation as a way to boost uniformity of our products in terms of taste, quality and appearance, and reduce inefficiencies and wastage. For instance, before we automated our processes, our staff found it difficult to handle the heavy, high-hydration dough used to make ciabatta bread, resulting in high wastage due to uniformity problems that affected the bread’s look and quality.
Could you give us examples of key processes that have been automated?
Our new central bakery houses multiple production lines to produce a wide selection of artisanal foods such as gourmet bread, baked goods and pastry products at a high volume, and consistent quality, without the need for additional manpower. For example, our dough laminating line produces up to 30 different products such as croissants, danishes and other buttery pastries, at one go. Laminating or layering dough involves first wrapping a block of butter in a dough of water and flour, which is then rolled thinly and folded multiple times to create between 27 and 144 layers. As you can imagine, it’s a very time-consuming process but automation has sped up this process while ensuring uniformity.
As we also produce muffins in large quantities, we have invested in an automated muffin production line. Previously, one staff would spend half a day just placing paper cups in a mould — a tedious and repetitive task — and we needed five staff to help in muffin production. Now, a muffin depositor fills 1,200 muffin cups per hour. We only need two staff on site to ensure the same output; the others have been retrained to oversee quality control or operate other machines. This is how we are able to reskill our staff.
We also have a slicing and packaging line. An ultrasonic slicer produces precise and consistent cake slices, while a bread-slicer and bagging machine packs loaves of bread automatically.
As companies invest more in automation, do you think manual jobs will disappear?
As we move forward with automation, our staff will not be replaced or displaced by machines. With growing business and output, there will always be ways for our staff to contribute. If anything, automation complements their work, enabled them to be more imaginative and creative with our products. For instance, with our muffin production line, we are able to produce muffins with a filling. This has resulted in the creation of a new, value-added range of muffins for our customers.
How did CCC manage to cover the costs of automation? Has the investment paid off?
CCC worked closely with SPRING (now Enterprise Singapore1) to embark on the Automation Support Package, which has helped defray some of our automation costs. Our new automated production lines have also allowed us to engage more international customers such as a major customer in North Asia, enabling us to scale up our existing business. We believe that this is an investment for our future and will support our growth and goal to become a dominant player in the F&B industry.
What are CCC’s future plans?
We have automated our processes up to 50% but we’re not stopping there. In April, we will have a new automated packing line. Currently, we need seven staff to pack a few thousand loaves of bread every day for one of our clients. With the automated packing line, we will need only two staff.
How critical is automation for SMEs?
To achieve higher productivity and growth in today’s competitive business landscape, SMEs need to automate.
Automation is one way to cope with the tight labour market, and difficulties in finding and hiring new talent. With automation, SMEs will be able to increase their output without the need to hire more staff. It also empowers staff by enabling them to carry out tasks faster, with better attention to quality and fewer errors, resulting in higher-quality products. Customers value businesses with quality processes and certifications, product uniformity and, of course, good pricing – all of which can be achieved with automation.
1SPRING Singapore merged with IE Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore on 1 April 2018.