Hatcheries with a capacity of one and a half million eggs set a week are no longer unusual. These larger companies require increasing levels of automation, to ensure that growing numbers of hatching eggs and chicks are transported safely and efficiently, while complying with rigorous standards of hygiene, ergonomics and animal welfare. In response to these developments, Pas Reform acquired LAN, the company's established partner in handling and transport solutions.
By Wiebe van der Sluis
“Through taking over LAN we can offer a total package to our clients,” says Bart Aangenendt, CEO of the Dutch hatchery technology company Pas Reform. “The company had its beginning in incubation - and for many years, we focused solely on developing incubation systems and hatchery climate control systems. That business will remain firmly at the core of everything we do.
“In the past, hatchery manufacturers did not typically get involved very much in automation, which was left in the hands of external players and often regarded as a separate area of operations. Today’s hatcheries demand a much more integrated approach from incubator manufacturers, with machines that meet hatchery specific characteristics, including the growing requirements for sustainability, tracking and tracing. Extending our products and services into hatchery automation is therefore a natural progression.”
More automation needed
Recognising that many of their customers were expanding their hatcheries to meet growing demand, Pas Reform started their own automation department more than a decade ago. “Automation had become an important issue for hatcheries that were scaling up their operations quite rapidly”, explains Aangenendt. “Initially, we served those customers with custom-made systems, engineered specifically to their installation.
“A review of our own automation activities concluded that we did have a number of machines that performed very well. However there were gaps in our automated products range - and the whole range needed to be realigned to the improved standards that we have achieved with Smart and SmartPro incubation.”
Filling those gaps was the company’s first priority, which gave rise to the question: would Pas Reform develop its own products, or find an external supplier to meet their demands. “We chose to develop our new automation products in-house”, he says, “because we felt that in today’s marketplace, it would strengthen our position to offer complete or ‘turnkey’ hatchery solutions, where we could have equal confidence in upholding the standards we had set ourselves with Smart and SmartPro incubation in the hatchery’s automation requirements.”
Using new technology
For a number of years, Pas Reform had successfully worked with another Dutch company, LAN Handling Systems, which has an international reputation in the food processing and pharmaceutical industries. LAN’s customers include Kraft, Unilever, Del Monte, Mars and Nestlé. The company is experienced in custom-made handling and transport solutions integrates and makes use of robotics and other advanced technologies developed for fast-paced, large-scale commercial production environments.
“We were well aware of LAN’s capabilities,” explains Aangenendt, “and when we began to focus on our hatchery automation products, we felt there could be an advantage in a partnership with them to accelerate our plans.”
Once in talks, it quickly became apparent that the two companies shared a great deal of common ground – both in their commitment to innovation and in their ambitions for further expansion. Talks swiftly progressed and in December 2010, Pas Reform acquired LAN, retaining managing director Harm Langen and all 60 of the company’s employees.
One of LAN’s first tasks was to analyse the market, reviewing Pas Reform’s existing products as well as those of the competition. Langen led the project, which revealed a number of new opportunities and, according to Langen, some hidden jewels.
“Pas Reform’s understanding of embryology and the processes and requirements of the hatchery are inherent in the products and designs already in place,” he says. “LAN adds value by bringing the latest specialist handling technologies into the process, not only to refine existing products, but also to speed the delivery of new ones to the market.”
An exiting time ahead
In an integrated, high output setting, both Aangenendt and Langen agree that there is an exciting time to be engaged in new product development for the hatchery sector. “From improved hygiene and ergonomics, to measurable benefits in terms of cost, efficiency, quality and productivity, hatchery automation must pay its way on many levels,” says Aangenendt.
“It must also meet the demands of a society rightfully concerned with animal welfare, sustainability and safety. In a sector that continues to grow strongly worldwide, these are very real and important issues. The hatchery’s investment in automation must be up to the task, to support business growth for many years.”
It will be interesting to see the results of bringing these two companies together. The takeover has, says Aangenendt, allowed Pas Reform to move rapidly in developing new and more streamlined automation systems and to apply advanced technologies to new and existing automation products and services.
“Some of the ideas are completely new”, he smiles, “they are intelligent solutions, that take full advantage of combined technologies and expertise to meet the challenges we face in this business on so many levels. This really is a very exciting time to be working on new developments in hatchery automation.”