Frozen food giant Birds Eye has chosen Radphone to install and maintain a Hytera DMR wide area IP-linked two-way radio scheme for use in its frozen pea operation in the UK. The Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) solution consists of three Hytera RD985 base stations linked via IP to cover the large operational area, along with around 30 MD655 mobile radios.
Radphone managing director Mike O’Rourke said: ‘We are very pleased that Birds Eye has chosen Radphone to fulfil their two-way radio needs. It shows their confidence in our experience and knowledge in the PMR field.’
The need for reliable instant wide area communication in the frozen pea industry may not be that obvious. However, there is far more to frozen peas than meets the eye it seems. After a successful sample test with the now legendary Birds Eye ‘tenderometer’, a field is harvested and the peas are transported to the facility in Hull and frozen within a very short time window.
The Birds Eye processing plant, just outside Hull, is the largest pea factory in the world and can freeze one tonne of peas a minute. It accounts for nearly a third of Europe’s total frozen pea production.
But poor to non-existent mobile phone coverage in many of the rural areas used for pea production means that two-way radio is the only practical communications solution. Additionally, the wide geographical area used to produce the amount of peas demanded by consumers requires a multiple site base station infrastructure to provide full coverage.
Ben Magrath, agricultural process manager at Birds Eye, said: ‘Birds Eye has a complex pea harvest operation which depends on constant, reliable communications: open conversations, immediate contact, and fast responses.
‘Our stringent quality criteria and our 2½ hour picked-to-frozen deadline require intensive co-ordination. While continuously investing in phone and mobile computer technologies, we have yet to find a substitute for the flexibility of a high-quality, dedicated radio system.’
The relationship between Birds Eye and Radphone goes back 15 to 20 years. Previously, Birds Eye used four analogue base stations located at two sites, connected by private landlines, spanning the morth and south banks of the River Humber. To save costs and increase reliability, the private wire system was upgraded to a proprietary IP linking system.
Ageing, unreliable radio equipment, increasing site rental and an ever increasing coverage area, meant it was time to rethink communications. After consultation with Radphone, it was decided that a dedicated, wide area system provided by Hytera would be the ideal cost effective solution.
Magrath said: ‘Radphone is a great example of the advantage Birds Eye gains from working with local businesses to support our operation. Radphone have been a trusted service provider for our radio systems over many years, and when we decided to invest in new masts and mobile hardware, Radphone were the logical choice for advice and project management.
‘The installation, connection and licenses were all overseen by Radphone, making the transition very smooth for us. The new system gives us greatly expanded coverage, and because the system is digital, we can be sure of a clear signal wherever we have reception.’
The two slot ability of DMR was also the perfect solution due to the way the Birds Eye fleet was split into two operational groups… Fieldsmen and Viners.
Magrath continued: ‘The dual-channel functionality of the system is invaluable to us, and a core element of the system. This allows us to run two – effectively separate – networks for our management staff and the harvesters, without any additional administration.’
The roaming ability of the Hytera MD655 radio automatically selects the most appropriate site. This allows naive users of the radio system to concentrate on their work rather than which channel to use.
‘We need a system that can be picked up and used by field or office staff without training. The Hytera mobiles have proved user-friendly and robust, with simple controls that allow users to focus on what is being said, and not worry about the technology,’ said Magrath.
The Hytera MD655 mobile includes a multi-function display microphone. This is useful for easy temporary short term installation in vehicles, as it eliminates the need to mount the main radio unit within reach or view of the operator.
Magrath concluded: ‘At Birds Eye we don’t invest in a project like this unless we can identify significant gains in the quality of our operation, and justify the financial outlay. In this case we are already confident, after just one season, that we have made the right decision.’
During the hectic three month pea season, the harvest and freezing operation works around the clock with almost military style precision and Birds Eye is using Hytera DMR equipment to supply reliable, instant communication 24 hrs a day. Plus of course, many tons of frozen peas.