When busy farmers invest hard-earned cash on a new grain store, drying equipment or other facilities, they generally don’t want to have to devote hours of their own time to the project as well.
With a farm to run, a farmer wants to leave the whole project in the capable hands of a company that can provide a comprehensive service and get on with delivering it, when he wants it.
It’s exactly that kind of A to Z service that has helped BK Grain Handling Engineers become one of the best known and well respected companies in the south of England and beyond.
BK Grain prides itself on the kind of top level planning and design support that can often contribute significantly to the overall success of a scheme well before the first digger has even arrived on site.
A strong in-house team allied to fabricating facilities, close links with steel frame suppliers and 35 years of experience in the grain storage and handling trade makes BK Grain self-sufficient in all areas, from advising on the right facility to handing over the key at the end of the fit out.
It’s a broad-scope approach that suits many farmers in these increasingly busy times – although BK Grain is equally happy to work with those who have their own favourite sub-contractors or who want their own staff to play a bigger part in the project.
“One of our main strengths is that we can offer a single point of contact for the whole scheme,” explained managing director Bill Bird, who founded the company in 1981. “For many people, that’s exactly what they want. All they need to do is put their signature on the contract and then put the grain in the store.”
BK Grain’s in-house expertise now extends to electrical work, including a 24/7 emergency response to breakdowns and the ability to tackle control panel issues – or design bespoke panels capable of controlling increasingly complex drying systems.
The company’s servicing and repairs operation continues to provide a vital service to local farmers, with an in-house fabrication capability that is often called upon to provide replacement parts for damaged machinery and was a real advantage as it allowed us to make much of the ancillary steelwork in-house, rather than relying on a third party.
But while servicing and after-care are major aspects of the BK Grain offering, it is at the start of the process that the company can really deliver added value.
A member of the planning and design team will talk to the client about their needs for more storage or more efficient grain handling and drying and come up with a proposed solution.
Once the idea is proposed, BK Grain has the expertise to produce full plans, liaise with the local council, ensure the designs meet all the latest regulations and standards and then commission and project manage the building itself.
The first stage can be a vital part in the process, as farmers don’t always have a clear idea of what they need or how best to tackle a particular issue.
“One customer came to us a while ago and asked us to update the continuous flow dryers at his site,” explained Bill. “I looked at the site, costed the proposals and advised him that he could be wasting his money.
“I pointed out that even if he spent the £650,000 it would take to replace his existing drying equipment he would still be left with outdated bins and the same limited amount of storage space.
“I suggested that he spend slightly more than that to give himself a new four bay flat store with underfloor drying on a new site.
“When I pointed out how much he would save in terms of maintenance and manpower, as well as the fact that he would have more versatile, easy-access modern storage, he soon realised that it was a much better solution to his needs.
“I then took him to a couple of sites so that he could check out the options. He spent an hour at the flat store but just five minutes looking at the alternative before realising that in his circumstances at that time, the flat store was the better option.”
BK Grain then uses CAD software to create the plans and liaises closely with the local council on the necessary planning and building regulations.
Working closely with the client in the early stages of a project is a vital part of BK Grain’s approach and allows the family business, based just outside Marlborough in Wiltshire, to ensure that it delivers the most appropriate solution to the farmer’s needs. Legislation is increasingly complex these days and it takes considerable time, knowledge and experience to comply with all the noise mitigation, environmental, highways and other issues that need tackling before work can even start.
General manager Stuart Dennis’ health and safety experience can also make a big difference to the success of the scheme. “It’s not always enough just to know what the regulations say,” he explained. “When it comes to things like fire regulations, insurance companies often have tougher requirements than the statutory authorities.
“We make sure that our projects don’t just tick the boxes but are built to a standard that the insurers will expect – and that’s something that comes from experience. You really don’t want to spend a lot of money on the building of your dreams only to find it’s uninsurable.”
Once work has started, the BK Grain team project manages the whole process, ensuring that the various trades can all work together to get the building finished while following the necessary health and safety procedures and other regulations.
“Sometimes you can have three different sub-contractors on site, together with our own workforce and perhaps some of the farmer’s own people,” explained Stuart. “We need to make sure that everyone on the site is supposed to be there and that they are following the rules and getting the work done.
“That takes a lot of planning and a lot of supervision, but it is a vital part of ensuring that the project moves forward safely and efficiently. At BK Grain we have built up a reputation for getting it right and we make sure we stay on top of all the relevant legislation.”
Being aware of legislation means advising farmers on the quality of the steelwork and reminding them that they need to go for Class 2 CE marking if they want to ensure the building can be used for non-agricultural purposes in the future.
“Farmers may be aware of cheaper steel-framed buildings but we make sure they are aware of the latest legislation,” Stuart explained. “If they get it wrong, they could have a problem further down the line if they want to use the building for something other than agriculture.”
BK Grain has close links with a range of steel frame manufacturers and uses its experience and buying power to get the best possible deal for the farmer on each occasion. “The cheapest option is not always the best – sometimes it’s down to timescale or other factors – but we have the contacts to ensure we always come up with the best option,” commented director Simon Bird, son of founder Bill.
While the main frame is bought in, in every case, BK Grain’s fabrication skills mean that many of the internal fittings, including walkways, handrails and infill panels, are all made in the workshop at Froxfield near Marlborough.
Not only does that arrangement give the company more control over the fit out, it also avoids any delays in the process by keeping it in house. “We tell the steel frame manufacturer where we want holes and hangers left for our fittings and then we simply bring them in sections from the workshop and bolt them in place,” explained Bill Bird. “We are never left waiting for anyone else to do their job.”
That process is helped by modern equipment, including an impressive CNC machine that can bend steel through eight different planes to create virtually any shape, quickly and efficiently, time after time.
“It’s just another way in which we can bring processes in house, stay in control and deliver a prompt and efficient service to our customers,” Bill commented.
When it comes to a quick turnaround, few projects in the country will be able to touch BK Grain’s delivery of a 5,000 tonne flat store for Sir Alec Reed at Grimsdyke Farm, Over Kiddington, Oxfordshire.
Simon project managed the scheme, taking it from approval to practical completion in just 11 weeks. “And that included installing a new weighbridge,” he added.
The impressive finish, in time for harvest, was achieved despite the client persuading Simon and his team to complete all four bunkers, having originally suggested that two would be sufficient as a first phase.
“It added to the pressure, but Sir Alec is a long-standing customer and we were keen to come up with the goods,” Simon said. “We had 25 men from every possible trade all working together to get the job done – and that’s exactly what they did.”
BK Grain has also recently completed two 6,000-tonne stores, with grain drying and stirring equipment, at Galleyherns Farm for Compton Beauchamp Estates, together with a number of other projects that have provided a total of 30,000 tonnes of new grain storage this season.
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