June 13, 2022
PTL’s founder, Jim Halliday, doesn’t have a conventional engineering background, but he offers something a bit more valuable: a lifetime working with machines of all shapes and sizes, in all sorts of industries, all over the world.
He explains: “If I’d been more academic, maybe I’d have followed traditional guidelines and check, check, check – instead, we drove ahead and just built things.”
That willingness to try new things – along with his hands-on experience – helped him build PTL, now one of the world’s leading confectionery machinery makers.
Jim was born in 1947 and grew up on a farm in the south west of Scotland. He started his first job almost immediately after leaving school, just before he turned 15. At 16, he started work as an apprentice learning to build large dockside cranes, then installing them.
After completing his apprenticeship, Jim moved to Manchester in 1968. He hopped between engineering companies, building a whole range of new skills. He was amazed by the precision and accuracy of the work in some companies. Where he had been working with 10,000th of an inch of tolerance, new tooling machines worked to 1,000,000th of an inch – beyond what he had thought was possible.
But it wasn’t all sunshine – in one place, Jim says, he was threatened with the sack for singing too much!
“Moving round the companies, I saw lots of different skills, each place was making different things. All sorts of peculiar things! I liked that, but I would get bored and move on,” he explains.
Along the way, his interest in how things worked and his ability to design new ways of working proved invaluable. After getting married in Manchester, he moved to Carlisle, close to the Scottish border, and worked in Nestle’s manufacturing plant. It was there – in Carlisle, not the plant – that his second son Nick was born.
After a shift to New Zealand 1982, Jim became chief engineer at VanCamp chocolate – later purchased by Red Tulip – maintaining, then designing and building their manufacturing equipment.
All these years later, his enthusiasm for that job shines through: “They allowed me to do things my way and get on with it. It was fantastic what they let me do. We designed and built some amazing equipment.”
When Red Tulip was bought out by Cadbury in 1989, operations shifted to Dunedin and Jim was made redundant in the process – some of Jim’s machinery was still in use when it closed in 2018. Despite being highly skilled, his lack of formal qualifications made it hard to find another job at the same level, and he formed Production Techniques Limited (later shortened to PTL) in 1989. Jim and his fledgling business jumped from odd job to odd job – designing a live chicken-handling plant, and building machinery to fill lipstick tubes, nail polish bottles and deodorant bottles for Elizabeth Arden. Although every job was a chance to learn new techniques, getting back into the confectionary business was always at the back of his mind.
A year later, an opportunity came along to work with ex-Red Tulip team members in the US. This job saw Jim design, build and install a large, complex chocolate moulding plant in a factory in Tacoma, Washington state. The machinery was one of the first to not only fill and mould the chocolates but pack them as well. The project solidified Jim’s reputation as a confectionary innovator.
After Tacoma, Jim took on more confectionary projects, and the seeds of PTL were planted. At first, he and his team built custom machines for individual businesses, but PTL quickly started producing its own range of confectionery machinery.
Jim, always the fixer, was constantly on the lookout for better ways to do things. “When I got into confectionery, I wanted to fix what I saw – machines that couldn’t be pulled apart, removing tools, process hygiene,” he says. Hygienic design was always a passion, putting him ahead of competitors at the time.
From there, the business continued to grow. A big Kiwi snack producer pulled them in to build a new slitter and bar line parts , which then became a major product line. More companies came on board, with higher requirements and expectations. Eventually, PTL started making complete, automated lines that could produce up to 3000 bars per minute for the US market.
That paved the way for further expansion and growth and now, PTL works with some of the world’s largest multinationals.
Jim’s flexible, pragmatic approach to engineering became the foundation of PTL. He was never embarrassed about his lack of formal training – he thinks of it as an asset.
“I wasn’t boxed in by traditional thinking. Other people always thought what we did was too risky. We thought it was exciting and interesting to find ways to make things work. There’s no background of academic qualifications – so I just look for good ways of doing, and call in engineers to get the numbers right,” he explains.
This attitude helped him – and PTL – build a reputation for real innovation in the confectionery market. The team works closely with clients, developing strong relationships and working collaboratively to find solutions that make things easier in specific businesses.
These days, PTL maintains that crucial balance between theory and practice, with a strong team made up of highly-qualified engineers and trade engineers with hands-on experience. His son, Nick now heads up the business, backed by the engineering excellence of Mike Nevines, who’s been with PTL almost since day one. Read Mike’s story here
Although Jim has now taken a step back, his approach remains throughout the business.
Jim puts it like this: “Ideas flow through the factory – it didn’t have to be my idea. But, me not being harnessed by rigid guidelines, that passed down to the engineers. Our mantra has always been: why can’t we?”
Want to know more about PTL’s innovative approach? Talk to the team now.