Themed Week Flexibility: In Dairies, Flexibility is Key

Friesland Campina
The range of dairy products goes way beyond just milk. The variety of products is a plus for retailers, but often poses challenges for the producers. (© FrieslandCampina)

The number of products produced in dairies is constantly growing. It is often not the dairies, however, which take the initiative to keep increasing the variety in stores. Instead, it is the retailers themselves who want to set their own brands apart from their competitors’ with special or seasonal products. For the manufacturer, that means adjusting their process technologies.

Retailers get creative when it comes to enticing customers into stores and creating new impulses to buy. A wide choice of products, seasonal promotions and creative novelties are among the temptations used in the retail trade. Even in the dairy sector, retailers are trying to stand out from the crowd with new and unique products.

A Boon for Trade, a Bane for Manufacturers

While retailers benefit from offering a wide selection of products, producing all those different products often poses difficulties for the dairies. Because they use automated process technology, manufacturers have little interest in producing a range of different products, since for them it means additional work and expense. In general, dairies specialize in processing large quantities of liquid ingredients with a high degree of automation. That increases efficiency and reduces costs. Manufacturing a range of different products, however, increases costly and unproductive standstill and set-up times in the bottling halls.

Efficiency through Intelligent Production Planning

What can dairies do about the disproportionate set-up and standstill times? An efficient solution, for example, is to draw up the most intelligent production plan possible in accordance with the operational processes. One example of that: After converting the filling machine for a different product, the product to be bottled next should be ready for the earliest possible start time. Or, nothing new but readily ignored time and again: bottle white products first, then dark. That minimizes losses and saves time cleaning the pipes.

Other Ways of Increasing Flexibility

Another option would be to invest in new and flexible filling technology which is already designed for minimum changeover effort. The improved efficiency promised by suppliers only works, however, if the plant’s processes allow for such optimization. That requires, in particular, well-trained staff.

Detailed analysis of set-up processes presents another opportunity for reducing changeover times. There are standardized methods for that, such as ‘SMED’ (Single Minute Exchange of Die). The objective is to convert machines to a new manufacturing process without disrupting the production flow and thereby reduce the set-up time of the machine.

Inspiration and Exchange at drinktec 2017

By all means, there ways to keep the flexibility of your production up while simultaneously keeping the costs associated with that down. At the upcoming drinktec, visitors can find out how to keep their dairies running flexibly at an acceptable cost. A number of manufacturers of production machines and plants and representatives from specialist consultancy firms will be available for a professional discussion. You can find an overview of all events on the subject of dairy products here. The Focus Day: Milk on September 15 offers an additional opportunity to find out about trends and current technologies in the milk industry.

Roland Sossna

The trained dairy expert, agricultural engineer and freelance journalist Roland Sossna is part of the editorial staff of the trade magazine molkerei-industrie (dairy industry) and IDM International Dairy Magazine. He regularly presents outstanding innovations from the dairy industry on the blog.