ARTICLE

Refining Dairy Lab Technologies for Smart Workflows and Strong Margins

Introduction

The dairy industry is changing. Tight profit margins, intense competition and consumer demand for sustainability are key global trends, driving manufacturers of dairy products to closely examine the efficiency of their industrial processes.

Any possible gains in process efficiency can provide a dairy manufacturer with a strong competitive edge by enabling them to make the best use of their raw materials – maximizing production of sellable product and increasing profit margins.

At the same time, manufacturers must be careful to demonstrate continued compliance with a complex and evolving regulatory landscape governing hygiene standards and nutritional content.

An effective way to achieve efficiency gains while ensuring compliance is through implementation of advanced instrumentation that can measure product parameters in real time. Embracing such technology provides valuable process knowledge, leading to a high reliability in production that enables tighter tolerances of quality attributes.

A high-volume industry

The tight profit margins in the dairy industry have led to a consolidation and scale-up of dairy production facilities. Modern processing facilities frequently operate 24/7, and are equipped to handle billions of liters of milk a year. The goal is to produce the largest quantity of sellable product possible, and thus certain factors become crucially important to operate at maximum efficiency:

  • Ensure machine uptime
  • Control product moisture content
  • Confirm product consistency and quality

Efficiency gains in any of these areas – of even 1% or less – can equate to the production of many tons more sellable product every year. Identification of process inefficiencies is the first step in determining exactly what is required to make better use of resources and increase profitability.

Every minute matters

One factor that can reduce machine uptime in dairy processing facilities is that they often produce more than one product on the same line, e.g. skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder and lactose-free milk powder. During product changeover, there is considerable downtime in production.

After changing the feed of raw ingredients, there begins a cyclic process of analyzing the product in a lab for quality traits and then fine-tuning the production process, which can take up to 30 minutes. Real-time, in-line measurement of quality traits – such as moisture and fat content – removes the need for time-consuming laboratory analysis and enables product changeover to be achieved in as little as 10 minutes.

I can’t believe it’s not butter

For dairy processing facilities, the moisture content of their products is a careful balancing act. If the moisture content is too high, manufacturers run the risk of failing to meet regulations governing food standards. On the other hand, a moisture content that is too low leads to increased product ‘giveaway’, representing a significant reduction in profitability.

To put this in context, the US FDA defines butter as including no less than 80% butterfat, and therefore most butter manufacturers run their processes with a small but significant butterfat margin above this. Although this margin can be as little as 0.2%, it accumulates into a colossal giveaway of butter over a year. Reducing this margin could lead to an increase in annual revenue of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By implementing NIR spectroscopy to monitor moisture content in the production line, manufacturers can produce dairy products with a much more reliable moisture content. This real-time monitoring can also provide a trail of documentation to prove the moisture content of every batch. For butter manufacturers, this greatly increases profitability, as the 80% butterfat ‘sweet-spot’ can be consistently met and validated.

Consistent quality, every time

For dairy products that have complicated ingredient mixtures, including certain cheeses or infant formulas, there is a need to validate the quality attributes of the final product. This can be achieved by measuring the quantities of constituent fats, protein, sugars and moisture. Such measurements can require significant manual labor, becoming a wasteful time-sink for dairy manufacturers. Furthermore, if quality problems are identified, there is a delay between identification of the issue and optimization of the process.

To improve efficiency, manufacturers must be able to monitor the many different quality parameters of their products. Infrared spectroscopy instruments can perform these measurements in real-time, enabling manufacturers to continuously adjust their processes closer to their targets and allowing them to deliver consistently high-quality products.

When dairy processing facilities are aiming to implement new infrared spectroscopy technology, the type of dairy products they manufacture must also be considered. Liquid or powder products such as infant formula should not be exposed to air or dirt during processing, and therefore require in-line instruments that make contact with the product within the production tubing. This is impractical for products such as hard cheeses, and therefore non-contact instrumentation will be required.

Finding your competitive edge

Within the crowded dairy industry, companies have the opportunity to gain a competitive edge by identifying and eliminating process inefficiencies. Utilizing advances in technology – such as real-time monitoring of quality attributes – can profoundly affect the efficiency of dairy processing, supporting reliable round-the-clock production of different dairy products. Ultimately, this allows companies to increase their profits by producing more sellable product at reduced cost.

REFERENCES

“21 U.S. Code § 321a - ‘Butter’ Defined.” LII / Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/321a. Accessed 9 Oct. 2019.