News / Blog

Fonterra Finds Milk Powder Sweet Spot
May 19, 2016

As the famous cheese advert says – good things take time.  Three years of collecting and analysing data from production at Fonterra milk powder plants could help the co-operative further optimise production and improve premium export product.

Fonterra Research and Development programme manager Steve Holroyd and his team have backed up their award-winning milk-fingerprinting innovation with another significant application that allows processing plants to find the “sweet spot” for consistent, premium milk powder.

The research is part of the $170 million, seven-year Transforming the Dairy Value Chain Primary Growth Partnership programme involving the Ministry for Primary Industries and industry partners including Fonterra and DairyNZ.

It is based on a major study and compilation of one of the world’s most extensive databases on milk powder production parameters and seeks to use advanced process control to optimise milk powder processing.

Fonterra was confident of the compositional and microbiological quality of its milk powders but saw an opportunity to improve further its functional properties.

“It’s about how the product behaves when customers use it,” Holroyd says. “It’s very important that our milk powder dissolves consistently, has the right heat stability and has a wide range of functional properties in dozens of different applications.”

Companies will pay a premium for consistent, top-quality product.

Fonterra, in association with research partner University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology, built a database of processing parameters from specific Fonterra milk-powder factories, often with minute by minute data.

There are many variables in the production process that impact on quality of milk powder. The research helped build a clearer picture of the key ones, including temperature and air quality.

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“We linked them all up with statistical modelling,” says Holroyd, which allowed the team to align those key variables and establish a production “sweet spot” that could produce the best milk powder consistently.

The process is now being implemented by Fonterra’s advanced process control team to design better systems.

Holroyd says it is likely to be like an app that runs on the computers at processing plants and allows real-time quality control.

“It’s complex maths but the key thing is how you present that system to an operator – some of the computerised control boards at the plants can look like something out of the Starship Enterprise.”

Advanced Process Control Manager Nigel Russell and his team are working on how that database can be incorporated into the manufacturing process.

“It’s great, as it gives us an advanced world-leading control system that can either adjust automatically – in real time – or be changed by the processor.”

The innovation will help Fonterra maximise even further its top quality instant whole milk powder.

The benefits could mean greater efficiencies in processing and more top-quality product sold at a premium.

Fonterra manufactures up to half a million metric tonnes of instant whole milk powder each year. Each metric tonne can be worth over $50 more than regular whole milk powder. Producing more of that premium product more consistently is worth a great deal to the Co-op and the economy.

And the benefits don’t stop there.

“The approach could be used for other products and processes,” Holroyd says. “We know you can use it for cheese.”

The initial modelling was based on processing at the company’s Whareroa site, near Hawera. Testing of the innovation would continue there before roll-out across other Fonterra sites.

Auckland University researchers visited Fonterra plants at Te Rapa, in Hamilton, and Whareroa as part of the study.

Professor Brent Young of Auckland University says the work on site has been invaluable for his researchers.

“It helps their personal development as young engineers and to understand how their work relates to real industry conditions.”

The work gave industry access to researchers while advancing knowledge of fundamental science for those involved.

“It pushes academic knowledge and also gives us the opportunity to collaborate on other projects.”



Summer 2018