Dairy processors seek training, robotic equipment
While the popularity of Greek yogurt has been the biggest story in the dairy industry in the last few years, it is not the only dairy category showing growth, according to a survey of dairy processors. Other growing categories are cheese, new flavors of ice cream and milk, by-products (whey and protein concentrates), powdered milk, almond milk and coconut water.
Those are some insights gleaned by PMMI, Reston, Va., a trade association representing manufacturers of packaging equipment. In September, PMMI released its “Dairy Industry — A Market Assessment” report at its PackExpo trade show in Las Vegas.
The trade group found that “single-serve is the word of nearly every dairy processor when asked about packaging trends. As in many other food categories, single-serve dairy portions are answering the call from on-the-go consumers that place a premium on convenience. As a result, single-serve milk is becoming available in convenience stores and quick-service restaurants.”
Dairy processors said they seek durable packaging materials to increase stability as their products move through the supply chain. Processors also are using sustainable materials to extend shelf-life; seeking easy-to-open and -close fitments; and developing attention-grabbing shapes and stand-up pouches.
When it comes to equipment, dairy processors said they seek easy-to-clean machinery to prevent cross-contamination. They also want machinery that can collect data from processing, production and packaging lines to accurately document operations.
Rather than try to go it alone, processors are turning to equipment manufacturers for assistance. PMMI reported that processors turn to OEMs for:
- Operator training
- Preventive maintenance
- Knowledgeable service technicians
- Factory acceptance testing
- More timely service
- A committed partnership
Processors rely on equipment that runs efficiently and productively. They told PMMI that equipment makers need to design these features into their machines: preventive maintenance schedules; maintenance alerts; alerts showing why a machine failed; and easy access so repairs can be completed faster.
According to the study, processors want programmable logic controllers that can capture pertinent machine operating data and download it to their back-office system. That would help identify operating missteps that lead to unscheduled downtime.
On the packaging side, according to the report, dairy processors are looking to boost line speeds through design improvements such as larger filler heads to reduce the time it takes to fill a container.
Three out of four dairy processors plan to purchase equipment in the next 12 to 24 months. One-third of those interviewed said they expect to buy more equipment than they had during the previous 12 months. The leading reasons for equipment purchases are:
- New products
- Increasing output
- New packaging
- Aging equipment
- New materials
Overall, dairy processors told PMMI researchers that they want more automation in the entire food processing operations, including case erectors, case packers, palletizers, vision inspection, filling and processing. “There needs to be seamless integration from one piece of equipment to another,” an engineer told PMMI.