Automation in the feed production industry: The benefits

“Automating systems within the feed mill industry is the custom made solution that targets the reduction of operating costs, improvement of workers’ safety, reducing lead times, and increasing the overall health of all operations from efficiency to productivity.”

Katarina Surjan
Business Development Manager
SPG Tech

Food, food production and food packaging has been and always will be an integral part of our economic and social structure, and a key component of the industry is feed (production) mills. The most efficient way to ensure that feed mills maximise the market potential is to automate the plants; securing a minimum margin of error in the entire processing and packaging procedure.

It is interesting to note that ‘Animal feeds play a leading role in global food industry; enabling economic production of products of animal origin throughout the world… Commercial feed manufacturing generates estimated annual turnover and sales value equivalent to US$ 85 Billioni.’ Automating the processes within the industry solves the current and potential running production problems, minimises operational risk, reduces overall cost and ultimately maximises profit margins.

The highlights in which the automation of feed mills drives return on investment will be discussed throughout the article emphasising the benefits of automated systems in the feed mill industry from operation to delivery.

Automation creates a consistent system in task completion which eliminates that could be better utilized in more important tasks rather than unnecessary and dangerous manual operations. It also ‘develop(s) safe work practices and engineering controls which could be used to reduce the number of accidents and injuries in the workplace and to train workers in identification and awareness of hazards and their controlsii’. For example, should a man made error or injury occur that result in temporary closure of a feed mill that produces 2 000 tonnes p/w, for every day that the plant is down the loss of production is 285.7 tonnes per day – a high price to pay for something that could have been eliminated by predictive processes and controls.

Manual processes are extremely time-consuming and some ways in which time can be saved is through automatic mixing, formulating and distribution. Other processes that could be controlled and accurately performed in a time-saving manner include; raw material intake, dosing, grinding & mixing, pelleting system, and packaging processes. Software automation is the most important element which increases efficiency of production made without human interaction and ensuring stabilization of the required processes whilst being carefully programmed to be delivered in the most time-efficient frame.

Batching is one of the most common areas for feed mill automation and often offers the highest initial profitability. Automation of batching and mixing processes substantially reduces error and variation. And with an easily re-programmable controller, you can adjust recipes without significant downtime and reduction of waste, significantly reducing expenses. The correct automation solution can solve the problem of precision and consistency by scale weighing ingredients quickly and to correct amounts ensuring automatic distribution according to pre-programmed recipes.

To operate efficiently it is crucial to be able to gather and interpret data through availability of a process optimization tool. Preventative maintenance is a software measure that monitors critical parts in the process control permanently and remotely, therefore, further reducing accidental cost in the long run. Due to remote access control and support, the maintenance solutions and upgrades required are easily provided and do not result in unnecessary downtime.

With exact-measuring and monitoring of recipes, automation prevents adulteration and/or contamination by reducing hand-add opportunities. This results in the elimination of a variety of costs and risks including:
• Product and ingredient losses
• Lawsuits
• Liability insurance
• Reputational damage
• Loss of sales

Automation consists of both hardware and software components and these components often depend on the needs of the clients. It is vital to fully engage with the individual clients to create a hardware and software package that drives the business success of the client’s project. The hardware and software details vary from client to client, what is required is outlined below in order to create the ultimate feed mill automation solution.

PLC: Being able to track system equipment in a fast, efficient manner is imperative in process automation
PC: Used in order to operate required software
SCADA: A dashboard that is used to connect a person to the interface that provides a user-friendly interface to provide a visual overview of the automated system. Control and monitoring of processes and can be linked to Microsoft Office for reports (such as production reports) with remote access to the plant.
Frequency inverter: A way in which to control equipments sensitively.
Weighing indications: Used to transmit weight information to the automation.
Energy analyzer: Used to report energy consumption in the process and transmit energy consumption. good practices for food industry, 2010

About Katarina Surjan
Katarina Surjan is a journalism graduate from the University of Johannesburg (South Africa). After exploring marketing and business ventures of her own, she entered the world of industrial automation with a company called SPG Tech five years ago, as a business development manager, understanding all products and solutions that the company has 26 years experience in and has a strong focus on the Southern African market.