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Unlocking the potential of feed pellet plants

11 October 20228 min reading

Removing the interconnectivity required between vendors by using a single plant solutions provider gives the plant owner a partner with both responsibility and accountability.

Marco Baumann
Vice President
Andritz


Manufacturing, in whatever form it takes, will always present challenges to plant owners and operators. The smooth running of any operation depends on many factors coming together seamlessly to achieve true optimization, and it is therefore imperative that each piece of the jigsaw fits well to ensure disruptions are kept to a minimum. In the feed sector a number of variables are at work – from the steep rise in raw material prices globally and a reduction in their availability, to supply chain issues and skilled labor shortages. These challenges will persist, and it is how they are met by manufacturers and suppliers together that will determine whether long-term success and, ultimately, a sustainable future can be achieved.

The focus must be on the elements that are able to be controlled as, despite these influences, the needs of a growing population are driving demand for feed. According to the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF), compound feed production globally is estimated at over one billion tons per annum, with global commercial feed manufacturing generating an estimated annual turnover of over US $400 billion (€394 billion).

Striving to meet upward demand, feed producers cannot tolerate unplanned downtime and productivity loss, as their end-users require an uninterrupted supply of food. This means that, at the plant level, both equipment and processes must be rock solid in order to meet demand and, at the same time, to maintain a healthy bottom line.

EASE OF AUTOMATION IS KEY

Expertise is slowly dwindling as older, more experienced personnel reach retirement without being replaced at the required rate. As a result, skilled labor is at a premium, which is driving the need to automate processes in a way that is intuitive and straightforward at all levels – from operator to production handling and management. Adopting a fragmented approach to automation, where different systems from different suppliers may struggle in terms of interface, for example, can in itself create unwanted challenges. Multiple sources must potentially be contacted in the event of unscheduled downtime, and issues surrounding the supply of spare parts or service capabilities may also lead to costly stoppages.


Through working with a supplier of plant solutions, this can easily be avoided, as a business is dealing with a single source that is expert in all elements of the plant and its associated processes, as well as the regulatory requirements surrounding it. If a livestock feed mill is taken as an example, elements such as the exact dosing of multiple additives, temperature control, retention control of product and reduced waste through re-pelletizing can be managed precisely – as well as achieving feed safety requirements whilst maintaining the highest level of nutritional value. This helps to optimize the entire operation and ultimately the cost of product per ton. Every step needs to be tailored to the individual operation with complete transparency of process flows, with the aim of maximizing return on investment and reducing total cost of ownership.

Additionally, having close communication with a dedicated customer manager, as well as mechanical and process engineers, ensures the technical capability and functionality of automated solutions can be protected at all times. This ability to have complete control of the process delivers the highest quality product, and where necessary built-in traceability can also be added to both the up- and downstream elements. Whether online or on-site, from the commissioning of control systems to direct support via the internet, no production run is ever unsupported.

MAXIMIZING AVAILABILITY: A CORE POINT OF FOCUS

A plant solution can be classified as anything from a single piece of processing equipment to a brown or greenfield installation, but the focus remains consistent regardless of project size – how can that system, line or complete plant deliver what it needs to in order to make a positive impact? The answer lies in how that solution is designed, implemented and optimized in order to deliver maximum availability based on set parameters. Productivity is a balance between investment and profitability, where the business case is the fundamental that dictates the level that must be attained. Every detail that has an impact on the productivity level is a risk to the business, therefore entrusting that balancing act to experts is highly recommended.

Removing the interconnectivity required between vendors by using a single plant solutions provider gives the plant owner a partner with both responsibility and accountability. Plants require spare parts, wear parts and part availability, for example, that must be obtained in the shortest possible timeframe and fitted and maintained by experts. With a plant solutions provider the entire process can be entrusted to them to deliver, even in instances where third party suppliers may be required for certain elements.

Then, there is the application of knowledge to critical areas such as predictability. Knowing when a system is likely to require maintenance is core to minimizing downtime and increasing productivity. Pellet plants, for example, typically operate on a 24/7 basis, so this is fundamental to their operational success. Solutions are available on the market today that can monitor and optimize performance in real-time, monitoring elements such as vibration, and alerting operators of potential faults well in time so that downtime can be scheduled accordingly. In an ideal world, downtime would be consigned to the history books, but the reality is that it will occur. The question is: what will happen when it does? If the answer is anything other than ‘your plant solutions partner is already working the issue’, then it may be time to make a change.

MEETING CAPACITY EXPECTATIONS 

With an automated plant in place that is optimized in terms of availability in place, it is vital to ensure capacity is not being wasted as a result of a lack of process knowledge. Plants that have been correctly optimized can increase their conversion rates – so it comes down to designing and concepting plants that maximize efficiency to reduce the input of raw material required. Maximizing yield using the same amount of energy is critical, particularly in areas where energy costs are skyrocketing, and solutions can be adapted to facilitate different requirements in different locations.

In feed plants, nutrients in the animal feed can be maximized, using less material to produce the same nutrient rich feeds, and what is becoming commonplace is changes to formulas and recipes as certain raw materials have begun to become scarce. There has been a change from corn to other raw materials, for example, and now insects are beginning to be used as a protein base, along with products such as alfalfa.


With the end-user (the animal in this instance) firmly in mind, experts are able to advise on the optimal feed composition, considering hygienic processing for perfect management of micro ingredients, such as nutrients and vitamins, keeping mold and pathogens at bay and eliminating the need for antibiotics. Ultimately, an excellent understanding of how different raw materials can affect and impact the process, and how to adapt that process accordingly, will deliver positive outcomes in terms of plant performance, product yield and quality.

ENTRUSTING YOUR SUCCESS TO THE EXPERTS

When compared to a single equipment supplier, plant solutions partners differ, in that the depth of expertise can be drawn upon across the full value chain with an in-depth understanding of how each stage of the process impacts the final product. In greenfield projects certain logistics topics surrounding the plant can be influenced, while in brownfield it is possible to assess and analyze what is required to implement a successful operation – whether it be retrofitting or building from scratch. As described in the book “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, true plant improvements can be achieved only through an ongoing process of identifying and eliminating bottlenecks to always ensure full plant capacity. Working with an experienced partner can help biofuel manufacturers spot potential efficiency drains and optimize operations for maximum output.

The expert plant solutions supplier invariably has flexibility, agility, a wide portfolio and expertise drawn from global projects across a multitude of industries – coupled with a service support network that means experts are nearby. That is what delivers value, safety and confidence to plant owners and operators in the current climate, and is what will cement a sustainable and successful future for the feed sector going forward.

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