Short batch runs and strict hygiene does not normally lend itself towards high manufacturing efficiency. Take a look at any conventional pharmaceutical plant: one batch per shift is what they typically can cope with!
However, the smart and simple design features combined with the ‘parallel processing’ concept means that a company is typically able to change from one recipe to a completely different one within less than an hour—without any hygienic compromise!
This in turn results in very low processing cost per kg—which is especially interesting for companies considering employing the company for contract manufacturing.
For over 30 years, German food manufacturer Stern-Wywiol Gruppe has been operating the international food and feed ingredients market. At the moment, the group exports over 80 percent of its products to 110 countries around the world.
A critical success factor in global competition is their ability to react fast to changing market conditions with new products and services. Under the group, eleven independent companies and thirteen affiliates abroad operate with a high degree of specialisation, producing a wide range of functional ingredients for food and animal nutrition to meet this challenge.
In recent years, there has been a growing demand in China for flour standardisation and fortification as the downstream market, such as bakeries and biscuit producers, is evolving from artisanal towards industrial ventures, where reliable and predictable behaviour of raw materials is a necessity.
Consumers are also increasing their demands for increased safety and transparency in their daily food consumption, especially staple foods like noodles and bread.
To best capitalise and ensure they are keeping close to the erupting market and meeting the requirements of Chinese millers, the company opted to establish a local operation in China, as importing ingredients and compounds from Germany was not viable in the long term and a local production facility was regarded essential. As a result, a new subsidiary in Suzhou was born.
Having built a global reputation, the company wanted to ensure the quality of its products by installing state-of-the-art equipment and solutions for their dry powder blending and packing operations at the new facility. It was, however, a tough compromise between quality and investment level, since the initial production volumes were forecast to be low.
Local and global equipment suppliers were evaluated, with the decision finally going in favour of UK-based Matcon, who is represented by a subsidiary in Shanghai. The company’s powder handling systems required much higher capital costs than local alternatives, but with their ‘lean manufacturing’ philosophy, it also means that plant efficiency would be higher.
At the same time, the system solution also allows the ingredient manufacturer to begin with a moderate initial investment and toadd further process modules as and when demands increase.
Ingredient Weighing and Formulation
The ingredient manufacturer offers a wide variety of proprietary compounds as well as contract manufacturing, resulting in an almost endless number of ingredients.
Strict operator procedures combined with high accuracy weighing equipment assure a ‘right first time’ approach. The formulated ingredients are placed on a batch pallet and taken to a dedicated tipping room. The batch is transferred into an intermediate bulk container (IBC), which is check-weighed to confirm that all ingredients are present.
For quality assurance purposes, all ingredients are sieved and passed through a metal detector during the IBC filling operation.
The IBC blending concept used ensures that the powder stays inside the IBC during the blending cycle—no transfer is required. This further ensures full batch traceability.
Once the gentle, yet effective 360 degree tumble mixing operation is completed, the IBC is simply unloaded from the mixing cage and moved to the packing area in its entirety. There is nothing to clean in relation to the mixer, which is immediately ready to process the next batch—even if it contains a totally different batch recipe.
This can be done with absolutely no risk of cross contamination from the mixer.
The German company offers ‘no frills’ business to business (B2B) packing in hygienic, sealed bags, available in standard 25 kg or customised weights to suit their client’s particular process.
In either case, the packing process is performed in a compact, easy to clean tower, without any screws or vacuum conveyors which are inherent bug traps. The bag weights are verified electronically and a final metal detector is employed to further certify quality.
Once the batch has been packed into bags, a pedestrian stacker truck is utilised to move the complete IBC into the washing area where it is wet or dry washed.
The type of wash is dependent on what the next recipe to be processed contains. The fixed equipment is cleaned based on the same criteria. Quick release and ‘change parts’ are utilised throughout, making recipe changeover extremely rapid.
The facility’s building design, combined with equipment choice and operator procedures, results in a plant which meets the most stringent food, and even pharmaceutical, production legislations. The company was amongst the first to receive the highest credits in China’s new and demanding hygiene audits, installing customer confidence in their products and attracting new customers.
In the first year of operation, the company has started production with a tight focus on specific key accounts, as well as uncompromising emphasis on product quality over sheer quantity. The production volume is expected to stay below 1,000 metric tonnes per annum.
Due to rapid growth, capacity utilisation is increasing fast. Fortunately, the nature of the IBC blending concept and parallel processing philosophy means that the system is very easy and cost effective to scale up.
Additional packing suites may be employed, whilst still utilising the existing IBC blender to produce up to four batches per hour.
The company is therefore well prepared to fulfil orders from the most demanding Chinese customers, as well as international companies who wish to ease their way into the market by using contract manufacturing.
According to the company, consumers in China, or indeed globally, have the right to feel assured that even tiny ingredients and additives in their processed food, which they may not even be aware of, are perfectly safe to consume, traceable and in compliance with official and industry regulations. The company has managed to earn and retain customers’ trust with its adherence to the standards.
Having supplied numerous systems of varying sizes to different manufacturing industries in China in recent years, the company expects the country to become its largest market over the next few years.