With energy playing an important and very critical role in dairy processing, this sector places particular importance on energy efficiency and cost management, to ensure that essential dairy products are delivered to consumers as quickly and in the most cost-effective way possible.
South African O&M services provider to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES), has a vital role to play in supporting and helping the dairy industry to be as efficient and sustainable as possible, says Dennis Williams, AES chief commercial officer. .
Williams highlights that the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between major dairy producers and AES clearly stipulate the key deliverables that are essential to enable this vital industry to fully realize the high expectations it places for equipment and services. processing facilities – in terms of throughput, efficiency and effectiveness.
Steam support for seasonality
As part of its commitment to building close partnerships with a broad portfolio of key vertical industries, AES fully understands the many challenges facing dairy manufacturers. One such challenge – which must be monitored closely and consistently – is seasonality.
“The role of AES is to ensure that there is no steam supply outage during peak periods when the energy plant is operating at maximum capacity. As steam suppliers we must ensure that the plant is well maintained and that any backup plant is ready to continue the steam supply at any time, as the manufacturer cannot afford not to be in able to handle the peak seasonal milk flows it receives daily. ” says Williams.
Seasonality also impacts planned maintenance. Milk has a very short shelf life and waste of milk already purchased from farmers – and which cannot be processed – is increasing.
Safe and clean steam
A third challenge AES faces on behalf of dairy producers is the need for quality, safe and hygienic steam.
“This requires carefully considered water treatment that relies on the use of food-grade chemicals. Temperature is also critical, especially when it comes to pasteurization. Dairy processing requires constant steam pressure to ensure equipment such as spray dryers can operate efficiently on a continuous basis,” advises Williams.
In addition to meeting the strict specifications outlined in each Service Level Agreement (SLA), AES also provides its Remote Monitoring System (RMS) which allows dairy customers to monitor temperatures and pressure flows.
Steam updates via RMS
“This way, customers can see what’s happening on our side of the fence when it comes to steam control settings,” he notes.
“Our SLA specifically addresses vapor pressure requirements, as it is a good indication in terms of dry fraction and, more specifically, vapor temperature. This then becomes the main element of control in the customers’ process. Additionally, if customers get the controls right, they will potentially implement components such as pressure reduction stations. This ensures that the steam pressure is within the control range of the pasteurizers and other equipment they use,” he explains.
Williams further notes that the customer’s steam requirements and tolerances depend on the sophistication of the energy installation used, as well as the specific products produced at the different dairies.
While some larger operations are technologically advanced and offer many product lines, some dairies focus solely on keeping less sophisticated equipment running – with a narrower product range – in the hope of an economic recovery.
“A dairy that only produces milk will have different requirements than a facility that produces cheese and yogurt. Additionally, the state of technology and continuous improvement practices will depend on the plant itself. You can find a traditional dairy using very basic technology unlike a dairy that is cutting edge in terms of processes and energy exploitation. So when you look at integrating energy flows across this broad spectrum, there are a number of different requirements that make this process really interesting,” he observes.
Sustainability is closely linked to this. Williams says some large dairies are taking this extremely seriously, in response to pressure from high-profile retail customers such as Woolworths and Spar.
Sustainable and “greener” dairies
“Until fairly recently, most used coal-fired boilers or used less environmentally friendly fuels, such as heavy, high-sulfur fuel oil. AES continually monitors technology trends, as well as the quality and availability of alternative fuel sources – such as biomass and biogas – to support dairy customers looking to use different fuels to minimize their carbon footprint.
To this end, a major dairy in the Eastern Cape recently installed a second biomass-fired boiler. AES helped operationally identify areas that may need adjustments to ensure efficiency and reliability. AES operates the steam plant at this dairy, including a boiler that uses biogas recovered from its wastewater.
AES also provided on-site expertise, employing an additional millwright to facilitate the generation of ultra-clean steam needed in some of this dairy’s highly specialized production processes.
Asset management – and communications
Whether working on specific projects or operating onsite 24/7, Williams says it is extremely important for AES to forge strong relationships with its dairy customers through good communication skills to alleviate daily or weekly issues or even assist with product testing.
Support for a client’s facilities and equipment is also at the heart of this relationship.
“We need to ensure our customers’ assets are well maintained because they are costly and mission critical. Additionally – and this is very important – pressure vessels are potentially very dangerous, so we must ensure that we use them in accordance with the strictest safety regulations at all times.
Competent asset management is undoubtedly an important part of what we do, so that when it is peak season for our dairy customers, their energy plants and processing lines are in optimal condition – with a probability minimal breakdown or downtime. We also need to operate efficiently so as not to negatively impact the site’s carbon footprint or even use excessive amounts of fuel.
Reliable, cost-effective energy optimization and asset management are just some of the ways we ensure our dairy customers can consistently – and sustainably – produce products that are the ‘cream of the crop’,” concludes Williams .
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