What are we making today? The Royal FrieslandCampina production facility in Aalter, Belgium produces a wide variety of products and likewise, must have a flexible approach to quality management. Rapid testing of both incoming milk and various end products with the Milkoscan™ FT2 milk testing instrument has become a cornerstone of production.
One minute you need to test incoming milk for protein and fat for standardization purposes, the next you need to test high fat cream to check that production is running smoothly and that quality is on target. These are the realities of quality control in the modern dairy.
For quality control officer, Johan Roeygens, flexible production is no problem as long as the production laboratory can keep in step with quality control requirements. Two MilkoScan FT2 analysers are helping to do just that as a variety of samples come in from many directions around the plant. “We can measure raw material, pasteurized material, end products – it is no problem,” says Roeygens. “Operators can choose the sample type and an automatic cleaning sequence ensures that there is no sample carry-over.”
From liquid milk entering production to final products: the MilkoScan FT2 measures a variety of samples directly without preparation.
A vital element
The plant focuses on long shelf life products with added value such as coffee milk, chocolate milk and cream for baking with, for example, up to 40% fat. Last year it produced 220 million litres of end products and has a target to produce 137 million more. Customers include a range of private labels and internal own-label products.
Quality control specialist Lea Spinel handles the routine testing of all these products in the plant laboratory where the MilkoScan testing instruments are located. “I can’t imagine doing processing of our products without our instruments,” she says. She explains how the power is sometimes shut down during factory maintenance, in which case she makes sure power to the laboratory is kept on so that the MilkoScan units can keep on working. Roeygens adds “Without the instruments we cannot receive milk, we cannot work.” For the same reason they have two instruments, so that one is always on standby.
No dilution required
Currently, around 150 samples of incoming milk and various products are analysed each day. Parameters include fat, protein, dry matter and freezing point and these are measured throughout the process.
The data is vital in handling the particular challenges involved in producing long shelf-life products. There cannot be any sedimentation, and taste, aroma and all the functionalities must last at least until the expiry date. “We monitor process parameters closely for each recipe. The parameters are different of course for coffee milk compared to say pure milk or chocolate milk,” says Roeygens. “All recipes are developed by research and development for optimal product characteristics. It is very important to standardize around these to get the same taste and characteristics despite changing raw material during the season which can, for example, affect stability of protein and fat.”
Before the MilkoScan FT2 came on board the plant used other routine analysis instruments but decided to change them, partly because FOSS testing instruments are used widely within the company group and also because the robust sample pumping system offers unique direct analysis of viscous products such as whipping cream.
Roeygens is keen to stress however that this versatility requires time and commitment. He explains how when they started the project with the MilkoScan FT2, certain success criteria were set up according to norms of food labelling. These were achieved and this, along with regular instrument monitoring, gives reliability. Cleaning and calibration checks take time, but are essential. “It is most important to always have the instrument in good condition, cleaned well and monitored. Performance monitoring must be planned and time must be allowed to collect calibration samples and adjust if necessary,” he says.
The value of stable instruments
MilkoScan testing instruments are factory standardized for measurement stability from one unit to another and this has provided another valuable aspect that has become apparent over time. In comparison to previously-used instruments, the MilkoScan instruments have proven to be highly stable which makes for effective calibration development and transfer. This provides significant time savings in terms of monitoring calibrations and developing or adding new ones. For instance, it allows calibration data to be shared with other parts of the organization. Calibrations from another widely used instrument, the MilkoScan FT120, can also be transferred.
Software available with the instrument helps the process. “When we have to measure a new product, we can copy an existing product and then add different parameters,” says Spinel. “Normally we start with a FOSS calibration and then expand it if necessary using own reference analysis results. The stability is also important in terms of hardware maintenance. “If, for example, a new cuvette is added, we only need to check slope and bias,” explains Spinel. “That’s the advantage of FOSS” she says. “In the beginning I could not see the function of instrument standardization, but now I see the advantage.”