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We had a talk with Nathan Bass from Valley Queen Cheese about his experience with their new MilkoStream™. The whole interview can be seen in the video, or read it below in our transcription.
Nathan Bass: I was a little skeptical at how this would work online, being that it was the first FTIR instrument coming out on the market. It's blown my expectations out of the water. I didn't expect it to be this consistent from one day to the next, and it has proven that it is.
In our milk processing side, before we go into our cheese vats, the main thing that we're trying to target is fat and protein. We've got a specific quantity of fat and a specific quantity of protein for every recipe that we run. We're taking our raw milk coming into the plant, or separating into its different components. Then we're standardising it back together to a certain protein and fat that we're trying to achieve in that cheese milk. This is where the MilkoStream comes into play. If you can tell a system and you know exactly how many pounds of protein, exactly how many pounds of fat you're putting in a 70,000-lb vat, you can be more consistent. It gives you a more consistent product at the end.
The set-up that we had before was, we had our standardisation system that ran in our PLC. We would use our benchtop instrument to get our fat and our protein out of our raw milk product. From there, we would just essentially do mass balances throughout the system. We were predicting with our PLC, what protein levels, what fat levels were in our cream, what protein levels were in our skim, and then, essentially, into our UFC.
We were using those predictions to come up with our fat and protein pounds and how much of each flow needed to go into that vat in order to hit our targets. At the end of that, we would take a sample, run it on our benchtop, to see if we hit our targets. The system was very consistent, but the one thing we've been able to do now with the MilkoStream is get that immediate feedback. We know if we're running where we're supposed to be running now. We don't have to wait until the end of that 30-minute fill to figure out if we're on, if we need to make any adjustments.
Fat and protein consistency saves money downstream
Without a doubt, it's worth it. If we can be more consistent with our fat and our protein, we can be more consistent downstream. We can now maybe tighten up our standard deviations of our final cheese moisture, of our final cheese FDB. It can start getting up towards the higher end of the spec, knowing confidently that you're not going to go over spec because you are consistent. You know what your consistency is. That now allows you to pay an instrument like this back in no time at all. There's many different ways that this machine can pay itself back.
We've got it installed in our four-inch milk line that runs over to the vats. All of our components, the cream that we talked about, the UFC, all those components get added into our milk balance tank. Everything gets pasteurized. Then we have the MilkoStream installed in the line, just downstream of the pasteurizer. We've had it installed for, I think, six or seven months now. We put our first calibration in about five months ago, and it's been very accurate since then.
The FOSS team came to us last week and did the first PM on the instrument, put it back in. It seems like it's still right on target, so very low maintenance, so far, that we've found. It just kind of sits there. It cleans in line with the lines, so there's really nothing on it that you need to worry about cleaning.
Consistency is all about data
I'm all about data, and I want that data. For us to get to our next level of consistency, we needed to know exactly what we're putting in that cheese milk line all the time, not just one sample at the end of a 30-minute fill, and then hope that we're on target. The MilkoStream has proven, in the seven months that we've had it installed, to be very consistent, very accurate in giving us that real-time data back. Every seven seconds the MilkoStream is kicking a sample out to us, so we've got this consistent data coming in to us, to tell us exactly what our system's doing, which in turn is going to make us a lot more consistent on the downward stream, and then, more consistent cheese product going out to our customers.
The MilkoStream gives you that real-time online data that the benchtop unit can't, unless you wanted to stand there and pull samples every seven seconds.