The transcript below is from our Ideas Showcase at the International Cheese Expo, held on 6-8 April 2021.
Imagine you’re at a cheese plant and you’re watching the production line, when suddenly one of the workers picks up a perfectly good cheese and throws it in the garbage.
You watch for a while, and you notice it happens again and again. This would be a huge problem, and of course no-one’s physically going to be throwing cheeses in the garbage.
But in reality, a lot of factories are throwing away valuable product and profits because they’re losing significant amounts of suspended solids down the drain, as much as 5% or even more. In dairy operations those solids aren’t necessarily a by-product, they’re essentially the actual product, so it could be the equivalent of throwing away one cheese in every twenty.
Of course, most plants are calculating and monitoring theoretical yields based on incoming milk against outgoing product. But how do you identify the opportunities for improvement? Where and when are losses happening? What's their magnitude? How will you know how much to invest against a particular opportunity?
Well, the good news is that these opportunities can be identified through loss reduction systems and Quadbeam’s multi-beam suspended solids sensor is a tool that can help make this happen.
A lot of plants just aren’t aware of the big gains they could get from loss reduction.
But that means there’s a big opportunity for anybody that wants to go down this path. We are seeing an increased number of inquiries and number of plants identifying the potential for loss monitoring. They’re looking at minimising interruptions or identifying non-compliance with alerts and alarms, like the classic “divert to dilute” strategy, but that’s to protect their wastewater system.
Of course that’s important, but it’s a little like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The biggest gains come when you take one step more and implement loss reduction programmes.We’ve had success stories for loss reduction systems quoted to us of getting losses to below 0.1%.
The aim is not to just monitor and alarm, but actually reduce or prevent the loss in the first place.
In the US, for example, already good results are being seen at plants for DFA and Hilmar Cheese, who use our suspended solids sensor for loss reduction. We’re also using them extensively in New Zealand and have been for a long time.
So, how does it work?
Solids sensors are placed in drains or drain sampling manifolds to measure the concentration of suspended solids.
Combined with flow measurements, you can calculate actual suspended solids lost. The sensors transmit real-time data direct to the control room, and then alarms and notifications can be set for immediate identification of a loss event.
Loss reduction processes use this data in a way that’s like a combination of first responders, and detectives or investigators.
The sensors will detect a significant event or spill very quickly which allows rapid response to prevent a further out-of-control situation and losses becoming catastrophic. This gives immediate short-term gains.
Loss reduction also allows for detective or investigative work, collecting data to track and control your processes over time, looking at trends and patterns that allow you to get more efficient results. This gives you the long-term gains, process efficiencies that can literally add up to millions of dollars.
For example, if you notice spikes in solids losses every time a particular process runs, you’d go and investigate process control opportunities and the equipment running that process.
This gives you an idea of a complete significant-style installation, what it might look like, these images are of an installation that was part of a new facility in New Zealand and show waste flumes and associated bypass instrumentation manifold. Each significant area of a plant has its own measurement station.
These sensors are NIR sensors, also called optical sensors, and if you’re thinking “oh, we’ve tried those already and it wasn’t great,” let me explain how Quadbeam sensors are different.
Just as a quick note, I am covering this relatively lightly so for more detail please do talk to me after the session.
So, lots of people have used single-beam sensors, but with mixed success. Quadbeam sensors are multi-beam, which means they create a ratio-metric algorithm to eliminate the kinds of measurement error that single-beam sensors can’t cope with.
In simple terms, each sensor has two LED emitters and two light detectors. They’re placed in a medium, like milk. Each LED fires near-infrared light at both detectors, which detect light intensity and therefore how much light is being blocked by the solids in the medium – effectively that tells you the concentration of the suspended solids.
But sensors can get thrown off by contamination on the LEDs and components ageing. Quadbeam sensors solve this problem by using multiple light paths to create ratios of light intensity and turning those ratios into an algorithm, which self-compensates for any contamination or component ageing
So, unlike single-beam sensors, they give you a constant accurate reading.
This accuracy is incredibly important for loss reduction, as data must be easy to understand and credible for operators.
And also, of course, because you’re going to be doing investigative work, and big process improvements, so you need the data to be really, really good and reliable.
Our sensors are really tough – they’re made from a one-piece polymer body, with no glass lenses that could break or leak.
They’re simple to use, and easily calibrated on-site by your operators so they give you results that are directly relative to your site.
Quadbeam sensors come in two main styles.
Inline hygienic sensors with a tri-clamp or Varinline® connection for pipe fittings, and immersion-style for direct placement into flumes, sumps, tanks etc.
Within both styles, there’s a range of sensors to suit different applications, conditions, concentrations and products.
Here’s another good example of a loss monitoring project. This was one that was done last year, it was right at the very beginning of the project. You can see the sensor in the sump. And you can also see after just a couple of days, the data and how they’re already highlighting events of interest.
Just a small sensor change can give you a big efficiency gain.
Yes, protect your wastewater plants but why not go that extra step and gain so much more?
There’s plenty of other applications for Quadbeam sensors, and often they’re highlighted by the loss reduction programme itself. Applications include things like;
· Product/water phase and interface control;
· Solids recovery;
· CIP optimisation;
· Fat standardisation;
· Separator monitoring and control;
· Whey fines monitoring and control;
· Filtration monitoring and control;
· COW water monitoring;
· Heat exchanger breakthrough;
Our overall aim is to help increase profits.
· decreased losses;
· decreased operator intervention;
· increased process control; and
· increased production uptime.
The whole loss reduction system can generate the kind of meaningful, immediate data on results that everyone can understand, so it can help create an entire culture of loss reduction and maximise gains.
The bottom line is, that you get more product in the packaging – and that’s good for everybody.