The demand for formulated UHT dairy products is increasing and new products such as lactic acid drinks (LAD) are entering the market with great success. Lactic acid drinks are today highly popular, especially in China – the world’s largest market – with 11 billion litres produced annually. For dairies looking to stay ahead in this fiercely competitive market, shifting from batch to continuous production can be a smart move.
Traditionally, dairies process lactic acid drinks and other formulated products in batches using several mixing stations, blending tanks and intermediate storage tanks. However, fully automated continuous processing can reduce a producer’s total cost of ownership by up to 35 percent.
This is because continuous processing offers superior efficiency in several vital areas compared to batch production. Batch production is more time and space-consuming due to highly manual operation and the large number of tanks.
A continuous processing line uses technology that delivers extremely accurate and consistent blending, which enables savings of the highly valuable ingredients, compared to batch processing.
Fewer tanks, less cleaning
Continuous processing also reduces the need for storage tanks. Eliminating tanks saves space, cuts equipment costs and lowers energy use by saving on the electricity needed to agitate tank pumps as well as cleaning in place.
According to Bengt Eliasson, Manager Dairy Aseptic Solutions, at Tetra Pak, the gains for converting to continuous processing are greatest for high-volume producers, which have the greatest exposure to rising ingredient prices.
“Continuous production starts with a fully automated mixing system were all the dry ingredients and other selected ingredients are mixed into homogenous concentrate slurry,” says Eliasson. “The challenge in the mixing system is to have the concentrate ready within less than 60 minutes, homogeneous and without air for direct in-line blending.”
This requires a fully automated, high-shear batch vacuum mixer capable of bringing several ingredients in at the same time and with high capacity. The high shear mixing head ensures a homogenous concentrate and, with the use of a vacuum system, reduces the air content to an absolute minimum.
Next step in the continuous production is a fully automated in-line blending system where additional liquid ingredients and water are added to the concentrate in order to formulate the final recipe to its specification.
Keeping ingredients under control
“The challenge in the in-line blending system is keeping tight control of all the added ingredients,” says Eliasson. “They need to be added in the correct amounts and at the correct temperature, in the right order, and the mix needs to be homogenously blended between the individual blending points to ensure uniform quality of the final product, before it is sent directly to heating.”
This requires a highly advanced in-line blending system capable of precisely controlling all ingredients and final product parameters to ensure the correct product quality with precise usage of the valuable ingredients.
Tetra Pak has continuous production lines in operation for lactic acid drinks and other formulated dairy products, as well as for recombined milk products, and can help customers interested in considering a move in this direction.
Continuous production technology is a great way to make lactic acid drink production more efficient and cost-effective, and the same principles can be applied to other products too.