Our children are our future. This might be an obvious statement, but it takes on a special meaning when GEA has the opportunity of working on a project that directly affects the health of our new generation. Such a project has been the cooperation with Arla Food Ingredients Denmark on the company’s new, high-quality lactose plant called Danmark Protein, in Nr. Vium in West Jutland, part of the world’s largest whey protein and lactose factory.

ARLA factory

The factory specialises in the manufacture of products from whey, which is a by-product coming from cheese factories in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and other countries. The new plant within the factory makes high-quality ‘Dry-Blend Lactose’: the main ingredient in infant formula.  Dry-Blend Lactose is of such high quality that it can be added to the infant formula, right at the end of the process, and safely fed to babies without further heat treatment.   

“Back when we decided to step up production to high-quality lactose, we knew that the construction of a new facility would be a huge challenge,” explained Erik Vesløv, Site Director, Arla Food ingredients Denmark. “We wanted to partner with experts in the field to meet our quality requirements in a short time frame.”

GEA know-how and cooperation

Working with Arla Foods to produce better food for our children

Building a plant to these exacting standards requires a lot of know-how.  Not only was it necessary to build in the highest level of quality control and hygienic zoning, the new plant had to be integrated into the factory, while still keeping it separate. 

Using Dry-Blend Lactose requires a different process from traditional infant formula manufacture.  Rather than being mixed with the wet ingredients and then dried, the lactose is added as a dry ingredient downstream, just before packing. This leaves more capacity for the wet blend ingredients and so allows a much higher throughput. But it is vitally important that the lactose is of the highest quality as it will not be treated again before baby’s dinner time.

“Helping Arla would take all our engineering expertise, but we knew that this project would set a new standard for great process engineering,” said Kristian L. Kirchheiner, GEA International Project Director - Dairy Powder Plants. “Arla chose us because they trusted us, and we had new ideas on how we could work together to make sure of the project’s success. These included, for example, setting up a common project office half way between the site and the GEA Office in Skanderborg; we also had a partly open-book contract that helped us to maintain a very close collaboration between the Arla and GEA project teams throughout. This allowed us to achieve a smooth, successful project execution even though extraordinary efforts, creativity and thinking out of the box were necessary to design, construct and build this very large, complex plant in a such a short time.”  From getting the initial enquiry it was just eight months until the installation began and only a further ten months before the first lactose was produced.  Commercial production followed soon after.

Scope of supply

GEA supplied Arla with all the production equipment from raw material intake (whey permeate) to lactose powder packed in bags, either Small Bags (25kg) or Big Bags (1000 kg). This included a wide range of complex process operations. Some of these units were designed specifically for the Arla plant, helping it to set a unique standard in the industry.  

“Helping Arla would take all our engineering expertise, but we knew that this project would set a new standard for great process engineering,” Kristian L. Kirchheiner, GEA International Project Director - Dairy Powder Plants.

Plant optimization

Arla Foods factory

The plant yield has been optimized using leading GEA technology, backed by the experience of the GEA commissioning team to tune the equipment perfectly.  Energy use has been reduced through an investment in low energy motors and heat exchanging equipment with a low energy loss.  Whereas water and chemical usage has been minimized through the re-use of cleaning detergents and by fine tuning the plant cleaning programs (CIP).

Hygiene is, of course, of paramount importance so, as well as the hygienic design of the plant and equipment, GEA has introduced regular inline product sampling to monitor quality, as well as working very closely with both Arla and the architect to achieve the optimal plant layout taking into account the needs of both the equipment and the process as well as hygienic zoning requirements. 

Meanwhile, Arla has developed a strict regime of clothing and shoe changes backed up by a fundamental understanding by all staff that hygiene really must be taken seriously. Combined, these measures ensure that the food the babies receive is as safe as it is nutritious.

Some challenges

Of course, the building of a plant of this level of sophistication was not without its challenges especially as it includes some processes that are not only very complex but also relatively unproven in specific configurations. The high product quality level specified required the careful balancing of sometimes competing specifications, especially as issues in one area were often not revealed until others were resolved elsewhere.  “Our technicians did a wonderful job, getting the very best out of the equipment and ensuring that each element works in harmony to achieve the desired result,” said Kristian.

The result

Working with Arla Foods to produce better food for our children

The new Dry-Bland Lactose facility is the biggest of its kind in the world.  It will supply worldwide markets providing the finest quality ingredient for infant formula to help the next generation grow strong and healthy.  “We collaborated closely with GEA during the whole project, and not only was it handled professionally, we also received a world-class lactose facility,” said Erik Vesløv.

GEA’s strap line is ‘Engineering for a better world’: what better example than to work with one of the world’s largest and most respected food producers, for the benefit of our children.  GEA and Arla were so delighted with the outcome that the companies collaborated once again, this time on a promotional video for the new facility that had its first showing at Foodtech in Denmark in November.

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