Mother Murphy’s is a food flavoring and extract business in Greensboro, North Carolina. The company has been family owned and operated since 1946, serving the beverage, bakery, confectionary, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco industries throughout the USA and more than 45 countries worldwide.

The company prides itself in the quality of its products and the high level of service it provides to its customers. Its motto is ‘If you can imagine it, we can create it,’ and with some 60,000 flavors and extracts in its library of recipes, it’s clear that it has lived up to this promise. In fact, nearly every human on the planet has, at some point in their lives, tasted an ingredient produced by Mother Murphy’s.

The challenge

Just as the heart of a home is the kitchen, so the heart of a food flavoring factory is its spray dryer.  But although the spray dryers at Mother Murphy’s had given exemplary service for many decades, they needed to be replaced. The existing facility in Greensboro had reached capacity, so the company decided to build a new facility on a site nearby and equip it with the most advanced mixing and drying technology available to meet the high level of demand for its products and enhance the flexibility of its entire operation to support its unique market position.

GEA spray dryer Mother Murphy's flavor ingredient
GEA Spray Dryer Model SD-25 in Mother Murphy’s new facility

The GEA solution

Michael Harrison, the R&D project engineer at Mother Murphy’s had used GEA equipment in the past.  He knew it to be the best in the business. “If you are in spray drying, you want a GEA spray dryer,” he said.

Working with Adrian Dee and Riccardo Piscolla in GEA’s Liquid and Powder Technology Division, he settled on installing two very different GEA spray dryers to provide both the capacity required and the flexibility for small runs of specialty products: the SD-25 and the much smaller SD-6.3. Both spray dryers have built-in clean in place (CIP) systems which are critical as Mother Murphy’s can have up to four changes of product every day.  

While the SD-25 will provide the extended capacity that the company requires for high volume products, the smaller SD-6.3 has a vital role too. Robin Connor, the company’s chief operating officer explained that the products often have minor variations that create a custom blend for clients and therefore require a short production run. “We also have many clients that are doing startup products and so require sample or short runs of specific products,” she said. “We are a very good partner for these clients.”

GEA also supplied high shear mixers upstream of each dryer. The old mixer required the ingredients to be loaded from the top, creating dust. The new GEA INLINE FORMULA® high shear mixer, however, introduces the powder under vacuum, below liquid level, so the environment remains dust free, and the ingredients are wetted instantly, significantly reducing the mixing time for flavor emulsions.

If you are in spray drying, you want a GEA spray dryer" Michael Harrison, R&D project engineer, Mother Murphy’s

The benefits

The new spray dryers will be in full operation, over two shifts, by the beginning of 2021. Michael Harrison explained that they will increase both the capacity and the flexibility of the plant: “They will raise our capacity by around 65%”. An equally important benefit is that cleaning and product change-over time will be reduced from around 2½ hours to just 45 minutes. That’s very important for a business that manufactured 433 different products in 2019 alone. “For our business that reduction in CIP time is huge,” said Michael. “Nobody pays you for cleaning.” Robin Connor agreed. “We don't do many continuous runs. We do a lot of spray dried bases for goods that are dry blended, so that's what makes the cleaning time so important.”

GEA’s three 400 gallon tank clean-in-place (CIP) system for rinse recovery, chemical processing, and water buffering
GEA’s three 400 gallon tank clean-in-place (CIP) system for rinse recovery, chemical processing, and water buffering

We don't do many continuous runs. We do a lot of spray dried bases for goods that are dry blended, so that's what makes the cleaning time so important." - Robin Connor, Chief operating officer, Mother Murphy’s

The addition of the smaller SD-6.3 has also been a great bonus. Robin said that in the past they were constrained by the minimum batch size of their dryers. Now they can handle much smaller quantities. “We can now provide samples of first-time formulas to clients that perfectly match what they can expect from full production. We can also switch production from the large spray dryer to the smaller one if demand for a particular product falls.”

Mother Murphy’s has also been able to maintain the consistency of its products, which is vitally important in the flavors industry. “We chose spray dryers with atomizer wheels, similar to the ones we used previously, so we can duplicate the products we have already without any variation,” said Michael. “They have worked out very well for us.”

We chose spray dryers with atomizer wheels, similar to the ones we used previously, so we can duplicate the products we have already without any variation" Michael Harrison, R&D project engineer, Mother Murphy’s

Working with GEA

Michael was keen to work with GEA as he knew the company to have an excellent reputation for service and attention to detail. “I had worked with GEA once before, so I knew them to be very professional and knowledgeable. Jim Olson, the GEA project manager corralled everyone, and they were all very professional, patient, answered all our questions, and did a very good job of transferring their knowledge to us. It was also important for us to have a single source for the whole plant. Instead of having several different parts from different suppliers, GEA handled everything and brought it together seamlessly.”

Michael Harrison, Christopher Conner, and Robin Conner (left to right) holding spray dried product standing near GEA’s INLINE FORMULA® high shear mixer (right of photo)
Michael Harrison, Christopher Conner, and Robin Conner (left to right) holding spray dried product standing near GEA’s INLINE FORMULA® high shear mixer (right of photo)

Robin said that the board of directors was also pleased to be working with GEA, “The documentation that was provided to us really gave us a good summary, without us having to be in all the meetings. The information was very easy for us to understand and kept us up to date on the progress of the project.”

Mother Murphy’s now has a brand new, world-leading facility. It has increased capacity, improved flexibility, enhanced working conditions, and offers even more comprehensive service to its customers worldwide. ‘If you can imagine it, we can make it,’ still holds true at Mother Murphy’s, and thanks to the new GEA plant, will continue to be the case for many years to come.

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