Optimized process for separating whey reduces product losses as well as water and power consumption

The DLG (German Agricultural Society) and its trade partners honored GEA at its digital award ceremony on February 23 with the International FoodTec Award in silver for its new “IDEAL Whey Separation” concept. This year, the renowned technology prize was presented to 20 innovative projects from the international food and supply industry. IDEAL Whey Separation supplied the jury with convincing answers to key marketplace issues: How can dairies operate with even greater success in the future? How exactly can digitalization be linked to state-of-the-art mechanics in machine engineering? And how are today’s technologies being used to conserve resources for tomorrow?

The whey accumulated during cheese production can later be processed into valuable products. To make this process as economically efficient as possible, the whey is optimally pretreated by first separating the cheese fines, followed by skimming the cream. This is precisely where GEA’s new, winning concept comes into play, enabling not only more efficient whey clarification and skimming, but also making the process more sustainable. “IDEAL Whey Separation is another milestone in the development of self-optimizing centrifuges and, thanks to advanced communication interfaces, can be part of resource-optimized whey processing lines in appropriately prepared environments,” explains Christian Becker, Product Manager Separation Dairy at GEA.

The DLG and its trade partners have honored GEA for its innovative “IDEAL Whey Separation” project with the International FoodTec Award in silver.
The DLG and its trade partners have honored GEA for its innovative “IDEAL Whey Separation” project with the International FoodTec Award in silver.

Automatic adjustment of bowl speed

State-of-the-art whey centrifuges already feature a lower degree of consumption thanks to manual or semi-automatic adjustment of several operating parameters by the operator. IDEAL Whey Separation applies this knowledge of dependencies to a high degree in a mechatronic system for self-optimization of the separation process. The IDEAL Whey Separation concept includes several measures. On the one hand, various parameters such as the feed rate of whey for instance are captured by sensors in the periphery of the clarifying separator, which can typically vary in the process and depending on the cheese formulation. Based on this, the bowl speed is adjusted automatically, which reduces the power consumption of the motor and thus saves energy.

Smart discharge system and optimized discharge intervals

On the other hand, IDEAL Whey Separation also plays a role in another important factor in the overall process: the discharge volumes and discharge interval, which operators could only influence to a limited extent until now. This mechanical discharge system for the separators has now been upgraded using digital components. This means that the size of bowl discharges is automatically adapted to changing process conditions during operation, which not only reduces product losses, but also minimizes water consumption.

In addition, optical sensors continuously monitor the quality of the skimmed whey. If skimming efficiency declines, it triggers a discharge of the separator bowl to restore full separating power with the help of clean surfaces inside the bowl. As a result, discharges only take place when separation performance decreases, extending the discharge interval. This once again minimizes product losses without customers having to compromise in terms of skimming efficiency, which remains at a consistently high level.

The concept is rounded off by documentation and visualization of productivity-relevant operating parameters in real-time. These values can be analyzed as needed and, for example, compared across processing-lines, acting as a starting point for further plant optimization projects as part of OEE (overall equipment efficiency) measures for dairies.

“In various field tests, customers have already seen initial savings. Projected for the year, the whey yield was increased by 1,200 tons, depending on the machine size, processing volumes, and other process parameters,” states Christian Becker, emphasizing the potential of the new concept. “This example, linking innovative sensor systems, mechanical design, and smart control strategies, reflects GEA’s numerous initiatives to continually develop our machines and plants in order to offer our customers the highest level of technical expertise for more sustainable production,” says Christian Becker. GEA now offers its IDEAL Whey Separation system following a process review.

About the International FoodTec Award

With the International FoodTec Award, the DLG, together with its specialist partners, recognises pioneering developments in terms of innovation, sustainability and efficiency in the field of food technology. An international jury of experts from the fields of research and teaching as well as representatives from practice selects the most advanced concepts. The prize, which is awarded every three years, is presented in the form of gold and silver medals; this year five innovations received the Award in gold, fifteen in silver. A gold medal is awarded to products with a new conception, in which the function has been decisively changed and the use of which makes a new process possible or significantly improves a known process. Silver medals go to products that have been further developed in such a way that a significant improvement in the function or the process is achieved as a result.

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