The new GEA Pet Food Experience Center (PEX) is directly connected to the headquarters of the subsidiary GEA Pavan in Galliera Veneta, Italy. (Photo: GEA)
The new GEA Pet Food Experience Center (PEX) is directly connected to the headquarters of the subsidiary GEA Pavan in Galliera Veneta, Italy. (Photo: GEA)

GEA has recently opened the doors to its new GEA Pet Food Experience Center (PEX) in Galliera Veneta, Italy. The role of the new center is to drive innovation in cooperation with customers and industry partners and to function as a locus for sharing latest know-how, where partners can anticipate a high level of technological development support.

Situated in Galliera Veneta, the new facility sits alongside the GEA Pavan headquarters where a modern production facility with 400 employees design and build production lines for fresh and dry pasta, snacks, breakfast cereals, extruded products and pet food. One of the success drivers of the business is the well-organized R&D activities which have always taken place onsite and are now strengthened. The GEA Pavan Pasta & Snack Tech Center with three pilot plants and four flexible production lines for analyzing new products under all parameters has been in this location for many years.

High-tech equipment for product development

New GEA Pet Food Experience Center (PEX) in Galliera Veneta, Italy, with high-tech machinery to drive innovation. (Photo: GEA)
New GEA Pet Food Experience Center (PEX) in Galliera Veneta, Italy, with high-tech machinery to drive innovation. (Photo: GEA)

The new 1000 sqm facility is home to a team of 30 employees, including process technicians, analysts and mechanics who now have at their disposal a new pilot plant for developing new products as well as a laboratory equipped with diverse instruments for chemical, chemical-physical and rheological analysis and nutritional/organoleptic testing. Customers visiting the PEX will find a complete solution line with the latest machinery technology for each processing step. The mixing and milling section is equipped with a flour mixer, hammer mill and plansifter where new recipes can be tested which includes experimenting with the mixing to find the right solution for each innovative pet food product. The preparation section includes a GEA CutMaster for the preparation of meat emulsions in batches, which compliments the extruder line. Besides the GEA CutMaster, GEA also can supply continuous preparation lines with grinders, mixers and emulsifiers. The extrusion and inserts area is furnished with a pre-conditioner and twin cooking extruder. Diverse molds and die are available for testing and experimenting with product formats and shape, and for checking compactness and quality of final products. A coex cutter for pillows, a tumbler and spray unit as well as a flavoring drum are available in the tumbler and finishing section. Lastly, the drying zone is equipped with both a static and a continuous dryer for achieving specific flavor characteristics, which requires temperature-specific handling.

“Our long-term strategy and goal here, as it is for GEA globally, is to be the preferred partner of choice for customers worldwide. With our state-of-the-art technologies and comprehensive application expertise, GEA strives to be the world’s leading technology group, providing innovative and sustainable solutions for sophisticated process industries. Our new Pet Food Experience Center is a place for learning: how to create and process new products, leverage new raw materials, create new recipe ideas – and ultimately, new ways to strengthen the position of our customers on the market,” explains Klaus Raths, Head of Strategy and Business Development for GEA Food and Healthcare Technologies.

Interactive pet food workshops offered

Learning and hands-on education play an important role at the new GEA Pet Food Experience Center. This includes learning about, and understanding how, dry pet food extrusion-cooking technology works; what the main process requirements are; how to operate and maintain the equipment, what role digitalization plays and how to use it in processes, and many other important topics. The R&D center can also be used as a training ground for customer employees, where they can learn about efficient processing and best practice. Workshops provide the participants with an introduction to the basics of extrusion-cooking technology, focusing on preconditioning, energy consumption, as well as the importance of moisture and mass flow balance. The primary aim is to help attendees learn how to be efficient at every step of the dry pet food production process, which includes: selection of raw materials, raw material intake, handling, weighing and dosing, mixing, grinding, conditioning, extrusion-cooking, forming, drying, coating and storage/packaging.

Hands-on exercises give participants a unique opportunity to learn about the engineering behind our twin-screw extrusion-cooking technology, screw configuration, selecting the proper die and cutting device, SME control, product density control as well as their significance in various methods of product coating. The skills and know-how learned in these practical demonstrations can then be used in the R&D pilot plant.

Next-generation technology solutions for modern dry pet food

At GEA’s new Pet Food Experience Center (PEX), innovative pet food products are created in collaboration between GEA technology experts, customers and industry partners. (Photo: GEA, Anima Film srl)
At GEA’s new Pet Food Experience Center (PEX), innovative pet food products are created in collaboration between GEA technology experts, customers and industry partners. (Photo: GEA, Anima Film srl)

Pet food customers are increasingly looking for products that mirror those available to humans, not only from a nutritional and production quality standpoint, but also in terms of the variety of formats. Thanks to its long history and experience in developing food processing technologies, GEA can offer advanced solutions that are capable of setting new standards in the market.

“Our philosophy is about working alongside our customers, supporting them in creating and developing innovative products, helping them define the formulation, form, consistency, weight, flavor and color of their particular product to ensure it satisfies the demands of end-consumers, which in this case includes pet owners and pets. Our common goal of achieving an innovative and high-quality industrial production begins with collaboration at the research phase and culminates with the provision of advanced processing technologies, based on the customer’s specific requirements and KPIs,” says Vanni Antonello, R&D Senior Technologist for GEA.

GEA offers complete solutions to produce dry food of the highest quality for dogs and cats. GEA understands this market is changing and diversifying rapidly, which is why the company offers customized process solutions for fresh meat inclusion, grain-free formulations and alternative protein sources, including equipment for snacks and treats production. The offer includes designing and implementing these solutions to meet specific customer requirements – all followed up with professional service and support as required.

Let’s co-develop: kibbles, pillows and dental sticks

The size, shape and moisture content of each product is determined by the individual recipe, which often includes a large amount of fresh meat. The sophisticated twin screw extruders with their unique dough conditioners, ensure precision results and meet the highest standards requirements for pet food production while reducing costs significantly.

GEA has made its own detailed study of those pet food formulations and formats that both satisfy energy and nutritional needs, while also whetting the pet’s appetite. GEA solutions for making kibbles – the most common food in pet diets, produce compositions and formats that are varied according to pet size, age and health. Likewise, additional ingredients can be incorporated in the kibble to fulfill other functional needs. Pillows, on the other hand, are snacks or that tasty reward for positive pet behavior. Using extrusion-cooking technology, GEA combines grains with a flavorful and nutritious filling based on the specific requirements. Dental sticks are designed and developed specifically to help dogs keep their teeth clean. Thanks to their unique shape, sticks are able to get into those hard-to-reach areas to clean teeth, which protects the pet’s health while providing them with the nutrients they need.

Innovative machines and systems from GEA produce dry pet food of the highest precision and quality.

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