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Automation and Dairy Products: No Longer Like Chalk and Cheese

Dewlay Cheesemakers commissioned a new automation system to help apply the expertise of its skilled cheesemakers to a wider range of cheeses. The challenge was to introduce new varieties while continuing to deliver exceptional batch quality and consistency. Working with LC Automation and Tritec Developments Ltd created a solution incorporating hardware from Mitsubishi Electric to develop an advanced tracking and monitoring solution to help supervise and manage the individual processes.

Garstang-based Dewlay Cheesemakers was founded in 1957 by George Kenyon and has earned a reputation for delivering award winning Lancashire cheese, but recently added Red Leicester, Caerphilly, Cheshire and Derby cheeses to their range.

Todays cheesemakers rely on a detailed understanding of the mechanisms governing quality changes in the curd as it is processed in large batches. Being able to monitor these key process parameters simultaneously for multiple batches and modify them when necessary is crucial to moving Dewlay’s business forward. They wanted a responsive, but easy to use automation platform that retained the subtleties of the cheesemaking process while adjusting to deliver a consistent end-result.

The Challenges Behind Quality Cheese Production

Milk composition and bacterial activity is influenced by environmental conditions such as weather patterns and seasons, feedstock and even the cow’s genetics. As a result, producing consistent high-quality dairy products is a big challenge for Dewlay’s expert cheesemakers.

Richard Jones, Operations Director at Dewlay explains: “Cheesemaking is a mix of art and science as it relies on living organisms. As a result, we need to be able to address this variability by having access to key process parameters and curd quality attributes, as well as responding quickly to optimise the reactions taking place within the vats.

The Mitsubishi Electric solution supports Dewlay's Expert Cheesemakers

More Varieties Expand the Business

“We see increasing the varieties of cheese we offer as an ideal way to expand the business. However, it makes the tracking and monitoring of each vat even more challenging. In fact, the family-owned business uses 20 different cheesemaking recipes, which can vary in the ingredients used and in the processing sequences.”

He adds: “It's a fast-paced production environment simply because we have so many cheese vats at different stages of the production cycle, following individual recipes. Our cheesemakers try to keep track of timing and procedures for all the active vats by relying on their memory, the clock and making notes. However, this approach isn't ideal and doesn’t support continuing growth.”

Automation Blends Rigour and Flexibility

Dewlay discussed their issue with Steve Eckersley, their local LC Automation Field Sales Engineer and they decided it would be better to support their cheesemakers by monitoring the vats to provide live, accurate, actionable insight, without limiting the cheesemakers ability to modify the curd production process.

LC Automation suggested control system engineers, Tritec Developments could help to develop a bespoke system. Richard Jones said: “This was not a straightforward automation solution but LC Automation, Mitsubishi Electric and our system integrator partner immediately understood that. We all worked closely to define our needs and deliver the right solution, testing the software and its corresponding hardware off-line before refining the programme on-line.”

Dewlay’s cheesemakers can now monitor the different cheese vats simultaneously, receive alarms as well as adjust the processes parameters in real-time and according to their expertise. The primary interface is a Mitsubishi GOT2000 touch-screen operator terminal which is networked to an FX3 Series PLC to collect process data from existing in-line sensors and determine the progress within the cheese vats. To keep costs low, the entire system interfaced with Dewlay's existing safety system.

Steve Eckersley commented: "We originally sat down to see where Dewlay could introduce automation to improve efficiency without taking away the input of skilled cheesemakers, for example in the cutting process. We produced a flow chart of what was required and worked with Tritec to give the system Richards team were looking for. The flexibility of the system makes it easy to fine tune the process while tracking and logging any changes made to the various cheeses. We are sure it will help Dewlay to develop even more award winning products in the future".

Innovation in Cheesemaking

The control system quickly fulfilled Dewlay’s expectations by ensuring flexible operation and simple process tracking. It has allowed Dewlay to expand by increasing the number of cheese vats that can be monitored as well as the number of possible recipes in use. This allows existing products to be produced more efficiently, alongside perfecting new ones that can then be added to the overall production schedule. The upgrades also resulted in an increase in productivity and overall efficiency.

Richard Lawton, Account Manager at Mitsubishi Electric, commented: “Customer satisfaction is extremely important to us, so we were pleased that the system delivered exactly what was requested. Fortunately, we have both the product portfolio and the experience to deliver on projects such as this. Thanks to strong partnerships, our cutting-edge technologies provide futureproof solutions that will help keep food producers competitive for years to come.”

Looking for More Information? We Can Help With That...

A lot of people were invloved in this successful project, but the impetus came from the initial input of our LC Automation Field Sales Engineer. So if you have an automation project, or a production issue that you would like to address, why not give us a call?

If you would like more information on Mitsubishi Electric solutions for your Food and Beverage application, or would like to discuss how we can help to support your next automation project, give us a cal on 01254 685900 and we'll be happy to help.

Mitsubishi Electric Automated Cheese Production Case Study

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