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RFID helps avoid 'spilt milk'

20 April 2010

RFID from Leuze electronic is said by the company to provide a complete solution with respect to process optimisation at milk production plants

Milk processing plants aren’t unique in being under constant pressure to increase processing capacity and efficiency but they face additional challenges from legislative requirements such as traceability and control.

Leuze electronic's RFID solution is said to have met these challenges and provide additional functionality and process improvements. Leuze electronic started working with a major milk producer to optimise its milk registration and acceptance processes, when the data acquisition element of its previous system started to become obsolete. The challenge was to design a robust system to record milk tankers arriving at the production plant in order to provide tractability control of the milk.

RFID offered the opportunity to expand beyond the previous system of data transmission of the details concerning the milk tanker's contents across to the production plant, to a system including additional benefits such as vehicle access control to the site and the recording of vehicle cleaning operations.

The previous system had used various data acquisition methods, which in turn required laborious data matching and collating, with individual data such as the tanker and the driver's number, routes driven, quantities collected etc being manually entered and collated.

Legislative requirements such as providing traceability in accordance with EU ordinance 178/2002, required a reliable and robust system, which prompted a thorough, wide-ranging investigation of the technical possibilities available, to find the best way to address the various issues. Although this entailed detailed research and numerous meetings, the time and effort involved paid off.

In-depth analysis of the various processes such as the collection of milk from the farm, transportation to the production plant, arrival at the milk acceptance point, tank drainage and vehicle cleaning, the precise determination of the operating times involved, enabled the operator to come up with the optimum solution in close cooperation with its automation partner and product specialists from Leuze electronic.

It quickly became evident during the course of the research the majority of the processes involved were capable of being covered by a single medium: an RFID data carrier (transponder). Using this data carrier, the data can be transmitted from the vehicle to the dairy plant with a high degree of operational reliability. Adjustments to the operating data software even permitted many new possibilities to be implemented, resulting in a truly optimised solution.

A whole series of tasks, which previously required several different systems, can now be executed using a single transponder type. These include data transfer from the collection tanker to the production plant; controlled access entitlement to the production plant; reliable, high-speed data transfer; documentable vehicle-specific truck cleaning; seamless traceability throughout the whole process; Increased process reliability; simplification and standardization of individual processes; and recording of production times.

The extensive consultation which took place between the automation integrator and Leuze electronic, paved the way for use of the most suitable technology for this complex application - in the form of RFID. What makes this technology so special, apart from its facility for unambiguous assignment of the data carrier, is the scope it offers for the in-process updating and forwarding of data.

There is a legal requirement that the data concerning the acceptability of each collection of milk (quantity, producer, temperature etc.) is recorded at the point of collection from the producer and this collection was automated. At the end of the collection route, the entire set of data is transmitted to the RFID transponder. The transponder number is used to allow site access for the vehicle to drive into the production plant or the washer, for recording documentary evidence of these events, plus recording operating. When the tank is drained, all the data of relevance for the milk production plant administration system is transmitted again using the transponder.

Following a trial run in two processing plants, the new system is being rolled out to the other locations.
This application makes maximum use of the wide-ranging scope offered by RFID technology. The selection of a suitable version from the range offered by Leuze electronic enabled a single transponder to perform a wide range of different tasks, so considerably simplifying the job of all those concerned.

Leuze electronic, "the sensor people" were able to provide the milk processor with a system able to meet the challenges of today and the future, and avoid the need to "cry over spilt milk".

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