The production of pet food requires efficient production lines with high availability rates and reproducible quality. This only works with optimal system technology and processes that are designed to meet the specific requirements of the product in question. This article shows what else is important.
Pets have not only been popular companions since the Corona pandemic; in Germany alone, almost every second household has some sort of pet. As a result, the demand for high-quality pet food is increasing, and this is happening worldwide. „The USA, Europe and Asia are still growing markets in terms of pet food, and this means that we are in demand as plant manufacturers,“ says Ingo Pütz, responsible for global sales at Zeppelin Systems in Rödermark, describing the market situation.
In addition, the technological demands on plants and components are growing, as Pütz explains, „Pet food formulas now consist of 20 to 50 different raw materials, each of which has its own unique properties.“ This can be extruded material that is mixed in particularly gently or a moisture-sensitive raw material that has to be conveyed in a very dry state. Smooth production therefore requires not only knowing the properties of a wide range of products, but also understanding the process down to the last detail. „Ultimately, the consumer must be able to rely on the feed always having the exact composition as well as the same shape and consistency. The feed must neither stick nor crumble,“ says Pütz, describing the difficult balance.
Flexibility in plants is a necessity
In general, the production quality requirements for pet food are similar to those of human food. Among other things, this means eliminating or minimizing cross-contamination, easy to clean, maintaining clean production and compliance with hygiene standards. And as with food for humans, pet food is subject to special scrutiny and requires, for example, extremely accurate measurement technology. Moreover, in pet food, new formula concepts are being developed to meet the needs of individual animals, whether young, old, prone to obesity, wheat intolerant, etc.
At the same time, manufacturers must be able to deal with changing raw materials – for example, some raw materials used to be available as powders, but are now marketed as granules. Raw materials may also vary from region to region.
These variations can, for example, affect different bulk densities, which in turn affects handling. Manufacturers therefore require a very high degree of flexibility in their plants. It must be possible to adapt them without major conversions. High reliability and availability of the plants, which run around the clock, are a given.
Coordinated plant processes
Zeppelin Systems accompanies almost every processing stage in pet food production. This starts with raw material intake, through filling into the silos, grinding technology, up to recipe-accurate dosing including inline screening machines upstream of the mixers and gentle dense phase conveying. Drying and coating processes have to be integrated just as much as systems
for dust removal, temperature control, quality assurance measures, and concepts for explosion protection. A striking feature of developments in recent years: Plants are being operated ever closer to their peak performance without diminishing any accuracy. „This can only be achieved by keeping an eye on the entire raw material handling process. We master all process steps and the respective process and measurement technology. That’s why we can offer comprehensive, perfectly coordinated solutions from a single source,“ Pütz explains further.
Kibbles without break
At first glance, the individual process steps do not appear complicated, yet the processes are changing. For example, gentle pneumatic conveying of dry feed now plays an increasingly important role. Neither the animal lover nor the producer wants to find crumbs in the feed. With Dense-Tec conveying and sometimes extended lines, conveying succeeds without destroying the structure of the raw materials. Dense-Tec is mainly used in the pet food industry as a continuous conveying system, because the individual process steps, such as cooling or coating, are also mainly carried out continuously.
Precise dosing of even the smallest quantities
When weighing and dosing very small quantities, such as vitamins, components in the 2-3 kilogram range have to be added evenly distributed throughout mixtures weighing several tons. „We have developed innovative manual and automated solutions especially for these small components,“ reports Pütz. For example, Zeppelin Systems offers customized solutions ranging from components for batch weighing to differential scales including controls. For handling liquids, on the other hand, volumetric systems or gravimetrically operating components such as liquid scales and mass flow meters are used. „It is crucial that the dosing and weighing is
done accurately contamination-free,“ Pütz lists additionally. „After all, ingredients are being scrutinized more and more critically by consumers.“
High demands on hygiene and quality
Hygiene requirements have also increased in the pet food sector and are now oriented toward the food industry. „For example, we have long relied only on stainless steel in our plants,“ says Pütz „Batches have to be traceable just as they are in human food. This is where the process management system we developed helps.“ This logs every change in the recipe and allows all raw materials supplied and batches delivered to be traced. All production data, batch records, etc. are archived and can be retrieved at any time. Accordingly, there is greater focus on control, automation and documentation. This gives the consumer peace of mind.
Summary and outlook
Regional differences require country- specific solutions. Since production follows the customer, plant engineering know-how is needed directly on site. Zeppelin Systems is globally oriented, which ensures nationwide support. Moreover, digital services, such as remote access to the plants, are now part of everyday life.
Another topic of concern to the pet food industry is energy use and efficiency levels. This is particularly important for large plants with higher conveying capacities, for example, 40 to 60 tons per hour. „We supply solutions that allow more output from the plants. For example, we replace mechanical conveyors with pneumatic ones because they deliver faster and display higher performance with larger volumes. They also work more energy- efficiently, can cover greater distances, and require less maintenance,“ says Pütz, listing one example, but concluding with a completely different yet decisive factor for success: „Our customers don’t really care how their process works; they want process reliability and high plant availability. We ensure this with on-site service, but also with intelligent automation technology and a wide range of sensors that safeguard the process.
Ingo Pütz ist General Manager Sales Food Processing Plant at Zeppelin Systems GmbH