Scaling production is a common challenge
Through the years, working with many producers in a wide range of industries, we’ve helped our partners through a long list of challenges. Many food producers we work with need to scale up their production quickly AND wisely. For those producers, opening a new manufacturing facility is a crucial point in the development of their business. That new facility has to produce at maximum efficiency and maximum capacity. It needs to get up and running as quickly as possible. And it needs to deliver a valuable return on investment.
If you find yourself needing to scale up your production to keep pace with demand, Noosa Finest Yoghurt is a prime example of a company that did it right — without throwing away money or taking on unwise risk.
Noosa is a privately held production company with its operations headquartered in Bellvue, CO. And like all businesses, Noosa has a story behind its production. Using all natural milk from a dairy they own and cows they raise on feed they grow, Noosa began producing yoghurt in 2010. No, that’s not a misspelling. They don’t make yogurt. They make yoghurt, a uniquely Australian creation with a distinctly sweet, tart, tang flavor and a thick, velvety texture. And it’s good too. It’s really, really good. Since 1894, the Mathewson family in Australia has passed the recipe down from generation to generation, all the way to Paul and Grant Mathewson, who sold their yoghurt in a small Australian town. While Koel Thomae was vacationing in the quiet, coastal town of Noosa, Australia, he fell in love with the Mathewson brother’s uniquely decadent, Aussie yoghurt. Without any entrepreneurial background, he convinced them to launch their family recipe in the U.S. and establish Noosa Finest Yoghurt.
And it sold. Noosa officially launched in 2010, focusing on local, Colorado consumers. But the original taste and distinct sweetness of their indulgent, artisan yoghurt quickly powered national growth and drove demand. Less than four years after making their first batch in the U.S., Noosa has expanded its market and sells in all 50 states. They’re one of the fastest-growing yoghurt companies in the country, and in 2012, they needed to vastly increase their production to keep up with demand.
Noosa’s production challenges
When it first launched, Noosa produced all of its yoghurt manually — beginning at the dairy farm. Noosa placed their facility on-site at Morning Fresh Dairy, allowing them to receive fresh raw milk directly from the farm. Operators would blend cream and manually measure and meter the signature ingredients, such as honey and fruit, into a mixing tank. Noosa’s team had to monitor critical processes but also had the intensive job of setting up valve transfer paths, dialing-in mixer, and pump speeds and adjusting crucial temperature control valves. Not only did they manually conduct each step, they also tracked, monitored and charted all data by hand.
If something went wrong, employees would spend hours troubleshooting equipment, often times left only to hypothesize what the issue could be. There was no way to track data and pinpoint where, when, or why an issue occurred. Noosa needed a way to track data for their own quality assurance and to meet requirements for FDA regulatory reports.
But Noosa needed to implement data tracking and process monitoring without increasing human capital costs. As demand for the yoghurt grew, there was only one option for Noosa to meet production. They needed to automate their production with excellent food process engineering. Wade Groetsch, COO Noosa Yoghurt said:
“We had no expectations that our product would take off so quickly. When we picked up some large retail customers, it became a reality that we needed to expand our facility – and expand quickly to fulfill orders. The only way we could increase capacity and keep up with demand was to automate. Not only that, but we foresaw demand increasing well into the future, so in order to meet our production goals, we needed a system that would monitor the process, collect data and allow for easy future expansion.”
Noosa needed more production, accurate data, efficient and intuitive process control, and a system that would be easy-to-troubleshoot, maintain and expand. And they needed it all to meet FDA regulation.
Our solution: automating the undefined with PlantPAx
In Spring 2012, Noosa chose to build an entirely new, 25,000-square-foot yoghurt production facility located less than 50 meters away from their existing plant. The new facility would provide five times the capacity of the old one, and Noosa needed it online and filling orders by October 2012.
They collaborated with us to design and implement a fully-automated control system for yoghurt production, clean-in-place (CIP) and utilities. The new plant would employ a highly efficient process and would also accommodate the packaging of end products and the storage of raw milk and cream.
We implemented a PlantPAx process automation system from Rockwell Automation — a scalable, plant-wide control system that helped increase efficiency and access to real-time information. But because this was a brand new facility, Noosa had no existing equipment or process for us to automate.
We designed and implemented an entirely new production system from the ground up. In most cases, we use existing device lists to specify hardware and software solutions. Noosa needed us to make a device list based on rough design specifications and create a new system from scratch. That would be a daunting challenge for many integrators.
But here’s where we relied on our extensive experience and knowledge from automating hundreds of systems over the past 20 years. From a blank slate, we developed all the preliminary drawings, including P&IDs, a device list and I/O cabinets, that we would normally use to develop a system. We then designed every element of Noosa’s system and implemented it on-site after rigorous system testing. We handled it all, from plant floor controls, components and the way operators interact with the process at the Human Machine Interface (HMI) to virtualization and thin clients that would allow for efficient management of the system and effective recordkeeping. We implemented Rockwell’s PlantPAx system and customized it specifically for Noosa Yoghurt, ensuring they would have a system that’s easy to use, validated to meet FDA requirements and fully scalable.
The Proof is in… the Yoghurt: Noosa’s incredible ROI from food process engineering
Noosa opened its new, fully-automated yoghurt control system in October 2012, just six months after breaking ground on their new facility. Noosa has complete production data, more consistent batches and more efficient production.
“Our new facility allows us to produce more yoghurt, but also produce it more consistently,” said Wade Groetsch, COO Noosa Yoghurt. “Our manual process had many inconsistencies and many times resulted in lost batches of yoghurt. With the PlantPAx system, we’ve decreased lost batches by 95 percent.”
Since opening the new facility, Noosa has increased production capacity by 300 percent — without the addition of more employees and resources. With the new system, Noosa grew 260 percent in 2012, 250 percent in 2013 and 800 percent since 2011, their last full year using manual production. Filling only one cup of yoghurt at a time when they first opened in 2010, Noosa can now fill about 100 cups per minute.
They’ve added 4,000 retailers nationwide, all while seeing a cost savings of nearly 30 percent that we delivered through our automation work.
Noosa is growing, are you?
Due to their rapid growth and the zooming demand for yoghurt, Noosa has already reached the production capacity of the new facility and is undertaking another major expansion. Noosa is commissioning a new yoghurt processing line and adding space for more packaging and distribution. And as Noosa grows, we’re implementing more automation solutions that will help them produce more yoghurt and reduce costs.
Because we designed and implemented a scalable automation system on the back of PlantPAx, Noosa’s system will grow with them. Will your production system grow with your business? If you’re ready to increase your production and lower your costs, or if you’d like see what challenges automation can solve for you, we can help. We’re a multi-disciplined team of efficiency experts, and we’ve helped hundreds of companies get more from their production. We can streamline your system with custom solutions for you.
To request an expert review of your production, click below. And don’t forget to try Noosa’s yoghurt. As they’d say in Australia, “it’s bonza, mates!”