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Long way to go in digitizing feed industry; sustainability seen depending on finding efficiencies

By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporter

THE FEED milling industry is minimally digitalized and needs to upgrade its processes much further to make operations more sustainable and efficient, an executive from an Austrian supplier of industrial equipment and technology said.

“Our industry right now is going through a major development in terms of digitalization. Farming as such is still lacking in terms of catching up,” Michael Lierau, ANDRITZ senior vice-president for feed and biofuels, said in a video interview.

“The big step change in the future is digitalization. I still feel we’re somewhere between 2% to 3% in the industry in terms of digitalization, where other industries are at 4%,” he added. 

The feed industry has been dealing with rising input costs due to high inflation and supply disruptions.

“We’ve seen those kinds of effects in the past decades again and again. If you look at the feed mill industry, whether is aqua feed, terrestrial, poultry or cattle, it’s always a challenge between cost of raw materials, energy, and labor. Now with the coronavirus in the past two years, we had an issue with logistics globally which put some pressure on the industry in general,” he said.

He noted that the Russia-Ukraine crisis also put additional strain on the availability of products.

“This altogether puts pressure on several aspects, especially when it comes down to farming, where the margins are not that large to absorb all of it…boiling it down to the Philippines, you need to prioritize how to keep cost of feed mills as low as possible. If you stick to traditional supplies of raw materials, especially the ones coming from abroad, you need to start to compromise,” he said.

“It has a snowball effect which we now see in the Philippines. With the compromise of going for alternatives for raw materials, it ends up producing less high quality (feed), the business overall gets less attractive and keeps people from investing,” he added.

Mr. Lierau said that feed processors are now looking into sustainable technologies to minimize waste and optimize production.

“Sustainability is at every company’s heart right now. In feed milling, we are losing about 20% of raw materials because of poor logistics, improper handling, and waste. You’re also losing energy because you are not properly insulating,” he said.

“We cannot address all these issues, but ANDRITZ is focused on the raw material intake until it leaves the building to the farmers. We have a holistic view of production of feed. We don’t want to produce waste. What we try to accomplish with every innovation is that we need to be aware that all our technologies needs to be as flexible as possible to accommodate many types of raw material, whether its liquid or dry matter,” he added.

ANDRITZ has invested in innovations for feed millers to help them cut power consumption and cost of labor, among others.

“We have invested a lot of energy into developing systems that yield the most capacity with the lowest energy. This can be by smart processing, insulating, avoiding emissions,  even vibration, which is something most people neglect, but uses a lot of energy and heat that just adds to the carbon footprint. We can be producing too much air. People can’t believe how much energy is used to produce air, which is needed for the cooling process,” he said.

“We develop processes where we can limit this type of waste in terms of energy. We try to bring much more automated solutions in terms of control systems and also new technologies that goes into sensory,” he added.

He said ANDRITZ offers technology that can capture the data needed to protect a plant’s uptime.

“Especially now, when farmers need to produce and keep the feed mill running 24/7, you cannot afford to have unplanned shutdowns. These are examples how we on a daily basis try to improve our tech solutions for farmers to benefit or maximize their profits to keep going in this ever-changing environment,” he said.

ANDRITZ also recently launched an aqua microfeed system that increases capacity of up to 40% for aqua microfeed production.

“The microfeed system is a perfect example of how you can improve your overall profitability but also efficiency in the plant without making major changes,” he said.

According to ANDRITZ, capacity for small microfeed pellets runs into constraints determined by the die, with extruders not used at full capacity to avoid breaking the die. Manufacturers are currently seeking ways to produce microfeed with the extruder at full capacity.

The system includes an optimized die that can withstand the higher pressure caused by the smaller holes, enabling customers to produce microfeed at a higher capacity, higher quality, and higher uptime.

It also has a dedicated venting unit that delivers additional flexibility in managing a wider variety of raw materials during production, leading to greater accuracy and control through real-time adjustments, higher quality and yield.

For the future of the feed processing industry, Mr. Lierau sees that with more incoming technology and support, the feed mill supply chain will become more competitive.

“What I envision in feed milling to happen is we provide the feed millers with complete solutions, fully digitalized, where a smart set of people and ANDRITZ support farmers in producing feed by having a transparent feed mill running, guiding them…and with that you can also influence the full supply chain, meaning we can optimize raw materials because you have a comprehensive picture where your feed mill is running,” he said.

Mr. Lierau said that the government should also facilitate and promote the exchange of information and technology.

“The government can provide the platform of dialogue between farmers and the supplying industry of all kinds. That’s what we’re doing, we are trying to share and provide the insights of our global experience, explaining to customers how business is run elsewhere, different technologies and the like,” he said.

“We see a lot of hurdles bringing people into a country, it starts with the visa application for example. The more we install hurdles to prevent open dialogues, the more it gets difficult. I think a government should support the dialogue between its people and the outside world to continuously improve technology. Eventually, it’s the technology applied by the farmer that can help him remain competitive. The more the government supports these farmers to adopt by financing or allowing them to travel to see and learn best practices, this is in my view the most effective way that even in the most difficult of times provide a positive and optimistic future,” he added.

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