By Erik Tenbült - Product Manager - KSE Process Technology B.V.

The total compound feed production in the Netherlands is shrinking, but I don’t think that there is a drop in production. Of course this is because many small plants in the compound feed industry are closing. While the larger plants must produce more in the same factory. Often, there will be modifications to the plant to increase the capacity. More weighers, larger mixer or an additional press line are common extensions that are made to the current plant.

In the end, there is more production capacity in an existing plant. In addition, the production goes from stock-oriented production to order-oriented production. In other words from MTS (Make to stock) to MTO (Make to order). This requires the operator to handle more orders. In addition to more orders, there is also more production required per hour. The batch size is bigger but also the number of batches per hour is higher, and the standard is going from 10 to 12 or even 15 batches per hour.

Let’s assume that orders arrive via order entry, a logistics department plans the trips & outloading and there is a production department. Those three departments should work together well. The question that can arise is for instance ‘who is leading?’. Does logistics needs to adapt to production or does production needs to adapt to logistics? Also order entry who receives and adjusts the orders has influence.

The planner of the production program needs to have a good alignment with logistics and order entry. Order entry should try to avoid to pass on customer orders that were changed at the last minute or rush orders as much as possible. Rush orders causes unrest in the planning and the tons per hour will significantly drop. The trips logistics has planned should be known on time and logistics must ensure a mix of different types of feeds. So not only plan the feeds which are made on press line one, because production will not be able to produce it and the other press lines will be standing idly by.

There are multiple paths in order to achieve a proper alignment. One of these programs is to streamline production. You can try to solve this in the traditional way. All orders are printed and the operator makes a kind of planning by taking different customer orders together that represent just one trip. It is quite flexible but also error-prone. For example, a paper could simply fall from the desk resulting in the customer receiving his feed too late.

There are already factories where they first create a planning in spreadsheet for the production. The finished product cell can also be planned here. But what happens when a truck returns too late, there is a rush order or there is a mechanical error within the factory? At that time, the operator or planner needs to be able to intervene quickly and adjust the planning easily.

An operator can be supported through a production program. The operator has an overview of the current production orders but also of the coming production orders. He must have the possibility to pre-schedule the next 4 to 8 hours. Via theoretical production times it can be determined whether all customer orders are in the end cell and loadable on time. Holes created in the planning become visible. For example, a press line which is idle for an hour. In case of calamities the operator needs to make a decision fast. Which trips can be produced and loaded and which trips should be produced later?

There are a variety of planning tools available in the market to automate this. Often, such a planning system is not in the MES package. It is a standalone system and needs to be integrated into the existing MES package. At that moment, there are various data streams sent from the MES layer to the external planning tool. Ultimately, this is not ideal. The question is whether the customer wants to invest a lot of money for a planning tool. Is it possible to make a planning tool with a “magic button” that is also profitable for the compound feed industry? With a ‘magic button’ I mean a system where you input customer orders and a complete planning is presented. Does such a planning tool considers contamination? Especially in the premix industry and for every premix plant this has been / is a requirement.

A right planning tool without the ‘magic button’ in the existing MES system is possible if you ask me. This keeps the cost still fairly low. The existing planning tools are currently too expensive for the compound feed industry. The planning tool provides insight in what the operator has planned. There, you can incorporate tricks for the operator and planner but also an overview of the trips with the corresponding customer orders, finished product selection, etc. A planning tool is one of the pillars to increase the number of batches per hour and thereby the tons per hour. It will not directly increase the number of batches strongly but it can provide a stable and higher production.