State-of-the-art factory overcomes tainted infant formula crisis
Synutra International is a leading infant milk formula company in China. It principally produces, markets and sells its products through its operating subsidiaries under the Shengyuan or Synutra name, together with other complementary brands. As of June 2016, Synutra International had 910 independent distributors and over 280 independent sub-distributors in its network, selling to approximately 26,500 retail outlets.
At its factory in Carhaix-Plouguer, France, Synutra employs 300 people and produces up to 120,000 metric tons of infant milk formula per year. The company is located right in the heart of Brittany, which is renowned for its dairy production. “Everything is manufactured here on site at Carhaix, with complete traceability from start to finish,” said François Musellec, the Industrial Manager for Synutra France.
The company chose to construct its plant in France because it believed that the high-quality products manufactured in its French facility would attract more customers, elevate sales and bring significant benefits both in terms of operating efficiency and brand image.
The French Synutra factory has a mixing and canning capacity for powdered formula products of 60,000 tons per year and complies with both the EU and China’s manufacturing standards. Now outfitted with the most hygienic bagging equipment possible in a new dairy production facility, Synutra International is set to leave the melamine-tainted baby formula crisis which resulted in wide-scale distrust of Chinese baby formula behind it for good.
Because of the melamine crisis, Synutra needed a production line that placed hygiene and public safety standards above all else: only advertising that the baby formula was produced in France would not be enough.
“The hygiene aspect, among others, is crucial for us. Therefore, the main criterion that we stipulated was the absence of hollow bodies,” Musellec explained.
The parent company spent four years planning the new factory in France. This process included establishing new contracts for milk and whey supply and searching for a machine capable of packing 40 x 25 kg bags of infant milk formula hourly.
“The technical aspect was sorted out fairly quickly. What we really wanted was for it to work,” Musellec said. Premier Tech Chronos came highly recommended: “We were persuaded there wouldn’t be any worries with Chronos and we haven’t regretted this decision.”
Continuous cycles without a buffer silo
Synutra France has two drying cycles: one 6-ton and one 8-ton. In addition, the factory has no buffer silo.
“Therefore, when the cycle turns, the powder absolutely must be bagged, whether that’s in big bags or in small bags, and it is actually always a challenge because these drying cycles must not be stopped,” said Isabelle Bervas, a packaging supervisor at the factory. Only one technical issue, such as a density problem or agglutination in the funnels, needs to occur to interrupt the process.
Because of this set-up, Synutra France was on the lookout for a machine that could meet these requirements but, if needed, be restarted quickly.
Exact dosing required
To keep costs down, Synutra France also needed a system that measured exactly to 25 kg. To solve that need, Premier Tech Chronos installed a two-step bagging process. The first filling station fills the bag to only ¾ full to avoid overflow. The bag is then weighed, and a second filling station fills it to 25 kg exactly. Not more. Not less.
To reduce the amount of residual oxygen in the bag, the company’s machinery uses thermo welds, which help to better preserve the product after bagging. The product is then palletised on a Premier Tech Chronos CPL compact palletiser and wrapped using a stretch hooder.
The hooder is especially suited for baby formula bags because it pulls the packaging film over the pallet instead of wrapping it all around, thereby protecting the product from anything that might leak through and spoil it, such as rain.
Perfectly packed and tightly sealed, the product can now be shipped as far as China. Musellec explained: “We believe that it is very well adapted to our way of delivering products up to 10,000 km away. It allows us to load the pallets into containers with quick-loading systems on slip sheets and all that, while minimising the number of operators, so to speak.”
Synutra France produces a variety of products. This requires different parameters for different products and therefore a lot of training. Raphaël Marson, a packaging specialist, spent three days in training with two Chronos representatives. “Given everything that I was shown, it’s perfect,” he said.
The upgraded machinery met Bervas’s expectations. “I find that this machine is very reliable compared to our other installations that do not make 25 kg bags,” she said. Marson agreed: “It’s a super machine, I get a kick out of that machine — it’s very pleasant to work with and easy to use.”
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