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How To Get the Most Out of Your Feed Mill Operation

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Q. Animal feed manufacturing operations like ours have been impacted with higher input costs over the last year from several directions. Feed volume is also lower as companies reduce animal and bird numbers. This double hit can be devastating for feed mill operations managers like me trying to control operating costs and meet a budget plan. What can I do to be sure I'm operating at maximum efficiency or maximum utilization of current assets?
– L.K.G.

A. Many input costs cannot be controlled by the feed mill management team. What this team can do is to be sure their operation is operating at maximum efficiency or maximum utilization of current assets.

Increasing efficiency is simply manufacturing a fixed amount of feed in less operating time. Maximum utilization is operation of equipment or equipment systems at or above the design level for the longest period of time possible. Most feed mill managers know where their "bottleneck" is when it comes to producing more feed per hour or day. In many cases the bottleneck occurs in the pelleting process. If the bottleneck is prior to pelleting (i.e., mix, grind, etc.) and, in turn, is causing the pelleting process to be underutilized, you may be compounding the inefficiency impact. For most feed manufacturing operations, overall success is based largely on pelleting success.

The pelleting system has the highest initial system cost (thus high depreciation), the largest consumption of energy, and an extremely high impact on feed performance. It can potentially cause environmental issues and, if the system includes post-pellet liquid application, can further impact animal/bird performance. In a nutshell, if the pelleting process is performing effectively, there is a very good chance the operation is performing well.

In my mind, two basic requirements must be present if we hope to be efficient with pelleting. They are: keeping the pellet mill supply bins flooded with mixed mash, and always having a place (finish feed storage) to route pellets to. If either of these does not currently exist, then I recommend you focus here first.

Assuming the above two basic requirements are in place, the next area is horsepower/energy utilization. Most large integrator-type operations can generally meet quality standards when pelleting between 225 and 260 lbs./HP/hour. For example, a 500 HP pellet mill should be able to operate consistently at an instantaneous rate of between 56 and 65 tons per hour.

If you can consistently operate in this window, meeting quality requirements, then go to the next step. There is more to measuring efficiency than just tons produced per hour. The real payoff is tons produced per hour over all hours worked. Once you have established an acceptable die and roll specification that matches the available horsepower and the required quality standard, then the next step is to review system downtime. If you do not have a process in place for operators to track and record downtime, I can guarantee your operation has opportunity for improvement, i.e., lowering manufacturing cost.

Everyone, including operators, supervisors, and maintenance staff, should be involved in eliminating downtime and improving "up" time. The manager must be a "fanatic" about controlling downtime. Once downtime is important to the "boss," it will be important to everyone.