Size really matters in the production of dry-blend lactose. Even the smallest variation in lactose crystal diameter can result in a batch failure at the final quality assurance test.
At the new Arla Foods Ingredients dry-blend lactose plant in Denmark, advanced measuring equipment is eliminating this risk by ensuring crystal size and shape stay on track during production.
First use in dairy
The inline particle analysis technology is primarily used by the pharmaceutical industry, where the demands for powder uniformity are the strictest in the world. Arla Foods Ingredients is the first to use the technology in a dairy context. The benefits compared to traditional sample analysis are significant.
“A consistent crystal size is imperative in dry-blend lactose, otherwise the powder will ‘de-blend’,” explains Arla Foods Ingredients’ food scientist, Niels Christian Nielsen.
“Batch samples removed during production only provide a snapshot of a moment in time. Inline measurement, on the other hand, allows us to measure the continuous, real-time development of the crystals.”
Two probes do the work. A focus beam reflection measurement (FBRM) probe tracks changes in crystal size distribution, shape and count. A particle vision and measurement (PVM) probe characterises changes to the crystals, making it easier to detect any processing inconsistency.
Powerful quality assurance tool
“If there is a deviation from our quality specifications, the data enables us to identify the exact moment during the crystallisation process when it occurred. This information supports our continuous effort to optimise batch repeatability, maintain uniformity and secure the quality of our final product,” Nielsen explains.
Process adjustments typically focus on the cooling step, during which lactose crystals are formed. In large-scale production, the lactose R&D team apply their expertise to tackling the inevitable tiny fluctuations in processing conditions.
“We gather the cooling data from our plant on a day-to-day basis. Our data analysis enables us to recommend improvements to the cooling profile.”
Arla Foods Ingredients started up production at the dry-blend lactose plant in October 2014. The premium quality ingredient is primarily targeted at infant nutrition manufacturers.
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PhD study investigates lactose caking
An industrial PhD project at Arla Foods Ingredients is building knowledge about the complex issue of lactose caking – or lump formation – in cooperation with the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and University of Rennes, France.
The study will shed light on factors such as the lactose drying process, humidity and transport and storage conditions, which are critical to ensuring the stability and free-flowing quality of lactose powder during shelf life.