Innovation / Plant of the Year
Plant of the Year

Plant of the Year: Chobani

Chobani's brand-new Twin Falls facility continues to evolve while keeping up with the American public's insatiable demand for Greek yogurt.

April 9, 2013
Trans

Chobani time might be defined as the time it takes a new company, which started in 2005, to rise to the top in US Greek yogurt sales in 2012, claiming 47.3 percent of the US market, according to AdAge, June 6, 2012. Chobani time, when applied to its new one million-sq.-ft. plant in Twin Falls, ID, could easily apply to the fast-track construction project Shambaugh and Son completed in 326 days with a small army of workers (1,000 or more) in every trade—from construction staff to industrial control engineers to life-sciences experts. More specifically, Mark Shambaugh, CEO of Shambaugh and Son, defines Chobani time as the “ready, aim and fire approach where construction activities are accelerated to match critical path construction milestones and equipment deliveries.”

 
The new Twin Falls facility could truly be considered a snapshot in time of a fast-evolving plant keeping up with the American public’s insatiable demand for Greek yogurt. Fortunately, the plant was designed to accommodate expansion as quickly as Yogurt Master Mustafa Dogan comes up with new recipes—which include three new products with several flavors plus new flavors for its 6-oz. product line—all announced in December 2012.
 

The American dream

The meteoric rise of Chobani (translated as “shepherd” in Mediterranean) got its start with Hamdi Ulukaya, who left his family’s dairy operations in Turkey to pursue a master’s degree in business at the State University of New York in Albany in 1994. While a student, Ulukaya noticed the yogurt he purchased at the local grocery store didn’t measure up to what he was accustomed to eating in Turkey. 
 
In 2005, Ulukaya saw a postcard listing the sale of a closed Kraft yogurt plant in New Berlin, NY and decided to purchase it the same day. He hired four ex-Kraft employees and invited Yogurt Master Dogan to come from Turkey to New Berlin to help craft the recipe for Chobani. First known as Agro-Farma Inc., the company began producing yogurt under the Chobani name in 2007.
 
 
Later that year, Chobani went to market, but most retailers were only willing to stock it in their organic or niche dairy sections. Ulukaya refused and held out for more mainstream yogurt shelves, and in 2009, his conviction paid off as Chobani signed on one of the largest stores in the northeastern US. Other retailers soon picked up on Chobani, and now, big-box stores want to stock Chobani’s newest offerings.
 
In the five years since Chobani first appeared in grocery stores, the company has grown from a startup with five employees to a global organization with more than 2,000 workers and nearly $1 billion in sales. 
 
As a testament to its success, SymphonyIRI named Chobani as one of the most successful food and beverage CPG brands of 2010. According to a September 14, 2012 article from Bloomberg, Chobani controls 17 percent of the US yogurt market. Chobani was already processing well over 3 million pounds of milk per day in mid-2012, well before the Twin Falls plant came online.
 

Keeping the dream alive

Since Chobani bought its original plant in central New York, it purchased a corporate campus in Norwich, NY and added a state-of-the-art warehouse and distribution center across the street from the plant. According to the Small Business Administration, the distribution warehouse is the largest of its kind in the Northeast. The new warehouse was built from the ground up at Chobani time—three months. The original plant has seen several expansions since it was purchased.
 
While Chobani processes 28 million gallons and more of milk each week in its New York facility, it’s not enough to supply the national market, and certainly not sufficient to sustain a comfortable supply to the western part of the US. To add the much-needed capacity, reduce shipping costs to the western half of the US and have the flexibility to introduce new products and packaging innovations, Chobani constructed what is considered to be the world’s largest yogurt plant in Twin Falls, ID. 
 
Besides the great friendship the company has cultivated with the community, creating an employment base, there are other reasons for locating in Twin Falls, according to Marc Abjean, Chobani senior vice president, global engineering and project management. An ample milk supply and a skilled workforce were key reasons. Because the town is small, it’s easy to get truck traffic onto I-84, which provides transportation in just about any direction. Surprisingly enough, with all the power disruptions caused by hurricanes and tornados in so much of the US, power in Twin Falls rarely goes out, and when it does, it’s for very short periods of time—often just minutes. 
 
Constructed in 326 days, the plant continues to evolve in Chobani time. Even an original proposed drawing was obsolete when presented to Abjean. It wasn’t that the early Shambaugh drawing was insufficient in scope; Abjean and Chobani senior management were still dreaming about what this new plant could be. Shambaugh is no stranger to advanced yogurt and dairy plants since it has several projects as references.
 
“We had to design the plant in a matter of hours—and then do the drawings,” says Abjean. “The first drawing we made was on the back of a drawing Shambaugh proposed. We took the drawings to the back room, and then we drew the plant.” Abjean and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya were trying to future-proof the new facility so it would be adequate for all the new, innovative yogurt products coming to market in early 2013.
 
They wanted to start out with a facility that wouldn’t become obsolete in the first year or two of operation, according to Robert Keplinger, Shambaugh and Son West Coast operations manager. “Marc took an approach along with Hamdi that the plant should be built large enough—a lot larger like now—for expansion,” says Keplinger. Digging up floors and putting separator basins in after the fact don’t make sense when a larger facility can be designed properly in the first place, leaving plenty of room for expansion, according to Keplinger. 
 
“Marc wanted to build a future space now, so they could put in the future HTSTs [high-temperature short-time pasteurization systems], and the infrastructure would be able to handle them,” says Keplinger. The idea was to build a plant that could be doubled in size, simply by adding equipment as necessary.
 
While industry best practices call for a design for future expansion, the scope of potential expansion had to fit the possibility of a yogurt plant that could double in size. The team performed a “what-if” analysis at several junctures to consider not only additional volume, but a whole array of new products, according to Shambaugh. These two considerations affected process, utilities, building arrangement and horizontal and vertical future expansions. Anything identified as a future bottleneck was oversized, and the related scope elements in that area or system had to accommodate future needs … times two in many cases. Utility bottlenecks, such as a limitation of city water, had to be addressed with 400,000 gallons of storage. Plus, all systems were designed for water reuse, making this a near zero-use water plant.
 
An underground process drainage system had to be constructed in freezing winter conditions prior to the foundations being installed more than 14 ft. deep to accommodate future building expansions. Over five miles of Schedule 80 CPVC, up to 24 inches in diameter, were installed with a GPS system to serve the 400-plus stainless steel trench drains.
 

Work in progress

The plant still looks like a work in progress because it’s fulfilling what it was designed to be—an expandable, modular facility. “The reason we are still in construction is that because last June, we decided to go ahead with Phase 2, which is basically putting out all the new products—Chobani Bite, Chobani Flip and Chobani Tubes,” says Abjean. Still, the plant had to be up and running by the end of the year to produce Chobani’s existing retail products. 
 
Phase 1 included all the equipment necessary to put out the standard brands, for example, having the pasteurization, separation and CIP equipment in place as well as all  the plant utilities, filling and packaging equipment, quick chillers and cooler space. Phase 2 (for the new products), started “on top” of Phase 1, Abjean says, which placed an incredible challenge on everyone—suppliers and Chobani staff alike. 
 
According to Food Engineering’s “35th Annual Plant Construction Survey,” many food and beverage processors have opted to go with design/build scenarios rather than design/bid/build, mostly because design/build takes less time to complete construction and get a new plant up and running. Chobani’s Twin Falls plant is a perfect example. “[The project] required early ‘day one’ selection of  construction and engineering teams experienced in the design/build approach to convert schematic building, process and utility information from the owner into ‘for construction’ drawings and equipment specifications,” says Shambaugh. “We staffed with experienced yogurt and dairy engineering construction personnel who had the tribal knowledge, eliminating the learning curve, to make this happen in such a fast timeframe.”
 
The 3-D modeling (BIM) integrated all trades for coordination purposes, but also was taken to the next step in design to not only allow, but proactively design, for maximizing construction of utilities and process elements. Piping drawings were developed to maximize offsite fabrication to run concurrently with building activities. 
 
The project relied on daily communication between design groups, with pertinent parties copied immediately. There wasn’t sufficient time for the traditional RFI (request for information) process on the project. “Although we had multiple marathon design sessions, it was truly design on the fly and anticipate the unknown, utilizing our past yogurt and dairy experience,” adds Shambaugh. “Even the products we were going to make changed midstream.”
 
“We had to adjust the design and then change direction pretty quickly to accommodate our new products,” says Abjean. “Starting a new product is a completely different ballgame because you don’t have all the data you agreed to have. We decided in June [2012] that we had to have [most of the project] done by November or else. That’s been a big challenge and a greater challenge to get everything up and running for these introductory products we never made before.”
 
Key to making the plant operational was training. “One of the unique things about this company comes right from the top—from Hamdi—and that was putting in the investment for training our people,” says John Winnie, Chobani director of operations. While factory-acceptance testing (FAT) was going on in Twin Falls, Chobani started hiring in the early spring and sent the new hires to New York for training to learn about Chobani products and the company culture. The training took the new staff further during FAT, learning the control systems and troubleshooting. Rather than cram in all this information in a very short span, the company did the training the correct way, letting the new staff learn as the plant became operational, says Winnie. 
 

Size matters

When fully ramped up, the plant will be able to accommodate 14 production lines and 11 million pounds of milk per day, with future room for expansion. The plant was fast tracked in 10 months—from site clearing to ready-for-product trials on the first two lines. While Shambaugh and Son served as design-builder of the project, it also had overall responsibility for scheduling and coordinating the project in addition to performing engineering, prefabrication and installation of all the utilities, flooring and process piping. Tippmann Construction performed the traditional construction of bricks and mortar, while MSKTD, a local Ft. Wayne, IN architect and Shambaugh partner, served as the architect of record. Boccard provided science, process and controls design and installation, while GOAVEC, Clauger, Arcil and NOVA provided assistance in installing and connecting the utilities and process equipment. 
 
On a walk-through of the plant, it’s obvious plant safety and food safety are key drivers inherent in the design. “Safety is embedded in the design and the layout of the plant,” says Abjean. “We have access to everything. Most accidents happen when people are working in confined spaces—they don’t have space to move, or if they have to leave an area, they find themselves in a high-traffic area.” 
 
At the new plant, there is plenty of room to move around and check on equipment. At the same time, paths for forklift operators are clearly marked, and the staff follows walkways intended to keep them clear of the vehicles. In addition, forklift paths are designed for one-way traffic to prevent collisions.
 
With one million sq. ft. of space in the entire facility, the ammonia refrigeration equipment, mostly supplied by Frick, resides in its own 28,000-sq.-ft., detached building—a space big enough to house a small food plant. “Our ammonia system is contained within a building that is separated from the rest of our plant by 15 ft.,” says Winnie. Safety and efficiency were concerns in locating the CIP equipment. “We looked at the process for all our CIP, and it’s set up to be centralized; we don’t have the risk of people going into an unsafe situation.” 
 
Located 15 ft. away from the refrigeration compressor building is the boiler room that houses five operating boilers rated at 800hp each, producing 124,200 lbs./hr. of 125psig steam. The 20,000-sq.-ft. boiler room has space for five more boilers when needed; the major piping is already in place. The boilers all have stack economizers, parallel positioning oxygen trim controls and VFDs to optimize operating efficiency and reduce emissions. Room also is available for a reverse osmosis (RO) boiler makeup system, 650gpm water softener and 200,000-gal. wastewater equalization and neutralization system.
 
The plant also includes a 400,000-gal. domestic water tank, 40 indoor process air handling units delivering 910,000 cfm of conditioned air (24 percent outside air) to 26 processing rooms, 24-in. CPVC process waste system and a lift station designed for peak flows of 8,700 gpm. A 7,500-sq.-ft. air-compressor room contains four compressors with possible expansion to a total of nine units when needed. The system of oil-free compressed air uses SS piping to deliver sterile air to pressurize process tanks, according to Keplinger.
 
The plant has 19 electrical services capable of supplying up to 42 megawatts of electrical power, though the plant is currently using only about 6 megawatts. The plant features an open cable and bus duct design to distribute power and control the LED lighting and sprinkler systems matched to the needs of each room throughout the plant.
 
While ample room is available to grow the utilities, the same is true for the incoming, processing, packaging and warehousing areas. Receiving includes four dedicated raw milk receiving bays and four dedicated CIP/cream load-out bays, with an expansion capacity to house a total of six each. There are also four whey load-out bays. 
 
Three HTSTs for hot and cold milk are currently installed, with the ability to locate three more. The one cream HTST and one blend HTST can be expanded to an additional unit for each. Milk storage is accommodated by eight 200,000-gal. silos, with an expansion to 12 when needed. There are two 200,000-gal. whey silos and two 70,000-gal. whey concentrate silos, with the  expansion capacity to a total of five. Other expansions also are possible: from four 20,000-gal. cream silos to eight, four blend silos to eight, and 15 32,000-gal. finish silos to 40.
 
The plant currently has 10 Greek yogurt separators, but Chobani can add up to 22 more. The eight starter tanks can be doubled in number, and the six buffer tanks and dosing systems can be increased to a total of 16. The nine fillers and packaging lines can be expanded to 13. While six sleevers are in the plant now, there is room for double that number, and there are eight cooling tunnels with space for four more. Five CIP systems are up and running—two for pasteurization systems and one each for raw milk, trucks and whey.
 

Food safety tantamount to food quality

With all the piping, tanks, silos, valves, pumps and specialized hardware, the Twin Falls plant rivals any chemical plant when it comes to instrumentation and controls. With more than 29 PLCs distributed throughout the plant and a process PLC, all connected together by a Hirschmann industrial Ethernet, and more than 25,000 I/O points, operators know exactly what’s going on in the process at any location through Rockwell’s FactoryTalk View SE software and Wonderware’s Data Historian. Mixproof valves, supplied by GEA Tuchenhagen, account for five I/O points per valve. 
 
Process control starts at the component level, says Abjean. Every valve comes with instrumentation and is connected to the system. “We have a dual feedback so we know the position of each valve and pump. Every pump in this plant has variables to adjust the speed, and we know constantly the trend of the pump. We know immediately if something is wrong; we can see it on the plates.” Abjean spent a third of the engineering phase defining how the system works—the sequencing, opening and closing of the valves, etc. Once defined, the code was built and tested and checked again during FAT. 
 
“The driver is really food safety,” says Abjean. “We want to know every step of the way what’s happening to the product. Right now, we are working [to optimize] the product because we can view it at any point. We have so many redundancies in the system to make sure we know where the product stands. We know if something is wrong within one minute of occurrence. Then we make a decision [whether to] abort the batch and start cleaning. So the system is important to us for quality and food safety.” Whether water or chemicals are introduced into the system accidentally, operators can immediately take action to kill a batch. Likewise, if a product or plug has been in the line too long, the product is declassified from pasteurized to dirty, and the system is cleaned. In addition, frequently scheduled product samples are taken to the lab and analyzed for quality as each batch is produced. 
 

Environmental safety

The plant design also supports food safety in terms of people, product and trash flow in multiple zones, including a red-zone area for allergen products. The most efficient design incorporates an extensive analysis of room adjacencies and their impact on those above. Traffic areas are located to be most efficient and cleanable and include movement efficiencies of raw material, raw ingredients, people, packaging and other materials. Handwash and bootwash stations are located at all critical points of entry to process areas.
 
Special air filtration systems with HEPA filters and individual room treatment tailored to the product or ingredients in each room are all independently and centrally controlled. Airlocks provide assurance of sanitation prior to entering any of the process areas. 
 
The air handling system is designed to source the purest air in product-sensitive areas such as filling and sleeving, and provide an airflow that winds up in less critical spaces such as warehouse space and loading docks. Three levels of filtration are provided through color-coded fabric ducts, with green used in the incoming supplies warehouse where air is the least filtered. White ducting is the most filtered air supply and is used in product-sensitive areas. Blue, which is used in the packaging and CIP areas, is a level of filtration between the most and least filtered. 
 
Overall design is to pharmaceutical levels in most areas, almost aseptic in others, to meet SQF Level 3, along with USDA and cGMP requirements. The red zone applies to the area where allergens are in use (e.g., nuts) and must be protected from other allergen-free areas. 
 
The walkable ceiling lets maintenance staff  work above the process floor without interrupting the process or contaminating the process area. All piping, utilities and even network wiring enter process areas from drops originating above the walkable ceiling. Key to keeping this area clean was restricting any wood, which might transfer bacteria or mold, in the construction.
 

Saving energy and resources

The Twin Falls plant also was designed with many energy-saving features and methods to conserve water. With the nearby Snake River as a source, an ample supply of fresh water is not a problem, but the delivery of it from the town’s water department is limited in the amount Chobani can withdraw at any given time. Therefore, water recycling has two advantages. First, there aren’t as many delivery issues—in fact, Chobani had to install a holding tank to curb heavy demands of fresh water. Second, cleaning up and recycling water decrease the amount of wastewater that’s sent to the public wastewater treatment facility, saving money.
 
“When we clean any pipe, tank or element of the plant, we are recovering up to 85 percent and sometimes more of the water, chemicals and energy that we use,” says Abjean. “And then, we have also a whitewater recovery system, which means every flush of the line or tanks is collected into a whitewater tank. We have plans to concentrate and extract the water from the tank.”
 
A water recovery system was designed for both milk and whey to reuse process water. In Phase 2, the plant expects to extract enough water from these two sources to provide polished water to service process needs with a “net zero” requirement from the city, further reducing operating costs and lowering environmental impact.
 
In addition, Abjean is looking at energy-saving possibilities for the whey, which now is returned to farmers as feed. “We’ve also contacted people about a bio-digester to produce gas and electricity for the plant. We have completed a feasibility study of all our options,” he says. Chobani will make a decision based on the input he’s received.
 
As mentioned earlier, all five existing boilers include stack economizers, but energy is also recovered from the whey to pre-heat incoming raw milk. Concurrently, the refrigeration load required to cool the whey has been reduced. The RO system for the boiler makeup water minimizes water usage, chemical usage and blowdown heat losses. Energy mapping of the entire facility is used along with ICIS Plant Energy, an energy management system that removes the need for sub-metering hardware and provides a set of dashboards, analysis tools and reporting solutions for consumption, waste and costs.
 
LED lighting is used throughout the plant, reducing energy and lifecycle costs. Fixtures with directional lenses reduce the amount of energy used while maintaining illumination levels; they also decrease the number of fixtures needed when compared to metal halide lamps. The LED lighting used in the plant is 35 percent more efficient and has a 7:1 life expectancy over its metal-halide counterpart.
 

Filling, packaging and storing

Some gaps still exist between filling and cartoning where manual work is necessary while waiting for additional conveyors and line equipment that continue to arrive. Pick-and-place systems are being used to retrieve cups from the filler and place them into cartons. Eriez X-ray systems are used throughout the lines to check product for foreign objects and weight. 
 
Because of the wide variation in product sizes, Chobani has chosen to load pallets manually and truck them off to cooling tunnels where they are cooled to between 36°F and 42°F before entering the refrigerated cooler. Abjean says implementing an AS/RS using AGVs has been considered, but the numbers would have to prove this type of system’s cost-effectiveness and its ability to warehouse new products with varying cartons, shapes and sizes. Having ample space in the warehouse and a good warehouse management system make the operation simple to handle, according to Abjean.
 
Considering the several new and innovative yogurt products being produced, it’s plain to see Phase 2 already has already produced exciting products for consumers. And it’s very unlikely these products will stay on the shelves for long. Fortuna¬tely, additional capacity is being built and installed to keep up with the demand in Chobani time.
 
For more information:
Mark Shambaugh, Shambaugh & Son, 260-487-7808, mshambaugh@shambaugh.com

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