Dannon's highly automated Utah plant starts up production of Danimals drinkable yogurt for kids, and expands into spoonable yogurts.

Four-packs of Danimals strawberry-flavored drinkable yogurt march via belt conveyor from the shrink tunnel toward cartoning.
When Dannon Co.'s gleaming new 150,000-sq.-ft. plant at West Jordan, Utah -- a southern suburb of Salt Lake City -- reaches design capacity of more than 100,000 gallons per day, that won't be the limit. Designed with expansion in mind, "the plant can unfold" in any direction on its 30-acre site, observes Ren?harles Coumes, vice-president of manufacturing. Removable insulated metal wall panels on the building's steel frame allow expansion of all production and warehouse areas "while respecting the flow path," adds Pierre Decrion, site production manager for Dannon's Western Division. .

Started-up originally in December 1997 to meet growing U.S. demand for spoonable yogurts, the plant shifted production to Dannon Natural Spring Water from November 1998 to November 1999 as the U.S. yogurt market slumped and production continued at Dannon's two other U.S. yogurt plants.

Designed for human comfort, the plant features large windows to admit natural light while offering spectacular mountain views. (Photo: Case, Lowe & Hart)
According to USDA, U.S. yogurt production soared 30 percent from 1.27 billion lbs. in 1993 to 1.65 billion lbs. in 1995, then sagged 7 percent over the next two years to 1.57 billion lbs. by the end of 1997. (According to Jerry Dryer, president of the Chicago dairy-consulting firm JDG Group, aggressive promotion of refrigerated puddings during this period stole shelf space and customers at the expense of yogurt.)

By 1998, however, new-product introductions by Dannon and other yogurt manufacturers had recaptured market share as U.S. yogurt production bounced back to 1.64 billion lbs. USDA estimates 1999 yogurt production at a record 1.75 billion lbs., up 11.5 percent from 1997.

Flexible production fits flexible strategy

The flexibility to shift temporarily to water at West Jordan fit Dannon's need to expand its spring-water business into Western markets while the company started-up a new spring-water plant at Mount Shasta, Calif. (Dannon bottles water for Eastern markets at plants in Pennsylvania, Florida and Quebec.)

In response to the resurgent yogurt market, Dannon restarted yogurt production at West Jordan last November by launching an entirely new product -- Danimals drinkable yogurt for children -- in effect starting-up a new plant. Food Engineering visited West Jordan in early May toward the end of the Danimals startup as production on one filling line accelerated to 235,000 lbs. during the previous two weeks, and a filling line for spoonable yogurt was readied for startup.

By June 1, the plant was operating 'round-the-clock on three shifts totaling 70 people (plus a sales and administrative staff of about 20) with plans to add up to 30 more by year-end. Plant cost to date is about $35 million as equipment installation continues, Coumes estimates. The spacious plant is designed to accommodate six filling lines and -- as noted earlier -- can easily expand further. Coumes envisions annual yogurt production at West Jordan reaching 150 to 200 million lbs. within two years. The water line will soon be relocated to the California plant as West Jordan shifts entirely to yogurt production, said Jim Peterson, plant manager for water operations at both West Jordan and Mount Shasta.

Raw milk is delivered by tankers in drive-through receiving bays, and unloaded through a mixproof valve system that requires only one hose connection and a common pump for both receiving milk and CIP return

Site meets distribution needs

Dannon consolidated U.S. yogurt production during the late 1980s from five plants to two, located in Ohio and Texas. These plants were well-situated to cover markets east of the Mississippi, which accounted for 5 percent of Dannon sales volume. The company thus needed a third yogurt plant to cover Western markets and boost market share in the West, Coumes explains.

After exploring several prospective locations in Arizona and Utah, Dannon selected the West Jordan site because of its proximity to milk supplies in northern Utah and southern Idaho; the historically strong work ethic of people in the Salt Lake Valley; interstate highway access to California; available utilities; and good educational resources, including Brigham Young University and Utah State. The city assisted with a redevelopment grant. The 2002 Winter Olympics, scheduled for Salt Lake City, are spurring local development, Decrion adds.

Lead Process Technician Jason Hoelscher analyzes a raw-milk sample for antibiotic content before accepting delivery. Control Room #1 governs process and CIP operations on the raw-product side of the plant, from receiving through pasteurization.

Fast-track project team

Dannon's West Jordan project was executed on a fast-track construction-management basis. Dannon contracted with A/E firm Case, Lowe & Hart (Ogden, Utah) for building design, Seiberling Associates (Dublin, Ohio) for process engineering and Big-D Construction Corp. (Ogden, Utah) for construction management.

The Dannon project team was headed by Rusty Warnick (now vice-president of manufacturing, Dannon Partners International, at parent Groupe Danone in Paris), with Mark Johnson as project manager, assisted by Dave Waterman for packaging, Rex Boland for manufacturing, Dave Hess for human resources and Pierre Decrion for the building and utilities. Case, Lowe & Hart (CLH) was responsible to the project team for building design, site development, utilities and wastewater treatment. Seiberling engineered the yogurt process and process controls from receiving to filling. Packaging lines and material-handling systems were engineered by Dannon engineers.

Conceptual building design, developed by Alain-Michel Cabanne, president of the architectural firm AMC (Paris), which serves parent Groupe Danone, incorporates employee-welfare concepts. Large windows admit natural light into production and filling areas while offering spectacular views of the Wasatch Front mountains -- still snow-capped at the time of FE's visit early May. "Everybody likes to have a window in their office," Coumes observes. Interior open-air courtyards in which employees can enjoy lunch and work breaks add "a campus setting within the building," adds Kevin J. Lewis, senior vice-president at CLH. Three team rooms, where production teams meet daily at the start of each shift, overlook production areas.

The process room contains pasteurization, separation, evaporation and batching equipment with plenty of space available for expansion.
Sanitary design "is paramount in a cultured-products plant," Coumes points out. The raw-product side of the plant is segregated from the pasteurized-product side with separate employee entrances and locker rooms to prevent cross-ontamination. Positive air pressure flows outward from the packaging room toward perimeter walls of the plant. A concrete service mezzanine above production areas bundles horizontal pipe runs on an easily-accessed rack to minimize rooftop installations and maintenance, and allows vertical utility drops to minimize horizontal surfaces (where dust can accumulate) in production areas.

To staff the new plant, a core of six experienced dairy employees relocated from other dairy plants, and new employees were recruited through local advertising. Several people were recruited from local soft-drink bottlers and other food processors to start-up the water line.

Silo tanks are bulkheaded into alcoves extending off the main process room.

Goal: self-directed teams

Several weeks of technical training combined on-site vendor training in equipment such as mixproof valves, separators and human-machine interface (HMI) with courses conducted by Dannon corporate trainers in quality assurance, job safety, social skills and team organization. Self-directed work teams are the ideal and are developing, says Decrion. "It takes about 11/2 years to develop the concept of ownership," he adds.

Teams are organized according to production line and areas of esponsibility. Each yogurt shift is organized into nine-person line teams, with each team composed of one member in receiving, one in the QA lab, one for maintenance, four in packaging and one in the warehouse. A supervisor or "coach" is assigned to the teams to facilitate their work. Each line team meets in a team room before its shift to set daily goals for quality, safety and efficiency. Teams are also organized by areas of responsibility under a production coach, a maintenance coach, a warehouse coach and a quality coach. Coaches report to the plant manager and conduct team training in areas such as problem-solving, communications, continuous improvement, accountability, social skills, QA and plant rules. "We want people looking for a challenge," says Decrion.

With an area unemployment rate of only 2 percent -- half the national rate -- new employees are hard to find, however, as the plant rapidly expands. Recent recruiting efforts have featured an "open house" that included plant tours emphasizing the plant's human design as "an alternative work environment," Decrion adds.

Western Division Site Production Manager Pierre Decrion (left) confers with Water Plant Manager Jim Peterson (center) and Vice-President/Manufacturing Ren¿harles Coumes.

'Most automated dairy plant'

According to John R. Miller, president of Seiberling Associates, Dannon's West Jordan facility is the first U.S. dairy plant to extensively incorporate mixproof valves, eliminating nearly all manual swing connections in product and CIP (clean-in-place) piping systems. "There are no manual swing connections from receiving to the fillers," he points out, making West Jordan "the most automated dairy plant in the Utah area."

Process control is based on two Allen-Bradley PLC 580s controlling all process and CIP operations from receiving to filling. One PLC controls the raw side of the plant and integrates with two PCs in Control Room No. 1, manned by a single operator. The other PLC controls the pasteurized side, from fermentation to filling, and integrates with a PC in Control Room No. 2. The PLCs distribute control through I/O devices and integrate via Intellution FIX SCADA software with PCs in the control rooms and in the lab, with Allen-Bradley <.i>PanelView HMIs (human-machine interfaces) at operator locations, and with the plant's Oracle MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) system, which tracks product in-work by batch.

Two separate CIP systems -- one for the raw side, one for the pasteurized side -- segregate CIP operations. These systems incorporate eductor-assisted (EA) recirculating units to clean all piping, tanks and equipment on their respective sides of the plant while minimizing water, energy and chemical use. EA systems recirculate wash solutions and final acid rinse solutions with only 12 to 20 gallons more water than needed to fill the piping in the circuit. The spent wash solution and post-rinse water is recovered for reuse as prerinse in the next CIP sequence.

Dry ingredients are blended with liquid ingredients in an isolated powder room, then metered into batch tanks. The operator lifts dry-ingredient bags with an ergonomic vacuum-handling system.

Process profile

Receiving:Two bays in a four-bay drive-through receiving room are currently used to unload raw milk, and two bays are available for future use. In addition to raw milk, one bay receives raw materials such as liquid sugar, condensed skim milk and (through a separate system) bulk CIP chemicals, and loads-out pasteurized cream for sale as a co-product to ingredient markets. (Dannon yogurts are all lowfat or nonfat.) Fruits are received in aseptic stainless-steel totes at trailer receiving docks.

Raw milk is unloaded from 10,000-gal. supertankers through APV mixproof valves, a Fristam centrifugal pump, a Micromotion magnetic mass flowmeter, a deaerator and an APV plate heat exchanger. The mixproof valves allow a common pump to be used for both unloading milk and CIP return: a variable-speed drive automatically adjusts pump speed to receive milk at 300 gpm and return CIP solutions at 80 to 100 gpm. The advantages of a single pump, Miller points out, are no product loss changing-over from receiving to CIP; only one hose and connection required; product is recovered in product piping, not CIP return piping; more automated control; and fewer manual connections.

Danimals drinkable yogurts are filled in a Serac system enclosed for laminar flow of HEPA-filtered air and incorporating bottle rinsing, drying, filling and sealing operations.
The mass flowmeter measures raw-milk receipts, and provides flow-rate data to the control system and the sampling operation. The heat exchanger cools the milk to 33 degrees F before storage in one of two 50,000-gal. raw-milk silos. (All tanks and silos were supplied by DCI). As the plant approaches design capacity, raw milk will be received seven days per week and processed six days per week, thus minimizing raw-milk inventories.

Before receipt is accepted, raw milk is sampled and analyzed in a receiving lab equipped with a Charm system to test for antibiotics; a Foss Milko-Scan to measure protein, fat and total solids; a CEM microwave oven to test for total solids; an incubator to determine total plate count; and other equipment for measuring water content and pH.

In accordance with Utah regulations, tankers are equipped with internal spray balls, so tanker CIP after unloading requires only a potable-water hookup for a rinse of preset volume from the plant's CIP system.

Danimals Drinkable Lowfat Yogurts are formulated and packaged for children in 93-ml (3.1-oz.) HDPE bottles four-packed in one of four flavors, each identified with a different cartoon animal.
Milk pasteurization & separation:Raw milk is pasteurized at 6,000 gph through an APV HTST split-regeneration plate system at 167 degrees and held for 20 seconds. An Accurate flowmeter-based timing system maintains legal speed control. (Space is available for a second HTST system.) Pasteurized milk is then separated into skim and cream through a Westfalia separator. The pasteurized skim is used as the base for batching yogurt and (when needed) for evaporator feed to produce condensed skim milk. Most pasteurized cream is transferred to one of two 30,000-gal. silos for loadout.

Evaporation: The plant currently receives condensed skim milk as an ingredient, but is equipped with a GEA Weigand triple-effect plate evaporator to condense skim milk (when economical) to 18 percent solids.

Filler Operator Craig Maxfield inspects sample Danimals bottles for correct product, weight, code date, seal and sleeve alignment as they emerge from the the Serac filling system.
Batching: Pasteurized skim, condensed skim and a blend of condensed skim and cream are measured via individual mass flowmeters into one of four 6,000-gal. batching tanks, each mounted on load cells for measuring batch weights. Dry ingredients are blended in a powder room, which confines dust and removes it via ceiling-mounted vacuum-collection equipment. Here, liquid ingredients are transferred into a BreddoLikwifierblender, where they are blended with manually added dry ingredients such as sugar, nonfat dry milk, starch and gelatin, and metered into the batch tank. The operator lifts dry-ingredient bags to the blending station with an ergonomic, 175-lb. capacity Vacumove material-handling system from Tawi AB.

Yogurt pasteurization: Batches of yogurt base are HTST-pasteurized via meter-based timing at 4,000 gph through an APV plate pasteurizer at a temperature and holding time beyond legal requirements, and the batch discharges either to one of four fermentation tanks at a setting temperature for blended yogurt, or directly to one of four surge tanks for traditional yogurt (i.e., "fruit-on-the-bottom" yogurt which sets in the cup) as cultures are added in-line.

Culturing: The pasteurized yogurt bases are cultured via Dannon's Module Injections de Ferments (Culture Injection Module), isolated in a HEPA-filtered clean room. The module is first steam-sterilized, then frozen pellets of Dannon-proprietary thermophilic lactic-acid bacteria strains are manually added to yogurts in-line as they flow into fermentation or buffer tanks. The module is mounted on a load cell to advise the control room that culture has been added.

Fermentation: Blended yogurt, cultured enroute, flows into one of four fermentation tanks and then is cooled and pumped to one of four surge tanks supplying the fillers. Surge tanks are blanketed with sterile air and mounted on load cells.

Fruit addition: Yogurt moves from the surge tanks through a cluster of valves capable of supplying any of six planned fillers. For Danimals drinkable yogurt, fruit is blended in-line from aseptic totes as the yogurt moves to the filler. The totes are blanketed with sterile air, and their discharge fittings steam-sanitized before connection. The ratio of fruit to yogurt is controlled via Micromotion flowmeter and in-line scale..

Filling: Danimals drinkable yogurts are filled in a high-speed Serac system enclosed for laminar flow of HEPA-filtered air. At one end of the system, totes containing

5,000 93-ml (3.1-oz.) HDPE plastic bottles (supplied by Graham Packaging) are dumped by fork-lift into a Posimat unscrambler, which feeds bottles to the filler via an overhead air conveyor. In the filling system, the bottles are rinsed and blow-dried with hot sterile air on a 70-head rotary rinser, filled on a 30-head rotary filler and heat-sealed with aluminum-foil lids on a 30-head rotary sealing station. Lidstock is supplied from an ACS cap stamper that conveys lids through ultraviolet light to the capper. The combination of enclosed HEPA air, rinse and UV light helps extend the refrigerated shelf life of Danimals, says Production Coach Heather Hamblin. A Video Jet system code-dates filled bottles on neck and cap as they proceed toward secondary packaging. Filling operations can be locally controlled at a PanelView HMI. Employees throughout the filling, secondary packaging and warehouse areas communicate with handheld Motorola two-way radios.

At the time of FE's visit, a Remy 8-oz. cup filler was about to be installed for traditional (fruit-on-the-bottom) yogurts.

Fork-lift operator Teresa Curran raises a palletload of Danimals for transport to the incubation cooler. The blue tube suspended above is a washable, permeable-membrane air-diffusion system.
Secondary packaging:FilledDanimalsbottles are grouped and shrink-wrapped as four-packs on a Douglas shrink wrapper. Four-packs are conveyed to a Douglas wraparound cartoner, cartoned six four-packs per case and bar-coded by a MarshPatrion Plussystem. Cartons are conveyed to aPriority Onepalletizer, which builds pallets 22 cases per layer, 13 layers high.

Cooling: Loaded pallets are fork-lifted into a cooler containing fan-cooled cells, each accommodating one pallet. There, each pallet is cooled to 35 to 37 degrees F for a programmed time to stop fermentation. An HMI panel outside the cooler advises fork-lift operators when to remove each pallet.

Warehousing & distribution: Cooled pallets are fork-lifted into the warehouse, shrink-wrapped and held for 24 hours at 40 degrees F before release by the QA lab for shipment. Employees scan bar codes on finished pallets, download finished-product information to the QA lab and monitor inventories with handheld Teklogix scanners. When released by the lab, pallets are fork-lifted into refrigerated trailers through any of six shipping doors and trucked via common carrier to Dannon distribution centers in Cerritos, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas.

Eleven silos store raw milk, skim milk, cream, condensed skim milk, blended cream/condensed skim and cow water (from evaporation).

Tight quality control

The plant's QA lab includes facilities for sensory analysis, microbiological analysis, air analysis and shelf-life tests as well as equipment for testing finished products and products in-work. The QA staff includes trained sensory panelists who evaluate finished-product qualities such as taste, texture, fruit ratios and pH. Finished products are tested for yeasts, molds and coliforms in the microbiology lab. Product shelf life is evaluated under varying environmental conditions in a "stress room" and a cooler. Finished products are also tested for qualities such as pH and viscosity, while milk samples are tested for protein, lactose and total solids. Air-quality evaluations include laminar flow in the Serac filler, sterile air in CIP operations and ambient air in the filler room, adds Quality Coach Robyn Brock.

Formula management is another lab function. "For example, protein is the functional component that drives viscosity," says Quality Engineer Lisa Campbell. "We monitor product formulas, and standardize formulas to protein level."

As inscribed on the New Plant of the Year trophy and plaques presented to Dannon representatives at Food Engineering's PLANTtech 2000 Conference on June 6, the Dannon Co.'s plant at West Jordan, Utah, exemplifies "innovative design and engineering, integrating human concerns with food-manufacturing technologies."

Photography: Robert Casey, Odgen,Utah