Fit for new challenges and opportunities
For the Uelzena Group, 2019 was a year for strengthening its production base: Technologies, tower utilisation concepts and quality measures were further optimised in order to meet increasing demand, particularly in the high-quality contract drying sector, while still striving to meet future-oriented environmental challenges.
.In addition to the automated high-bay warehouse being commissioned in Uelzen, the extensive renovation and modernisation measures were completed on spray-drying towers 5 and 11. Thanks to cutting-edge spray-drying technology, Tower 12 will provide Uelzena with the perfect conditions for manufacturing baby food-grade products such as vitamins and minerals. The planning and initial authorisations in 2019 have laid the foundations for the start of construction in 2020. The large-scale projects are major investments in the sustainability and future viability of the company.
Future-oriented milk powder production: Expansion of Tower 5
2019 ended with renovation work completed on Tower 5, which now boasts an innovative new milk evaporator and a high-hygiene tank farm. This meant, in addition to the extensive electrical work involved, that kilometres of pipework had to be installed, along with around 5000 components such as pumps, valves and heat exchangers. The Uelzen site now has a highly energy-efficient, fully modernised, expanded drying plant with a manufacturing concept for producing premium grades, namely low-microbe and low-spore milk powder which is also suitable for use in baby products.
It was a particular challenge to integrate the new systems, functions and building sections while manufacturing continued with high stock utilisation while also meeting demanding energy and environmental standards.
To comply with statutory provisions on fine particulate pollution, spray-drying tower 5 was fitted with a new ventilation concept that offers unparalleled filtration. A new building section also needed to be erected for the tower. A particular highlight is the new automated bagging plant, which bags 5 tonnes of milk powder an hour and can forward this directly to the palletiser, which is also fully automated. The bagging area has a high-gloss flooring which instantly shows up dust, dirt and white particles, thereby creating optimal hygienic conditions for the filling process. This plant also has an exceptional environmental balance: Dust pollution and noise emissions have dropped significantly while energy efficiency has increased.
.High-quality components for the baby food market: Renovation of Tower 11
As well as Tower 5, the reporting period also saw the renovation of Tower 11 in order to comply with the high requirements placed on modern baby food grades. Overall, the renovation of these two towers has substantially improved the competitiveness of the Uelzena Group as a contract-drying provider in the field of baby food products. It also represents a change underlying all processes in the entire company from production to product development, quality management, laboratory, and sales to the warehouse. We meet the highest demands in all these areas in order to fulfil the company’s strategic objectives.
Production of kosher and halal-certified products
A specific strength of the Uelzena Group is the production of products that conform to strict Jewish and Islamic nutritional requirements. Uelzena has offered products certified as kosher and halal for more than 20 years – the company’s own kosher and halal officer now takes care of organising the associated production processes. These products made up 80 percent of Uelzena’s total production in 2019. The production and processing of kosher products are based on strictly regulated and closely monitored processes. All systems need to undergo special cleaning processes and have mandatory rest periods. Specific provisions also apply to all areas of the company from goods receipt and production to the products’ storage and sale.
More products, but reduced resource consumption and less environmental pollution
Energy and water consumption, dust and greenhouse gas formation, and the handling of waste and wastewater are core sustainability topics in production. They are actively addressed by the Uelzena Group with the aim of continually reducing emissions and resource consumption per tonne produced while also increasing productivity. Uelzena is undergoing a strategic change which requires regularly checking and redefining the energy and technical production basis.
One benchmark is the federal government’s technical instructions on maintaining air purity (TA Luft), which includes defined limits for dust pollution. Uelzena is on the right path with its renovation measures as shown, for example, by the exhaust air filter value of Tower 5: 10 mg dust/Nm3 (1) exhaust air, which is considerably below the current maximum limit of 20 mg/Nm3.
“The exhaust air filters used on the planned spray-drying tower no. 12 conform to the highest EU requirements for dust emissions. Noise emission is also kept as low as possible by fitting highly efficient sound absorbers to the air outlets."
Michael Esan, Project Manager, Uelzena
Site developments and improvements
Significant production improvements have been initiated by the Uelzena Group at all its locations. The major developments are as follows:
At the headquarters in Uelzen, in addition to the major projects already described to expand the milk powder and baby food ingredient production, important sound insulation measures were implemented. A series of noise-reducing measures has decreased the night-time noise emissions from 48–51 dB(A) to 2–7 dB(A) (2). The exhaust air heat exchanger in the exhaust heater was replaced in the combined heat and power plant. The boiler house, which provides the dairy with steam for its production and heating, was equipped with new degassers. Each of these measures had a positive impact on the energy balance. What’s more, the entire premises was converted to LED lighting. Despite these improvements in energy use and resource conservation, the effects were outweighed by the strategic changes to the product portfolio, for instance by the increased raw milk processing and the increased production of specialist products as well as halal and kosher. These influences were felt most drastically regarding water consumption, which rose by 24 percent compared with the previous year.
In Warmsen, the production department was equipped with new boiler burners and the yard lighting converted to LED. The existing energy management system, based on ISO 50001, provides the necessary transparency to track potential improvements. Nevertheless, energy and water consumption in Warmsen also increased in 2019 compared with the previous year. Reasons include the increased production and the shift of the production focus from delicatessen food to sweetened condensed milk, the production of which involves an energy-intense evaporation process.
Plans for a new agglomeration plant were completed in Ratzeburg. The construction and commissioning are scheduled for 2020. In future, Ratzeburg will have three agglomeration plants available to agglomerate cocoa powder as well as milk powder. This expansion also sets the course for further opportunities in the production of instant beverages.
The Production OC 2025 programme, aimed at improving organisation and communication (OC), has been implemented successfully in Uelzen and the Bismark site. It is set up to run over several years and will be implemented gradually in the individual departments to sustainably optimise key working and communication processes. An initial overview shows positive results at both locations. Several processes have been standardised, employees were better integrated in processes and the flow of information has improved noticeably. The focus was on quality, sustainable problem solutions and optimising the use of resources. Expanding the programme to Ratzeburg is scheduled for 2020.
(1) milligram per normal cubic metre (2) A-weighted sound pressure level
Outlook for 2020
A core topic in 2020 will be the 46 million euro construction of Tower 12 at the Uelzen site, planned to start in the second half of 2020 and be completed in 2022. All sites have a number of pending individual measures, such as the construction of the new agglomeration plant in Ratzeburg. At present, it is not possible to predict whether plans need to be adapted as the COVID-19 pandemic is causing massive restrictions in all areas.
The Uelzena Group is a medium-sized industrial enterprise that predominantly processes milk raw materials into food products such as butter, milk powder or cheese. In 2019, we produced and sold a total of 243,887 tonnes of products – most of which were made from milk. Refining is an intense process and requires a high input of natural resources including fresh water and natural gas as an energy carrier. At the same time our sites produce greenhouse gases, wastewater and waste.
Examples: Greenhouse gases. With CO2 emissions of just over 30,000 tonnes in 2019, the Uelzena Group is not one of the major emitters nationwide. CO2 emissions per tonne produced could be reduced by about 50 percent since 2012. Nevertheless, Uelzena eG is committed to contributing towards reaching climate protection goals. The German government has decided to reduce German emissions by between 80 percent and 95 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. This would mean a reduction from around 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide today to 250 million tonnes (80 percent) or 62.5 million tonnes (95 percent). By the middle of the 21st century, Germany aims to become largely greenhouse gas neutral.
The Uelzena Group keeps its production equipment at the cutting edge of technology in order to limit negative effects on the environment as much as possible. Year after year, the Uelzena Group invests in measures to make its four sites more efficient, productive and cleaner. A welcome effect: The measures improve the input-output ratio, reduce the use of energy and resources per product unit whilst the entire Uelzena Group produces fewer emissions.
Energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions, waste and wastewater are the key sustainability topics for our production. In particular the company’s stakeholders are interested in learning how the Uelzena Group handles these topics. Stakeholders include food industry customers, employees, authorities and the shareholders of Uelzena Group as our members as well as residents living close to our production sites.
The production department actively pursues relevant sustainability topics. Our objectives are to continuously reduce emissions and consumption of resources per ton of product produced, while increasing productivity at the same time. In order to achieve these objectives, several measures have been developed and implemented.
Our sustainable production strategy – overview on our targets and measures
Production and environment
- The Uelzena Group aims to reduce the emissions of undesired substances into the environment. These emissions include greenhouse gases, wastewater and waste.
- The consumption of natural resources such as fresh water or gas must be continuously reduced.
- Efficiency must also continue to be improved.
Energy and climate
- Some examples of measures that were implemented for increasing energy efficiency include new heat recovery systems, high-performance electric motors and energy-efficient LED lights.
- Cogeneration units at Uelzen and Bismark generate heat, steam and electricity that we consume in a highly efficient way. Efficiency is 84 percent at each plant; this is 14 percent above the legally defined efficiency target for these types of power plants. Moreover, electricity surpluses are also fed into the public grid for a fee.
- Based on its certified energy management system according to ISO 50001, the Uelzena Group has improved the energy efficiency at all of its sites.
Wastewater and water
- Water from production processes is recycled, and always under strict observance of the legal regulations. We even reuse condensed steam for the generation of steam.
- Optimisation of the cleaning processes in the evaporator area.
- At our Warmsen site, an on-site sewage treatment plant cleans the wastewater from the facility so that it has the quality of river water.
- At our other sites, we discharge our wastewater into local municipal sewage plants. The wastewater quantity as well as the wastewater load are constantly optimised using a management process and on-site measures.
- The Uelzena Group separates waste and recycles recyclable materials such as paper, wood and plastics.
- Added to that, excess waste from deliveries is prevented if at all possible by way of respective agreements with suppliers.
A multi-year improvement programme was introduced in production. The name of this programme is “Production OC 2025” with its focus placed on work and communication processes as well as on organising cooperative work. Objectives: To increase employees’ motivation and competencies and to trigger continuous improvement processes. The programme was introduced at the Uelzen site in 2016, Bismark followed in 2017, and the plan is to introduce this in Ratzeburg in 2020.