Optimizing Feed Production Tips by a Feed Milling Industry Veteran

Fluctuating costs and quality of conventional feed ingredients, inclusion of newer ingredients in feed formulations, changing policies, and many other factors pose challenges to the Indian feed industry. To understand the changing feed dynamics and feed technological advancements, Think Grain Think Feed had a conversation with a seasoned expert, Rathnakar Shetty, the Director of ACE Feeds. Here are some key excerpts.

Having been in the feed production business for over two decades, what major technological changes have you witnessed?
Over the past two and a half decades, I’ve witnessed a remarkable transformation in the feed production industry. From the equipment itself to the overall production processes, advancements have been widespread. Some of the areas are:

  • Batching: It has seen a shift from manual batching systems to fully automatic, highly precise ones. This minimizes human error and ensures a more reliable production process.
    Process Automation: Automation has become a major driver of efficiency. Central control rooms now enable the operation of entire plants with minimal manpower.
  • Material Storage and Handling: Improvements in this area haven’t received as much attention as core production processes, but they’re still important. Well-designed storage facilities and advancements in handling systems contribute to overall efficiency.
  • Quality Systems: A strong emphasis on quality control systems ensures consistent production of high-quality feed.
  • Energy Conservation: Energy-efficient equipment and processes are becoming increasingly important for both economic and environmental reasons.
  • Particle Size Reduction: Variable speed hammer mills with diverse sieve and beater options allow for precise control over particle size, leading to a more consistent product. These mills are energy efficient with better capacity utilization.
  • Mixing: High-capacity mixers with multi-liquid addition capabilities and reduced mixing times with better coefficient of variation (CV) values have significantly enhanced efficiency and consistency.
  • Conditioning: Long-term conditioning techniques ensure optimal starch gelatinization and proper moisture content in the final feed product.
  • Safety Measures: Multi-level safety measures have been implemented throughout the feed processing stages, prioritizing worker safety within the mills.

Despite our progress in batching, mixing, and pelleting, material handling systems are an area where we lag. What improvements would you recommend for feed millers in this regard?
Absolutely. While advancements in core production processes like batching, mixing, and pelleting have been impressive, material handling systems haven’t received the same level of attention. Many feed millers prioritize the selection of feed mill equipment itself, often overlooking the crucial role that proper feed storage and handling play in overall efficiency.
Here, I would recommend a focus on well-designed storage facilities for both raw materials and finished goods for feed safety. These facilities should be spacious and well-ventilated to maintain optimal product quality during storage. Today, most feed mills utilize grain storage silos. However, it’s important to ensure these silos have proper aeration systems and online mold inhibitor application systems to prevent spoilage.

For larger operations, establishing corn silos near corn production areas along with dryers can significantly improve the shelf life of this key ingredient. On the finished product side, progressive poultry operators are increasingly looking towards automation solutions like bulk feed handling systems and even farm-level feeding automation. These advancements not only reduce labor costs, packing costs, and the risk of human error but also help maintain the integrity of the feed itself.

Post-pelleting treatment is a newer concept in the industry. Can you explain what it entails and the benefits it offers?
The post-pelleting treatment introduces a whole new level of flexibility to the feed production process. Traditionally, certain nutrients, particularly heat-sensitive enzymes, would lose some of their effectiveness during the high-temperature pelleting stage. However, with post-pelleting applicators, we can now introduce these enzymes after the pelleting process, ensuring they retain their full potency and deliver their intended benefits to the animals.

Post-pelleting application also allows for fat coating which enhances pellet durability, especially when feed formulations include a higher fat content.

The variety of alternative feed ingredients has increased. How does this diversity affect the shelf life of feed machinery, and what tips would you offer to protect it?
While it offers greater flexibility in feed formulations, it can also impact the processing and the physical texture of the final product. These diverse ingredients have varying characteristics, and some can put more strain on specific equipment components, leading to increased wear and tear.

For instance, the pelleting index of different ingredients varies considerably. This index influences factors like pelleting capacity, overall feed quality, and the wear and tear on dies and rolls. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand these pelleting characteristics of the ingredients being used. By doing so, feed mill operators can choose to pellet die sets with different compression ratios, ensuring optimal performance and minimizing wear on critical components.

Advancements in metallurgy have led to the development of more durable and wear-resistant materials for these components, extending equipment life and minimizing downtime for replacements.

What do you consider an ideal maintenance schedule for a feed mill to ensure optimal performance and longevity of equipment?
Preventive or predictive maintenance is essential for maximizing equipment lifespan and ensuring reliable performance within a feed mill. The first step involves adhering to the preventive maintenance schedules outlined by the equipment manufacturers. These schedules typically detail recommended inspection intervals, lubrication requirements, and any necessary part replacements.

Beyond manufacturer guidelines, developing a keen eye for potential problems is crucial. Daily observations of equipment operation can reveal warning signs like abnormal sounds, overheating, or excessive vibrations. Catching these issues early allows for prompt intervention and prevents minor problems from escalating into costly repairs or even equipment failure.

Maintaining a readily available stock of essential spare parts is another key aspect of a successful maintenance program. Having these parts on hand minimizes downtime caused by waiting for replacements to arrive, ensuring a smoother production flow.

Good housekeeping practices are equally important. Regular cleaning of magnets and metal traps helps prevent foreign object damage within the machinery. Similarly, keeping nozzles, pipes, and ducts clean ensures optimal flow of materials throughout the production process. Scheduling regular fumigation and sanitation of the entire feed mill and storage areas promotes hygiene and prevents the buildup of pests and mold that could compromise feed quality. Finally, partnering with professional pest control services provides an additional layer of protection.

Can you share some key moments from your professional journey with Ace Feeds? What were the turning points?
My professional journey at Ace Feeds has been incredibly rewarding. Leveraging my background in mechanical engineering and business management, I transitioned from the field of soya solvent extraction (oil milling) to the world of feed milling. This shift proved to be a pivotal moment, allowing me to combine my technical expertise with a growing business acumen.

Another defining experience was the opportunity to receive extensive training from a leading equipment manufacturer at their facility in Switzerland. This training provided me with invaluable knowledge of feed mill processes and operations, which has been instrumental in my career at Ace Feeds.

In 2009, I took a significant step by venturing into the feed manufacturing business alongside a team of dedicated colleagues. This decision has been incredibly fulfilling, and today, I am proud to say that Ace Feeds has established itself as one of the leading commercial feed operators in the country.

What are your future expansion plans for Ace Feeds?
Ace Feeds has earned a well-deserved reputation as a prominent commercial feed manufacturer and supplier throughout the country. Over the years, we have steadily expanded our reach to various regions, building strong customer relationships along the way. This geographic expansion remains an ongoing process, and we are committed to further growth.

Looking ahead, we plan to place a strong emphasis on the integration business, aiming to increase our production volume. Additionally, we are exploring exciting possibilities for diversification into other feed sectors, such as aqua feed and swine feed production. By embracing innovation and adapting to market trends, Ace Feeds is confident in its ability to maintain its position as a key player in the feed industry for years to come.

A Look Ahead for the Feed Production Industry
The conversation with Mr. Shetty has shed light on the significant advancements that have transformed the industry over the past few decades. From automation and precise particle size reduction to post-pelleting treatment and the growing use of alternative ingredients, innovation continues to shape the way feed is produced.
However, as the industry evolves, challenges remain. Optimizing material handling systems and ensuring equipment longevity through effective maintenance practices are crucial areas for continued improvement.

PS: Special thanks to BUHLER for their valuable technical inputs for the interview.