Vacuum on demand: Control system improves milking process efficiency, reliability and performance

Oct 2, 2023 | Food & Beverage, News

Dairy processing is considered one of the most energy intensive sectors in the food industry. What’s more, over 80 per cent of total energy use on a dairy farm is accounted for by milk cooling, water heating and vacuum pumping. Here’s how systems integrator for the dairy sector, Technidrive, developed an innovative vacuum on demand control system to improve reliability and energy efficiency of vacuum pumping on dairy farms.

Often described as the heart of the milking system, vacuum pumps remove air from the system creating a vacuum. The vacuum pump sucks air out of the system, regulated by a mechanical valve. In traditional fixed speed systems using a motor and a pump, the vacuum pump works at full capacity regardless of whether this is necessary.

For example, a fixed speed system for a 1600 litre pump, will produce 1600 litres of vacuum a minute, even if only half of this is necessary at that time. This not only wastes energy, but also results in unnecessary wear on the pump. In fact, this is such a problem that Government incentives are being created to encourage innovation and efficiency improvements to technology used in the sector.

Combatting dairy industry challenges

In addition to the environmental issues surrounding inefficient equipment, Technidrive’s engineers also encountered several further challenging factors associated with this dairy application. Many farms in rural areas operate on poor power supplies, such as single phase 230v but also three phase 400v. Voltage dips and phase imbalance can cause unwanted harmonics, high current spikes, nuisance tripping and poor control on systems.

“Four or five years ago, Technidrive was working with a customer who had asked us to provide an inverter for a robot milking system supplied by DeLaval,” explained Andrew Ritchie, technical sales manager at Technidrive. “They were trying to run the robot off a single-phase supply. However, they didn’t have enough energy to run all equipment at once. We put together a control system to solve this issue and soon discovered that this wasn’t an isolated case.”

Developing a turnkey solution

This enquiry led Technidrive’s innovative engineers to identify the opportunity for a universal vacuum on demand control system. The company therefore began developing a highly efficient variable speed system that could be completely flexible for integration with all manufacturer’s equipment. Importantly, it could also eliminate harmonics to be suitable for use alongside electronic equipment such as tags and flow meters.

Having engineers on the ground allowed Technidrive to look at the technical requirements of the application focusing on simplicity, reliability, and efficiency. This resulted in the development of the Technivac system.

This turnkey solution can be retrofitted onto existing vacuum pumps or integrated into new systems. Delivering impressive energy savings between 35 and 55 per cent compared to fixed speed systems, the system also offers reliable vacuum pressure, significant reduction in noise from reduced pump speeds, increased pump life and reduced pump servicing requirements.

Having installed over 600 systems in dairy farms across the UK and Ireland, the technology is designed to be easily integrated into any parlour with minimum interference and footprint. In fact, the control panel can be installed in just three to four hours. Regardless of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the system is compatible with 95 per cent of pumps.

Paul Dunn at TS Dunn and Partners reports exceptional results since the Technivac system was installed at his farm by dairy service provider, Northern Dairy Services (NDS).

“Since we installed two vacuum pumps and one variable speed milk pump in September, I’ve already seen considerable payback,” explained Paul Dunn. “We’ve already seen energy savings of around 25 per cent in our overall farm energy usage from September to December compared to the previous three-month period. This is considerable especially during the winter months. The system was installed in a day which reduced disruption.”

Ensuring high performance and reliability

Once the milking process of dairy cows has started it needs to be completed, so any failure in the equipment can cause major disruption. During development, Technidrive tried to eliminate failure points in the system. All the technology was built into one enclosure. This is in contrast to traditional systems where sensors are usually plugged into the vacuum line.

Depending on the system purchased there are multiple features to reduce the risk of total shutdown such as manual overrides of sensors. If a sensor malfunctions, an override switch kicks in and relies on the valve system as a fixed speed system. In some cases, Technidrive has also developed dual systems. In these solutions two drives with two controllers are used in the same panel. By using two smaller solutions, in the event of any failure in the pump system, it means the parlour can still run at half capacity.

Technical support as standard

Technical support and knowledge on variable speed control is quite limited in the agri industry, so a lot of training and support was required. Technidrive chose to partner with dairy service providers to bring the product to market, as going through the trade sector guaranteed the end customer received the right aftersales support.

“We have numerous Technivac systems throughout Northern Ireland and a couple in the south of Ireland,” said Andrew Dunn owner of Northern Dairy Services Premier dealership, covering Northern Ireland for Waikato milking system. “The farmers have noticed a massive saving in energy costs and it’s a very reliable product. Backup is massive and Technidrive definitely offer a first-class backup service. As long as the dairy farmer ensures his electrician makes sure all power requirements are exactly what is required to run the drives, the system is very easy and quick to fit.”

 “Technidrive is considered an asset to many of our clients which puts us in a great position for any new or developing opportunities that evolve,” added Ritchie. “Whether it be solutions to run compressors, robots or water pumps we have provided solutions for them all. Our solutions are now the leading system in Ireland and many regions in Great Britain, and we continue to grow our trading partners each month. In fact, we recently brought our first dairy partner in Wales on board.”

Providing technical training, high-level technical support and quality products to all partners, Technidrive has been able to ensure a superior product and service is provided to the farmer wherever they may be located.

Technidrive remains the leading Industrial drives supplier in the UK and Ireland across many sectors. For further information about Technidrive’s innovative Technivac vacuum on demand system for the dairy sector, visit the website or contact an engineer today.


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