By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Once again, cheese has brought notoriety to the small town of Winsted.
It was during World War II that Pure Milk Products of Winsted led the country in the production of cheese.
Today, it’s Tetra Pak Cheese and Powder Systems (CPS) that has put Winsted on the map. The stainless steel manufacturer is known in the US as an industry leader in manufacturing cheese processing equipment, and evaporation and drying technology.
Its cheese vats, considered the heart of the cheese plant, are the largest in the world, each holding up to 85,000 pounds of milk.
Tetra Pak CPS is part of a global operation called Tetra Pak, which is the world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company in more than 150 countries, with more than 21,000 employees.
The Winsted plant, located south, at the edge of Winsted, on McLeod County Road 9, was purchased in December 2006 from Carlisle Processing Systems and employs 115 people.
Within two years after purchasing the facility, Tetra Pak CPS expanded its manufacturing plant by 12,000 square feet, increasing its overall manufacturing space to 83,500 square feet.
Tetra Pak CPS management is currently considering another expansion to its facility and hiring additional employees in order to provide enough capacity to bring more manufacturing to the Winsted location for its evaporating and powder product lines.
The evaporating and powder product line equipment is now manufactured outside of the company.
Some of the powder products produced through this equipment are whey-based protein concentrates, isolates, lactose, permeates, and minerals.
“We will see what it requires,” Tetra Pak CPS General Manager Dan Green said. “Maybe we can make do with the square footage that we have, but if it dictates adding on, then we will add on,”
The demand for Tetra Pak CPS equipment has been driven by the steady increase in cheese production in the US, which reached 10.1 billion pounds of cheese in 2009, up 2 percent from 2008, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
Manufacturing cheese processing equipment requires a large amount of space at the plant. Not only are the vats huge, but the Draining Matting Machines (DMM), is made in three separate sections, each 85 feet long, and together reach a height of 30 feet.
The cheese plants across the country that Tetra Pak works with vary in size, the operation, and history some cheese plants are just starting out while others might be expanding a facility, or adding another plant at a different location.
“Capacities vary, some plants process several million pounds of milk a day and others 100,000,” Green said. “There just isn’t a typical size plant.”
Because each processing system is unique, Tetra Pak CPS employees work through the equipment design that will meet their customers’ needs. This process can sometimes take as long as a year.
“Besides the plant design, customers need to secure milk supply and cheese sales to justify their investment,” Linz said.
The formula Tetra Pak engineers use starts with how much milk will be processed and at what rate. The pounds per hour of milk flow rate determines the size of the vat and cheese belt and number of block forming towers required, according to Linz.
“That gives you cheese pounds per hour coming out of the vats and that is used to size the belt, how many platforming towers are needed, and basically a chain reaction,” Linz said.
“Curd and whey are separated afer exiting the vat. Whey is procesed to produce whey powder.”
Tetra Pak is a full solution provider meaning it can satisfy customer’s requirements from the milk receiving bay, through the cheese making process and powder storage.
“As opposed to buying a piece of equipment where the customer is responsible for the overall functionality of the plant. We assume performance liability and are prepared to take on challenging projects and we stick with them and won’t leave the customer unless they’re satisfied.”
“I think those are the driving attributes of why customers come back to us,” Green said.
Improvements are continually being made to make products better.
The overall shape of the cheese vat has changed many times since the original design made by Virgil Scherping of Scherping Systems, who was the first owner of the company until he sold the business to Walker Stainless Equipment Company in 1996.
The newly-designed flat end of the vat allows the knife to follow the profile closer and increase the yield of the vat, according to Green.
The benefits of using hot water for heating the milk in the vat, rather than steam, which was the typical practice for many years, was also changed, according to Linz.
By using hot water for heating the milk, it doesn’t distress the product.
One of the newest products offered at Tetra Pak CPS is an automation package called Tetra PlantMaster, just now being placed in plants.
The software package is specifically designed to facilitate traceability in the event that a customer has a problem with a particular product causing a recall.
With the Tetra PlantMaster, the problem can be traced back to where it came from and that particular production run can be isolated. It allows for a smaller product recall, rather than a broader one.
“It is a huge benefit to them to narrow down the amount of product they have to recall,” Linz said.
“They can pinpoint it to the milk truck and farm that had the problem, if it originated on a farm. Or they can identify a certain point during their production where they might have had a problem,” Linz said.
Tetra Pak CPS in Winsted designs, manufactures, and installs full-line solutions for cheese.
• turning milk into cheese and whey;
• evaporating removing water from liquids to produce a concentrate;
• drying removing water or liquid from a concentrate by spraying into a hot drying chamber;
• powder handling dosing, weighing, storing, and conveying powders.