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Petfood – an international product

Petfood – an international product
Dry pet food. Dry kibble food in metal bowl.

Petfoods have become a truly internationally produced, shipped and marketed product, covering many styles and types. Production of petfood has enjoyed amazing growth as well as advancements in production methods over the years, which has made this industry a truly remarkable one to work in. 

The advancements over time has been exciting not only from the mechanical point of view but the broad range of petfood styles and types that these machines can be controlled to produce. 

Alltech reported recently 2020 had an increase in petfood production of eight percent up to about 29.33 million metric tons worldwide. It is exciting to see the continued growth in this sector.

It is such an honour to be asked to edit the International Petfood Magazine. Thanks to Roger Gilbert for the opportunity as well as the involvement in the Online Milling School for AquaFeeds and soon for Petfoods. 

Perhaps a brief history of how I ended up in this position is in order. At 19 years old I took a position with Wenger International as a draftsman, which included plant layout work.

This required a summer stint in the Wenger MFG’s Tech Center in Sabetha, Kansas in the early 70’s, as I needed to know how to clean and the space needed around machines in order to draw plant designs. 

An onslaught of technical developments

At this point, luck had it that the extrusion of petfood was an accepted process and was already ongoing – although the real advancements were just starting.  Desires to differentiate from competitors and nutritional advancements brought on an onslaught of technical developments.

Dry feeding systems, preconditioning, the actual extruder barrels, the dies and knives just to mention the extruders. Dryers changed to match needs, covering mainly moisture evenness and efficiencies, whilst coating equipment has also greatly advanced.

The advancements in all the related industries also kept pace with appropriate fans, pumps, conveyors of many designs, boilers, lab equipment and just about every part, nut and bolt in these production machines. 

Back in the mid 70’s the kibble, dry or semi moist petfood system was extremely manual. Maybe if you were lucky you had a relay based ingredient selection system which was half-way automatic. Practically everything else in the plant was manual and needed to be controlled manually. 

The operators were and should be classified as artists, as it was an art to run these plants smoothly and efficiently. It was even more impressive to see the artists inside a machinery production company face challenges and modify the equipment to succeed in the goals, including how to manipulate the four areas of production: ingredients, equipment setup, operation of the equipment and final product specifications. 

Of course, the ingredients and final product specs were set or the limits were pushed, which drove equipment modifications. There were many significant equipment advancements, feeding by controlled loss in weight for the dry ingredients, water and steam input controls coupled with preconditioning designs allowing elevated fresh meat inputs or other liquids. 

Possibilities & efficiencies

Single screw component design, introduction of twin screws into the market, dies yielding shapes and colours of all sizes and it does not appear to be slowing down any at all. When you bring in the topic of controls the possibilities and efficiencies add a dimension never expected. The industry did go through a push back on computer control, but it has been embraced because simply put they work and do things that are too hard to do manually efficiently and timely. 

I started hanging around extruders when the operator had total control, he set everything by hand and even felt the ingredients out of the preconditioner and out of the extruder, whilst also making adjustments to water and steam, maybe the dry flow rate. He could shut down and change the die or change the extruder parts but other than this there was not much to be done, no options. 

It was the glory years of the brown and round petfoods, make it expand, see if it stretches in your fingers for cook effect, quick density check and off to the dryer.  If you can imagine everything the operator did back then is now practically covered by control systems, the speed and accuracy have been the differences.  We need to consider that most likely every type of production method is in use now in the industry when considering the world.    

Dryers and downstream equipment were never really looked at too hard as the extruder must be the problem? Truly the system was advanced from the front to the back, until the extrusion was practically perfect the needed dryer developments were not seen.

There are many different dryer possibilities but the major two are horizontal and vertical.  Both have advanced greatly and are moving forward on energy efficiency topics.  Coating has been an interesting process to watch develop. The accuracies have greatly improved on the percentage of liquid to dry addition in all plant phases.

Thought provoking topics & ideas

Marketing and packaging of products are also interesting topics along with the unusual production of petfood for fish, reptiles and other small animals.  

After 45 years of traveling in 85 different countries working on extrusion cooking projects, the idea is to present and prepare an International Petfood magazine with thought provoking topics and ideas that cover the entire range of production scenarios. 

We can’t cover them all, but we will offer a variety of topics which relate to the industry from different viewpoints. The possibilities are almost endless with all the different types of equipment and services needed for the many different styles of petfood production. 

We intend to have articles on plant design, standalone processes in most systems such as mixing, conveying, grinding, weighing, micro ingredients, extrusion, drying, coating, cooling, packing and others.

If the readership has any specific interest in select topics drop us a line, we will look into it.


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