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Automated Batching Technology Helps Supplement Maker Meet Skyrocketing Demand

December 19, 2007
Dinovite uses a bulk bag system manufactured by Ingredient Masters to replace paper bags with FIBCs or “super sacks” for the dry ingredients used in dog food supplements.

There are 60 million dogs in the United States, most of whom eat commercial dog food. To meet FDA and state requirements, the meat, cereal, and vegetable ingredients in commercial dog food must be cooked or irradiated. This processing destroys the digestive enzymes and other nutrients required by canine immune systems. Weak immune systems can encourage parasites and other problems that cause dogs to shed, scratch, suffer chronic ear infections, or develop bothersome odors. When this occurs, lotions, ointments, antibiotics, and steroid shots are often tried and often fail.

Ed Lukacevic is a respected breeder and biologist who knows all of this from a lifetime of raising reptiles, dogs, horses, and exotic birds. He spent 10 years researching canine diets and nutritional needs, and over that period, he developed a recipe that replaces the enzymes cooked out of commercial dog food that would strengthen the immune system and add critical nutrients that help dogs maintain good health.

The recipe contains all natural ingredients in the form of a powder that’s mixed into standard kibble or canned food. His dogs liked the taste and thrived. So did the dogs of family members, friends, associates, and others who tried it.

Lukacevic’s family physician had spent years trying to relieve his golden retriever’s constant itching, digging, and hair loss with various foods, creams, baths, special canine collars, etc. He began to see a major improvement after just six weeks of mixing a dollop of the powder into his dog’s normal food each day.

For four years, Lukacevic made, packed, and shipped the product from his farm in Dry Ridge, KY. In June 2007, he bought a manufacturing facility and an ingredient-batching system to keep pace with demand that was more than tripling every year.

Listeners of talk radio will recognize the product as Dinovite, one of the most successful consumer product introductions in recent years. Predictably, success has been accompanied by increased scrutiny and a requirement for extremely high batch-to-batch consistency. Fortunately, filling that requirement turned out to be relatively easy.

Like dogs, iguanas have specific nutritional requirements in order to maintain peak health. The Lukacevic farm had long been home to many iguanas, and, in similar fashion, Lukacevic had found current diets fed to these animals to be less than ideal, often lacking in the calcium, beta-carotene, or probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that are essential for good digestion. Beginning in the 1990s, Lukacevic experimented with various original recipes, identified five that produced good results, and brought them to market under the “Nutri Grow” trademark. These trademarks were later sold to a Los Angeles–based company.

The bulk bag system consists of 14 70-cu-ft rotationally molded polyethylene dispensers, each with a computer-controlled valve.

Fast-forward five years. One of the calls he made, on referral from an associate, was to Ingredient Masters, a company headquartered in Cincinnati. A manufacturer of equipment for the batching of dry and powdered ingredients for the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, and ceramic industries, the company specializes in precision batching systems.

“With sales of Dinovite dog [food] supplement on a tear,” says Lukacevic, “we purchased a 52,000-sq-ft manufacturing plant and decided to see what Ingredient Masters could do for us in the very competitive, and highly regulated, field of canine nutrition.”

Like many manufacturers, Dinovite had received its major dry ingredients in 50- and 100-lb bags. This had worked okay early on, but with sales climbing rapidly, bags were becoming a burden on six fronts: inventory management, material handling, ergonomics, spillage, housekeeping, and dunnage.

The system designed by Ingredient Masters replaced paper bags with flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs) or “super sacks.” These hygienic bags are manufactured from woven polypropylene, have high tensile strength, and hold approximately 2000 lb of ingredient. They are designed to be handled with forklifts, which eliminates the stressors and tearing of paper bags. FIBCs have become increasingly popular among suppliers of all dry materials, with use increasing on average 10–15% per year during the past decade. Growth has been even greater recently, as formulators have prioritized reusability and recyclability, demanded an alternative to unnecessary dunnage, and looked for ways to improve ergonomics and safety.

The Ingredient Masters system can process a 2000-lb Dinovite recipe in 5–6 minutes—one batch every 10 minutes.
Dinovite uses an Ingredient Master system with a support structure for the dispensers, 14 lifting frames, and a scale cart track that spans the length of the configuration.

Bulk bags containing Dinovite’s major in­gredients are bar coded with lot numbers and specifications information by each supplier. When they’re received, bar codes are read to assure the right ingredients are directed to the proper dispensers. Bulk bags are emptied by forklift into one of 14 70-cu-ft rotationally molded polyethylene dispensers, each with a computer-controlled valve. Polyethylene doesn’t “sweat” when temperatures fluctuate, a major advantage since some ingredients can be hygroscopic. Dispenser interior surfaces are ultrasmooth, which facilitates good ingredient flow.

The system incorporates one bag dump station for the few ingredients that cannot be delivered in bulk bags. Minor ingredients, those used in amounts per batch of less than 5 lb, are premixed and added to each batch. There is a support structure for the dispensers, 14 lifting frames, and a scale cart track that spans the length of the configuration. Control of the system, including its robotic scale cart, resides with an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix PLC and Rockwell RSView 32 human-machine interface (HMI) software for data acquisition and supervisory control. The HMI also provides tools for run-time simulations, importing graphics and making online updates. It also allows the viewing of display graphics, tags, and alarms through a standard Internet browser. System recipes reside in Microsoft SQL data tables on a supervisory PC; recipes can also be imported from existing customer SQL tables. Each recipe contains ingredients tolerances and system-specific data such as valve position requirements and vibration sequencing. Batch data are logged to the SQL database. They can also be logged across a customer’s network, connecting to another SQL database for storage. System users can query the database by batch ID, data, and other parameters.

At the start of each batch, the operator selects the recipe to be run and whether to process one or multiple batches. The system informs the operator if any required ingredient is missing or unavailable for what was specified. Initiating a batch activates the scale cart, which drives to the first dispenser and loads. A signal is sent to the PC, recording in Excel format the material dispensed. Flow rate and ingredient weight values are accurate to within +0.2 lb. The scale then resets and indexes to the second dispenser. This real-time recordkeeping is valuable for both inventory management and batch tracking. When all ingredients are dispensed, a report is created and the batch bag on the scale cart is lifted off and transferred to the mixer, where it is discharged.

Following the mix cycle, final product is reloaded into the batch bag and transferred via monorail to the pack-off station where it’s packaged in 3-pint jars, and 1-, 3-, and 5-gal pails. A customized label with the dog’s name is applied to each container. The system is network-compatible and RFID-capable.

The Ingredient Masters system can process a 2000-lb Dinovite recipe in 5–6 minutes—one batch every 10 minutes—to satisfy the demands of the more than 100,000 dog owners who have become repeat customers for Dinovite since 2004.

For more information on automated batching technology, contact Ingredient Masters at 513-231-7432 or www.ingredientmasters.com.