ST. ALBANS CITY — A massive new dryer being constructed at the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery facility will allow the co-op to produce a wider range of powdered milk products at less cost.
The size of the co-op’s Federal Street plant is being increased by 13,700 square feet to accommodate the new dryer and related operations at a cost between $13 million and $14 million.
The co-op currently has two dryers with which it makes non-fat milk powder. Those dryers were purchased as used equipment 35 years ago.
“We really needed to reinvest because that equipment was at the end of its useful life,” said Leon Berthiaume, the co-op’s general manager.
The new equipment will dry more milk while also allowing the creamery to have more control over the final product. The total cost of the project will be between $13 million and $14 million.
“This will give us the flexibility to meet customer needs,” said Berthiaume.
The drying has a much larger capacity than the current dryers and is more energy efficient. Manufactured by C.E. Rogers Company of Mora, Minn., it will produce three times as much powder as the current dryers.
“The more milk we put through this plant, the more dollars we’re able to make for our members,” said Tom Gates, cooperative relations director.
He declined to say how much is being spent on the project, but did say the savings from reduced energy usage would be immediate.
“It also opens up, both locally here and on the export market, opportunities for new customers for the creamery which we’re very excited about,” Gates said.
In addition to nonfat milk powder, the new dryer can produce whole milk powder and skim milk powder, which has a more precise protein content than nonfat powdered milk.
The powders are used in a wide range of products including chocolate, baked goods, infant formula and cheese making.
“Whole milk (powder), when it gets shipped overseas they’re able to reconstitute it and have their own glass of milk,” said Drake Wallis, the creamery’s chief operating officer.
Over the past 10 years, the amount of nonfat powder made by the cooperative has varied from 3 million pounds to 16 million pounds, said Berthiaume. Historically, the amount of powder made has varied based upon the amount of excess milk in the market and the demand for powder.
Along with the dryer, the creamery is installing new packaging equipment manufactured in New Zealand, a leader in milk powder production.
The new packaging will be heat-sealed and allow for easy removal of the outside of the bag before the powder is taken into a customer’s production facility, explained Wallis. Many customers want to be able to remove the outside wrapper, leaving only a cleaner, inner wrapper that was not exposed to dirt and germs during transport.
The dryer is being constructed onsite. It will have to be carefully welded and polished. There needs to be a smooth finish, said Wallis.
As part of the process milk will be condensed twice, first to 34 percent solids and then in a “finisher” to 48 percent solids, Wallis explained. The condensed milk is then sprayed into the box dryer, which while in operation is heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the milk is dried, it will be vacuumed into “socks” which serve as initial filters. Smaller particles are blown out of the socks into a powder receiver. From there the powder goes to a shaker, which separates out the larger particles a second time.
Asked what happens to the large particles, Gates said the new dryer would create far fewer of them, minimizing waste.
The co-op has added a new packaging room and warehouse area for powder storage.
The dryer is being constructed on the site of the former co-op store, which moved in April to a new, larger building. “They’ve been exceeding our initial expectations,” Gates said of the 18,000-square-foot store’s sales.
A new dryer had been under discussion for several years, according to Gates, and planning for its installation took roughly a year.
Demolition of the old store and construction of the space for the new dryer began last spring. The co-op anticipates the dryer will be operational next year.