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The development of predictive models on the Internet for optimisation of heat treatment of raw milk in small and medium-sized dairy companies

Final Report Summary - MILQ-QC-TOOL (The development of predictive models on the Internet for optimisation of heat treatment of raw milk in small and medium-sized dairy companies)

The aim of this project MILQ-QC-TOOL was to develop an easily accessible user-friendly application for heat treatment in dairy processes that is available on the internet and can safely accessed from terminals in the own environment. The project is set up around the bracket of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to optimise heat treatment in the production of dairy products. The application is easy to use and the results should be interpretable for the quality / product design personnel of the participating dairy companies. Now, the project phase has finished the application will also be made available for other users. Measures have been taken to manage maintenance, security and marketing of the application past the project horizon.

The uniqueness of the models used in this application is the integration of a number of product parameters together with processing parameters. In comparison, most research projects are about finding and estimating single parameters. These predictive models have been applied by larger dairy companies with success for research and development purposes. It is expected that if SMEs have access to similar software, innovations and process optimisation speed is enlarged. At this time, at the end of the project, the models are bundled in an easy to use the application called WebSim-MILQ.

The tool is expected to yield accelerated improvement in product development, reduced energy use, and increased efficiency of production. The SMEs have selected process(es) and direction of optimisation at the beginning of the project since some of these objectives are conflicting. Process(es) have been upgraded using the knowledge of the predictive models during the course of the project. Meanwhile the models have been validated and packaged as a user friendly web-application.

A continuously returning issue within the bracket of SME companies is that they are specialised producers of dairy products. Usually they tend to have few knowledge workers and knowledge is concentrated in few but very committed people, quite often including the owner of a company. The setting of the project in which companies from several European countries are participating and interacting may have resulted in a steeper learning curve. All companies can learn from their peers. The dairy sector is facing increased interest from food safety regulators and increased pressure from the market to produce more efficiently. More knowledge is required and the use of easily accessible web-based technology, packaged as a user friendly software package opens up possibilities for SMEs to accelerate their level of knowledge in a rapidly changing world.

Usage of the web-application is expected to yield savings for the dairies and environment, estimates are:
- reduction of processing costs by 30 % compared to current processing costs. This will be achieved by decreased fouling, decreased energy consumption, less water usage and less product waste.
- reduction of product waste by 30 % compared to current product waste. An optimised heating process and the application of models will give the SMEs the guarantee of optimal product quality and safety with respect to the inactivation of bacteria.
- the application of these models will guarantee the SMEs more constant product quality with respect to taste, structure and health. If desired, these models will also give the SMEs the possibility to change the product quality (different taste, different texture, different nutrition).
- fast and accurate response towards new European or national food safety regulations and towards outbreaks of epidemics. The aim is that SMEs will be able to adjust the heat treatment processes accurately while maintaining similar product quality within. With the modelling tool the SMEs will be able to do this within a few days.
- the application of these models will give the SMEs the possibility to enhance new product development. Heat treatment is an important parameter for the development of new products. With these models first the results of the heat treatment can be predicted and then validation experiments are required. Thus fewer trial and error experiments are needed and the time to market for new products is significantly decreased from several months to approximately one month.

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