High-tech for super cows09.04.2008 86,000 head of cattle in air-conditioned barns in the midst of the Saudi Arabian desert receive feeds containing additives blended on a Buhler premix system. Almarai is the world’s largest integrated dairy group. Set up in 1976 by Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer, the Saudi enterprise expanded at a breathtaking pace. Whereas sales revenues had amounted to 2.8 billion Saudi riyals in 2006, the corporate headquarters in Riyadh has budgeted a turnover of 3.8 billion SAR or some 1 billion USD for the current year.
86,000 head of cattle, 140 products
The cattle farms of Almarai are all located in the midst of the Saudi Arabian desert in a corridor between the cities of Al Kharj and Harrad some 150 kilometers southeast of the capital Riyadh. The various farms accommodate a total of 50,500 dairy cows and 35,500 heifers of the German Holstein race. The 86,000 animals are kept in fully automated and air-conditioned barns. They are cared for around the clock by specialists and monitored by veterinarians. In all, Almarai employs over 8,000 persons.
Milking is also done fully automatically and under extreme hygienic conditions. Each of the 86,000 cows is milked four times a day on the various farms. The Almarai milk cows achieve a very high level of productivity under these highly mechanized conditions, producing an average of 12,400 liters of milk annually.
The group’s production facilities process these enormous volumes of milk into over 140 different dairy products. The company’s fleet of 1000 trucks supply them daily to some 34,000 stores in the countries of the GCC region (Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council) out of numerous distribution centers. Almarai is the acknowledged market leader in the Arabian Peninsula, holding a market share of about 50% in fresh milk.
Feed produced in-house
The Almarai Group manufactured its own feeds for its 86,000 animals. They are based on corn (maize) flakes, which Almarai also produces in-house on two large flaking systems. To this are added hay from locally grown alfalfa, oilseed extraction meal, molasses, and a premix made up of various minerals and additives.
Since March 2007, these highly enriched feed additives have been manufactured on a state-of-the-art premix system supplied by Buhler. Jürg Solenthaler, area manager of the Buhler Feed & Oil business unit, has fond memories of the contract awarded by Almarai to construct the large-scale plant in the middle of the desert close to Al Kharj. “Initial contacts took place in 2002. We were awarded the final order in September 2005. One year later, we started with the installation work. In January 2007, we started up the entire installation and began training the staff. In March 2007, the plant was handed over to Ramakrishna Setty K.T., which is in charge of premix production at Almarai.”
Eight metric tons per hour
The new premix plant operated by Almarai is a fully automated installation that was completely supplied by Buhler. Every hour, it allows eight metric tons of feed additives to be blended. The plant consists of the raw materials receiving (intake) section, a large number of storage bins for holding the up to 30 ingredients of the Almarai premixes, the grinding line for preparing the carrier substance, the blending and mixing unit as the heart of the premix system, and the bagging and packaging section including a palletizing line. The complete plant is computer-controlled and housed in a 32-meter-tall steel structure built by the customer.
This high-tech plant manufactures the “mineral tablets in a powdered form” for the bovines in one-ton batches, explains Jürg Solenthaler. “The plant must be permanently up and running, since fresh premixes are produced every day.”
Depending on the specific formulation, up to 30 ingredients are fully automatically blended. “Our system is capable of automatically blending even the tiniest quantities,” explains Jürg Solenthaler. “On the one hand, this allows permanent product retracing, and on the other hand it enables the guaranteed accuracy to be achieved.” For its premix plants, Buhler guarantees a mixing accuracy with a variation coefficient CV better than 5% (see box on “Variation coefficient”).
Now that the new premix plant has gone into service, Almarai can shut down its former, manually operated installation near Riyadh, which had ceased to satisfy the capacity and quality requirements. In addition, the relocation of premix production to the farms slashes transportation costs. Last, not least, the increased capacities allow Almarai to gain independence of third-company supplies. Beside ensuring an improved premix quality level, the new premix plant also makes organization easier for Almarai. It allows the establishment of a TQM system (Total Quality Management), unites all the processing operations at a given local site underneath a single roof through full integration, ensures fast response times, and minimizes inventory levels.