Boosting Milk Production One Micro Dairy at a Time

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Virginia Miori, Ph.D., assistant professor of decision and system sciences, is thinking a lot about milk these days. She even says the word differently, pronouncing the "k" as if it were its own syllable. Miori has boosted milk production and cut costs at two micro dairies with plans for installing her model at eight more dairies across the country.  Her secret - a production scheduling model she developed to change the way farmers process the milk we drink.

Over the course of one month, Miori has increased each micro dairy's output by seven percent, amounting to 3,300 additional gallons of milk and almost 240,000 additional gallons annually. These are significant numbers, given the pressures on the industry.

"Dairy farmers across the country are burdened with the cost of producing milk and keeping up with consumer demand," explains Miori. Improvements in equipment technologies and the re-design of the one-gallon milk jug sold to wholesalers have alleviated some of these pressures, but she says significant improvements are still needed.

When Miori examined the production lines at each of the micro dairies, she realized how a scheduling model that she originally developed for the trucking industry could improve their operating efficiencies. "Think about how you like your milk," she suggests. "Do you like whole milk, its richness and full-bodied flavor? Or do you prefer your milk with fewer calories – at one or two percent the milk fat? How do you buy your milk? Does a half-gallon carton suit your lifestyle, or do you purchase milk by the full gallon?"

When micro dairies process milk, they take into consideration consumers' preferences – ranging from type of milk to packaging. The production line typically runs according to product type. "Milk is initially produced in two variations: skim and whole," says Miori. "All varieties of milk can be produced through adjusting the ratios of whole and skim released by filling machines."

By looking closely at this process, Miori was able to identify lags in the production line. "When the milk is run according to type, several transitions take place," she explains. "Transitions in the dairy operation take the form of cleaning cycles and packaging in single, two-packs or four-packs of gallons."

Miori's scheduling model shifted the tradition practice of running the production based on milk type to a process where the milk is produced according to transition. Once her schedule was implemented, dairy farmers saw an 82 percent reduction in unproductive time and more than a 71 percent reduction in the number of transitions.

Brian Polaski of RoviSys, an automation company that sells and works directly with micro dairies to implement Miori's schedule, says the best thing about the model is the flexibility it offers farmers. "We work with these micro dairies to optimize their operations. Miori's model accomplishes this objective, while giving the micro dairies an opportunity to tailor the schedule to their specific needs."

As these micro dairies expand their operations, Polaski believes Miori's scheduling model will have an even greater impact.

--Carolyn Steigleman

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