The Food & Beverage Technology Club welcomed Stijn Van Cuyck, Technical Director for Danone on 28 March. He explained the technological challenges faced by the yoghurt manufacturer for the member companies present at the event: "Our production site in Rotselaar, Belgium, has many unique assets. We do not take our leading role for granted but continuously innovate our products and improve our processes." This is a brief report of this event.

Manufacturing in Rotselaar

The Danone plant in Rotselaar employs 307 people and has 12 production lines. "We produce various types of yoghurt. The most known type is undoubtedly Actimel, born on the premises in 1994. We produce 190 thousand tons of yoghurt a year and our production plant exports to twenty-two European countries; our annual production corresponds to 6 million bottles", says Stijn.

The Belgian plant has many unique assets. "We do not take our leading role for granted but continuously innovate our products and improve our processes. We respond quickly to innovation. We like adding new Danone products to our product range and can change our production lines quickly and efficiently. This allows us to be competitive within the Group as well."

Flexibility and modular production lines

The Rotselaar factory was built for mass production but the demand for differentiation is increasing. "We want to be flexible regarding implementing changes in the production lines. It is not always easy to implement product changes. Our production lines are organised based on a single axis: we have to stop the complete production line when adapting it." 

"We are, therefore, looking into how to set up modular production lines which would not require stopping the complete production chain when implementing minor changes." Switching to modular production lines seems not to be an easy transition. "New factories are built based on a modular design. But changing an existing site into a modular production system is not an easy undertaking. The first step will be to set up separate axes with dedicated fillers to isolate allergens."

Factory floor ergonomics

The physical aspects are an important factor when increasing flexibility and complexity. "The production lines are automated but there are always a few manual tasks. Our employees will have to work more years in future as population ages. We must, therefore, make sure they can do their work as they grow older. How can technology support our employees?" We are exploring a variety of options.

We have Automated Guided Vehicles on site to deliver materials to the factory. Visual checks (Is this the right label?, Is the date legible?, etc.) are performed by Vision Systems. Danone will soon implement drones to perform inspection to make sure nobody has to descend into the tanks any more.

Agility based on 3D printing and data monitoring

Implementing changes quickly is essential to reduce the time to market. "We use 3D printing to produce various replacement parts: these parts are just as sturdy and often much lighter", says Stijn. Only parts that do not come into direct contact with the product are produced using 3D printing. "We do not consider this process for parts that come into contact with food because we know that some type of finishing is required to guarantee food safety."

Danone operators work in shift, the plant is in operation 24/7. These employees perform many inspections, but this data is not used sufficiently up to now. "We still have a long road ahead with regard to data monitoring. We want to use the data to perform quality inspection to support our laboratory team", explains Stijn. "The data is to be processed to determine patterns at an early stage to be able to intervene faster."

Ecology and waterless production

How can Danone become a climate-neutral company and participate in the circular economy? "We strive to attain triple zero: zero waste, zero energy and zero water." Danone is working towards 100% recyclable packaging and to reduce its energy consumption. "Can we use more biogas? Can we make use of our losses? Can we apply hydrogen as fuel? Each and every one of the above is an interesting option that begs to be explored."

The Waterless project focuses on the use of water at the factory in Rotselaar. "At the moment the waste water is sent to the water treatment plant. Why does the waste water not re-enter the factory? Can we implement a closed water cycle?" If we can, Danone could reduce the water it currently pumps up by 75%. "That would be wonderful, especially after a summer like last summer [2018]", says Stijn.



The presentation was followed by a networking moment with personal introduction between Stijn Van Cuyck (Danone) and the member companies of the Food & Beverage Technology Club.Some testimonials about the entire day:

'Very nice balance between industry insights, specific case and networking opportunities.'

Ben Van Opstal, GEA

'Well-organized, good setting, great opportunity to have a one-to-one contact with the target customer. Also the innovation book is a good tool. Thanks!'

David Depickere, Engisol

'This was my first introduction to the activities of the Food & Beverage Technology Club. I was pleasantly surprised by the organisation of this event. Keep up the good work. "'

Rik Wymeersch, DDEngineering


Would you like to know more about future activities of the Food & Beverage Technology Club or would you like to become a member? Please contact François de Hemptinne.