The future of dairy production

Discover how Tetra Pak and Mengniu are creating the world’s first digitally intelligent mega plant, with a complete end-to-end solution designed and implemented by Tetra Pak in cooperation with a network of specialists.

From the moment you arrive at Mengniu’s new factory in Ningxia, where their flagship product Milke Deluxe is made, you can see that this is no ordinary dairy plant. There are no security guards at the entrance since all vehicle access is managed remotely. And, once inside the plant, there are very few people working on the factory floor. That’s because processing and packaging operations are all handled automatically; the production lines are integrated and automatically controlled, and the entire operation is monitored from a central control room.

Where it all began

The project to transform Mengniu Ningxia began in 2020 at an end-of-year workshop attended by the top management of Tetra Pak China and Mengniu. Says Thomas Xia, Manager Mengniu Digital Transformation Program: “After over 25 years in the dairy business, Mengniu wanted to bring together its accumulated wealth of manufacturing experience to optimise operations — establishing 100% consistent production and management processes with the help of digitalisation."

They had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve; they just needed a partner who could help turn their vision into reality.

Tablet and charts on a table, fingers pointing at it

Setting bold targets

1. Mengniu’s most audacious ambition was to reduce headcount to 100 employees at the new plant. This represented a huge leap from the 2000 people normally employed in a plant of this size.

2. The new plant would be fully automated; designed to maximise efficiency and to attract a new generation of digitally literate employees. Operators – now called ‘maintenance and operation engineers’ – would not being doing any of the manual labour associated with traditional factory jobs.

3. Although the flow of production in the new plant would not be radically different from before, the plant’s business systems would be integrated, meaning that communication between them would no longer require manual data input. This would reduce workload and, at the same time, increase data accuracy and reliability.

4. With a strong foundation of automation and an integrated production process, Mengniu would be able to start turning data into valuable intelligence, establishing a solid foundation upon which to base its business decisions.

All these targets would be enabled by unmanned operation, advanced automation, data integration and data intelligence.

Tetra Pak creates an ecosystem

After that first workshop, it became clear that no single company could provide every single part of the solution that would transform Mengniu’s factory. Says Thomas,

“To meet their ambitious brief, we needed a whole ecosystem of different suppliers and partners. So, we called upon other companies to contribute their unique expertise, including Mengniu themselves, who contributed some solutions devised specifically for their own business.”

Tetra Pak provided the production equipment, which included 24 filling lines (nine currently in operation) — among them, our Tetra Pak® E3/Speed machines — and an advanced control room from which the operators could manage and monitor all ongoing manufacturing operations. “Our digital platform includes System Guide Manufacturing (not only MES) and we were also responsible for integrating with other systems such as Laboratory Information Management (LIMS), Warehouse Management (WMS) and Intelligent Campus,” he concludes.

Screens with charts and tables

The ongoing transformation

Digital systems now control everything at Mengniu Ningxia from the unmanned milk reception through the entire processing and packaging operation, and beyond. Operating with a staff of 110, the dairy has nearly achieved its headcount goal, and the entire team is managed digitally. Operators receive instructions via tablets throughout the working day and are alerted whenever there’s an event that requires their attention. The same is true of the plant manager, who gets a report pushed to his or her mobile phone each morning, outlining yesterday’s plant performance and what needs to be done today.

As the project progresses, our Tetra Pak China team is still closely involved with the ongoing transformation of Mengniu Ningxia. Engineers on site are finetuning operations and providing hyper-care, and they will do so until the plant is fully operational.

Demonstrating the power of digitalisation

The new dairy is fast becoming a showcase smart factory in the region. Mengniu will be adding two more production lines this year (2024) according to plan, and when the mega plant is completed, it will have a running capacity of approximately 3,800 tonnes of milk per day. After creating its most modern digitalised plant to date, Mengniu intends to use Ningxia as a blueprint for its other Chinese factories, and to eventually expand the concept to its dairies in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia.

Results so far

67% higher packaging efficiency

43% lower energy consumption

37% better space utilisation

19% decrease in the total cost of production

15% improvement in product switches

 

Tetra Pak highlights

For Tetra Pak, this case highlights our unique capabilities as a supplier of processing and packaging equipment. Specifically, our ability to integrate OT/IT systems seamlessly, allowing for the integration of digital and automated control processes. This is an important step on the road to building up our digital capabilities and a solid ecosystem of partnerships to enable digital transformation everywhere. Ultimately, it enables us to support customers in their drive towards more efficient, agile and sustainable manufacturing.

About Mengniu

The China Mengniu Dairy Company was established in 1999 and currently produces 1 million tonnes of milk/year. Tetra Pak has supplied Mengniu with processing and packaging equipment since the beginning and the dairy plant is part of the Ambient Business Unit, Mengniu’s largest BU.

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