Behind the scenes of Synlait’s state-of-the-art nutritional manufacturing facility

A little over two years ago, Synlait had a vision to build a greenfield nutritional manufacturing facility in the North Island of New Zealand. What started with a nondescript plot of land just South of Auckland, in the Waikato region of New Zealand, and a concept for a well-designed production process, quickly became a state-of-the-art facility that saw the installation of some 10,000 pieces of equipment in little over 12 months. Now SynlaitPōkeno’s nutritional spray dryer stands as tall as a 10-storey apartment building and can produce up to 45,000 metric tonnes of powder each year, including  infant formula base powder, infant grade whole milk powder and skim milk powder.

The scope of the Pōkeno project was huge – in fact, it’s the largest that Tetra Pak New Zealand has undertaken to date. Synlait Pōkeno processed its first milk in September 2019 with commissioning completed in May 2020.

The incredible speed at which the Pōkeno site was brought from the drawing board to a fully operational plant that employs around 100 people mirrors the story of Synlait themselves. From humble beginnings as a single dairy farm in Canterbury in 2000, the company has grown from zero base to a a stockmarket value of more than 1 billion NZ dollars (around €600m).

Spray dryer installation Synlait facility

The Pōkeno plant has been designed to the highest specifications, with hygiene standards that are close to pharmaceutical grade conditions. As workers enter different hygiene zones within the factory, for example, they change into appropriate clothing. Every product batch is tracked and traced across the entire supply and manufacturing chain, thanks to the sensors and automation software that capture the whole production process.

Tetra Pak developed specific innovative technologies for Synlait, from a new dehumidification system for both the main dryer and secondary air systems resulting in a much more stable and controllable plant in varying environmental conditions (humidity) to a new high pressure pump system. This is the first in the world to be installed in this type of application – where it feeds the concentrate into the spray nozzles of the drier, making it a critical piece of equipment in the production process.

Sustainability targets were built into the Pōkeno Factory from the start, with tight targets for wastewater discharge volumes and water recovery. With the requirements in sight, the design was developed, and the plant provided with water recovery and treatment systems with two Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants on evaporator condensate (cow water) and Clean In Place (CIP) flush water. The plant in normal daily production will consume between 850 to 1050 m3/day of Treated Process Water depending on the product in production and is achieving this performance well below the targets set and agreed, reflecting a consistent optimised operational position.

All water recovered on the site is treated to achieve drinking water standard and is then recycled back to the services for inclusion into the site’s main Treated Process water.

John Beeby Site Operations Manager Synlait Pokeno said: “Together with Tetra Pak we have developed a world class processing facility that enables us to produce a range of sustainable milk nutritional products for our customers, while reducing our impact on people and planet, now and in the future. It’s an achievement that we are particularly proud of.”

Synlait powder facility New Zealand