Powder Projects makes things work for dairy farmers and entrepreneurs

Just as dairy farmers love their cows, engineers tend to be passionate about the business of solving problems and making things work, and Jeff Dance, co-founder of Hamilton-based Powder Projects, is one of those passionate engineers working for the good of the dairy industry.

“There are plenty of challenges in business today, but it’s always the engineering that keeps the interest level up,” says Jeff. “It’s the ability to design and work with our clients to solve problems, standing back and seeing what you’ve built working well, meeting the client’s production needs – that’s what makes it worth doing.”

Jeff and fellow director John Miles founded Powder Projects twenty years ago following several years of contracting to large dairy process-engineering companies. “We had a strong desire to do our own thing and test ourselves, to see if we could establish our own business and team and be successful. We always felt there were things we could improve on with a more specialised focus on milk powder and materials handling, through a niche design. We could see opportunities for a number of different machines and industry equipment that weren’t being catered for at that time.”

The opportunity to test themselves arose when Fonterra’s Morrinsville processing plant was installing a developmental packing machine, and Jeff and John built a new powder handling system that ultimately formed part of the packing system. That was the genesis of Powder Projects.

“We started very much on smaller projects, but quickly found there were openings with medium-sized projects lasting up to a year, that required more resources and aligned with our interests, our skills, range of equipment and designs we had built up.” Within a couple of years, Powder Projects found itself in the middle of the infant formula manufacturing boom, which was largely around consumer packing and the blending of infant formula.

“Our first large project was for Dairy Blenders (Now part of Dairy Goat Co-operative) in 2006. Getting to build their plant was the springboard that got us into large projects and gave us the opportunity to develop our equipment, perfect and improve things. That expanded our skill base, intellectual property and our industry reputation. Most of our growth has been around design, intellectual property and the ability to develop a customer’s needs into a concept that could be built.”

The processes Powder Projects works in cover any type of equipment for handling and processing milk powder, aside from dryers, and includes a range of bag handling, UV treatment, bag tipping systems, powder conveying, sifting, blending and pre-gassing equipment.

“Within that, a couple of specialities have been complete integrated blending plants, designed specifically to feed can filling lines, and a fully automated bag tipping machine that can operate unmanned for long periods of time. We’ve designed, built and patented that technology. What really got us moving was having this key technology that we could introduce into blending projects, giving us an inside edge.”

Powder Projects Ltd has recently developed a new blending method designed specifically for Infant Formula production.

“We work within an industry that needs its contractors to be successful. Most customers are really open to innovation, new technology and better ways of doing things.”

The customer experience starts with a client enquiry or tender and determining the problem or need to be solved; operational requirements such as rate, accuracy, product composition and space constraints, and then designing a system to meet those requirements.

“It’s very much fifty-fifty between a greenfield development and an upgrade,” says Jeff. “There’s usually a bigger list of requirements with a brand new site and usually involves interfacing with other suppliers of packaging machinery, the architects and construction companies. Integrating with an existing plant has a focus on understanding how the operation works and overcoming the shortcomings.”

Powder Projects continues to be small and niche, with a team of seven staff – all engineers with various industry backgrounds including dairy and covering either mechanical or electrical. “In addition to John and myself, we have a Project Manager, two Project Engineers, a CAD engineer and an Office Manager. We do the design work and then outsource the fabrication. Assembly is typically carried out in our workshop, which allows us to carry out off-site testing and validation before it is transported to the site and commissioned.”

While the majority of projects have been completed throughout New Zealand for most dairy manufacturers, a couple of pre-gassing projects have been completed in China. There have also been projects in Australia. “Some of the projects that we’re proudest of are the infant formula powder blending plants, and I think we’ve completed eight of those now. In recent times, we have diversified into aspects of bio-fuel systems for dairy boilers, which we see great potential in, and that sprang from an opportunity to help a client solve a need.”

Jeff acknowledges that having a great team has been a key reason for the company’s success, as well as remaining small enough to be agile in decision-making but he says it is also about having fantastic customers. “We work within an industry that needs its contractors to be successful. Most customers are really open to innovation, new technology, and better ways of doing things.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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