Similar to the Cal Poly mill, the committee decided the modular design was the way to go because it offers the right sized process flow for an academic and research extension feed mill.
“The committee insisted we downsize the mill to produce batches as small as 250 pounds because a student operating at a small scale can easily adjust the equipment or formulation to see what happens as a result of the adjustment,” explains Gerry Leukam, senior vice president - business development, T. E. Ibberson. “It was important for the mill to be able to make continuous production runs to feed the livestock on campus and have the ability to slow down to make very precise formulated diets for doing cutting-edge research.”
The mill is equipped with the ability to pregrind, post-grind and hybrid grind ingredients. The nominal capacity of the research feed mill is 5 to 10 tons/hour with a pelleting capacity of 2 to 5 tons/hour.
Every piece of equipment in the mill is scalable by a factor of 10, 12, 15 — with the same pinch points, same rolls, same die thickness — so the tests can easily be translated into real-life scenarios in a larger facility.
“The feed mill runs the same as a full-sized commercial mill just on an itty-bitty scale,” Pate explains. “Nothing has changed. We just have mini versions of the equipment found in a traditional mill.”
Learning from experience
The goal of the new mill is giving the students hands-on experience so they graduate with the ability to connect the dots between production, problem solving and economics to become the future business leaders of the poultry industry.
With oversight from Auburn professors, students will be running the mill: turning equipment on and off, filling the scale hoppers, filling the micro scales, turning on pellet mills, adjusting steam pressures — actually manufacturing feed — so upon graduation they will have a keen understanding of how a real plant operates.
“The equipment utilizes Plexiglas wherever appropriate so the students can actually see the inside of the machine to see what it’s doing,” Pate says. “This is a computer-based, automated system so they can observe it on the screen and then be able to walk out and touch it.”
Through lab experiments and assignments, Conner hopes students will learn to make cause-and-effect connections between, for example, the feed conversion rates produced by high-quality vs. low-quality pellets: “If a student can feed birds side-by-side with pellets of different formulas and see the performance differences in the birds, suddenly, the light bulb goes off. You can try to explain something, but when they see it with their own eyes and weigh the chicken, then they really understand.”
“Roughly 60% to 70% of the cost in producing a broiler comes from feed milling; so if we can reduce that cost for broiler companies, we’ll be able to save them lots of money,” Pate adds.
Sixty graduate and undergraduate students will be using the mill this year. Pate employs 10 to 15 of these students to work at the mill and on the research farm. The program will have some labor at the mill producing feed for the university’s animal population, but most feed will be made in class.
“We’re hoping to be able to pull from the other animal science departments within the university to create a feed milling program everyone will be able to use,” Pate explains. Initially, the mill will solely produce poultry feed; however, it has the ability to manufacture additional varieties of feed.
Meeting leadership demands
Auburn’s poultry science department focuses on providing quality educations designed to meet the needs of all facets of the poultry industry.
“The demand for managers, the succession of leadership and a lack of people in the pipeline to take on decision-making roles will become a major issue in coming years,” Conner explains. “It’s our goal to put out students who are well trained in soft skills as much as technical skills. I’m not recruiting students to take management positions; I want to put out CEOs and VPs — that’s what we’re training and growing here.”