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November 02, 2018 | Elise Schafer
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Making a Mark in Michigan

Cargill Animal Nutrition opens its first feed mill in the state — a 150,000 ton/year dairy mash facility uniquely designed for ingredient flexibility, nutrient consistency

Making a Mark in Michigan

The small city of Owosso, MI, became home to Cargill’s first feed mill in the state when it opened a 75,000-square-foot mash dairy feed facility in April. Prompting the decision to commission the 150,000-ton/year facility was a need to serve the state’s growing number of dairy producers. 

Cargill Animal Nutrition’s dairy leadership team recognized roughly five years ago that the company would outgrow its toll mill’s production capacity if the state continued to increase milk processing capacity, which has been on the uptick for the last 10 years. Julie Abrahamzon, regional sales leader for Central U.S. dairy team, explained that the decision to invest at Owosso was made with future growth in mind. 

“At the end of the day, we were really betting on our producers,” Abrahamzon says. “We work with some phenomenal producers in the state of Michigan that are very entrepreneurial and forward-thinking. We knew that these were the dairymen of the future that will continue to evolve with our industry. Essentially, we made the choice to invest in a group of producers, as well as a group of phenomenal Cargill dairy nutritionists that we have in Michigan, knowing that they’ll continue to grow that industry to make it a successful dairy market for us.”

 Cargill, along with its rail partner Great Lakes Central Railroad, began researching the ideal location for its new feed mill in 2015. Owosso delivered everything Cargill needed — easy access by truck and rail, room for growth and proximity to dairies and grain. 

“Owosso is right in the middle of the major dairy pockets in Michigan,” says Jody Whitmore, dairy sales manager, Cargill Animal Nutrition. “The first pocket is central Michigan — Gratiot and Clinton counties — and the second is the thumb of Michigan in Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac Counties. Owosso is the exact same distance from both pockets of cows. We are also located on a Great Lakes Central rail line that can access all of the major rail lines just a few miles away.”

Although Owosso is Cargill’s first feed mill in the state, it’s not alone in design and layout. The plant was modeled after the company’s Chambersburg, PA, feed mill which was converted from an army bunker in the 1950s. Rather than the typical concrete mill tower that uses gravity to move ingredients through production, both facilities house bulk ingredients in concrete bays and use a front-end loader to add them into batches. Although Owosso is about double the size of the Chambersburg location, this unique design still gives the facility the nimbleness to meet almost any customer’s needs while lowering building, equipment and operating costs. 

Wide vs. tall 

Today, upright concrete towers are the norm for commercial feed facilities, but Cargill opted to build a 184-foot-wide by 294-foot-long flat storage building with 24 storage bays that are filled by an overhead drag conveyor system.  

The unconventional design is full of custom solutions that suit Owosso’s specific needs while meeting both regulatory agencies’ and Cargill’s occupational and feed safety requirements. 

“It’s a lower cost model than building a vertical mill, and it’s not all that different from what you would see — on a much smaller scale — at any dairy that has a feed center,” Abrahamzon says. “We entered the market with single species in mind vs. some of our other facilities with a multi-species approach where we need adequate complexity for segregation. Where other locations need to consider co-mingling drugs and cross-contamination issues, [Owosso] is a single mill design servicing only the dairy industry.”

However, the single species limit doesn’t mean the mill has limited manufacturing capabilities. 

“[The layout] gives us quite a bit of flexibility as we change our ingredients in that facility depending on the best buy to meet the nutritional needs of the animals in the market,” Abrahamzon says. 

Whitmore added, “If we find something that becomes a value in the dairy rations, we can put that in a bay very quickly vs. having   to fully clean-out  bin structures. Plus, the mill has the capacity to hold 24 different bulk ingredients, where a lot of feed mills don’t have quite that many bulk ingredient bins.”

Construction management

With the location confirmed and the layout agreed upon, Cargill moved into the construction and equipment selection phase in 2016. They completed the project using a construction management model, where it executed equipment purchasing and the construction themselves and hired various contractors to oversee each aspect of the project. 
It hired the engineering firm VAA, LLC of Minneapolis, MN, to conduct the detailed mechanical, electrical, structural engineering; track design; general arrangement; and architectural/code compliance design. 

Other notable contractors included Pumford Construction Company of Saginaw, MI, who worked on foundations, concrete paving, PEMB supply and erection, office interior finishing, miscellaneous structural steel supply and installation. 

McCormick Construction Co., Greenfield, MN, provided millwright services, equipment installation, load-out bin structure installation, conveyor bridges and towers installation and equipment supports and access platforms supply and installation. Additionally, Allied Electric, Grand Rapids, MI, completed the electrical supply and installation. 

“[VAA] put together scopes of work for all the various contractors to make sure there weren’t any gaps between the contractors,” explains Quin Vincent, partner, VAA, LLC. “There was a foundation contractor, a civil contractor, a building contractor, a millwright and an installation contractor because Cargill purchased the equipment themselves.”

Construction crews broke ground in spring 2017 and worked tirelessly on the foundation; the finished feed warehouse, 24 precast concrete bays and the railroad track work to be able to park 10 to 12 rail cars on site. 

After nearly one year, the mill began making its first batches of feed in April 2018.  

Operational highlights

Owosso has two fully automated receiving pits to accept ingredients via truck or rail. Upon arrival, trucks are weighed in on a truck scale by Fairbanks Scale, based in Kansas City, MO. Once the trucks pull into the receiving house, samples are taken to measure moisture, protein and mycotoxin presence.  Currently, all corn is brought in on trucks from local farmers negotiated through brokers. Other ingredients like sodium sesquicarbonate, canola meal, gluten feed, corn germ meal, soybean meal and soy oils are brought in on rail cars. 

The incoming ingredients travel on an Essmueller Co., Laurel, MS, receiving conveyor to the correct bulk ingredient bay using the facility’s routing automation system provided by Repete Corp., Sussex, WI, or into totes for micro ingredients. Repete provided a complete turnkey automation and electrical solution, including building electrical, site electrical, and electrical to support automation.  

The mixing and batching area where the 24 bulk ingredient bays reside also houses a 10-cubic-foot, 30-bin micro ingredient system by Abel Mfg. Co. Inc., of Appleton, WI, in addition to a 10-ton twin shaft mixer by Scott Equipment Co. of New Prague, MN, fed by two scales outfitted with Mettler-Toledo, Columbus, OH, load cells.  

The process starts when the sum of the various micro ingredients for that batch flow into a scale below the micro bins. From there, a material handler uses the front-end loader’s 3-cubic yard bucket to scoop bulk ingredients from the bays to dump into the large scale hopper.    

The load cell’s LED display lets the driver know how many pounds of each ingredient is required and the driver continues loading until the meter reads zero. The driver begins by dumping large quantities until only a few hundred pounds are needed, and then he gently sprinkles the rest in using the front end loader’s articulating arm. The driver repeats this process for all bulk ingredients in each batch. 

Underneath the load cell is a large drag conveyor that quickly empties the load into the 10-ton twin shaft mixer and the batch is mixed with ingredients from the micro ingredient system. The conveyor is sized to eliminate any down time between finishing one batch and starting another. Once the batch is completed inside the mill, it travels via an Essmueller bucket elevator to be distributed into one of the 12 overhead loadout bins from GSI, Assumption, IL. 

Each rectangular bin is 4 feet by 8 feet with tall truncated steel hoppers designed for loading out into trucks, which Cargill contracts out to area companies. At press time, the Owosso location employed a nine-person staff, led by plant manager Santiago Inzunzo, working 12-hour shifts five days a week to keep up with demand.

From a production standpoint, the new facility was built to efficiently make large, 50-ton loads to suit the needs of the local customers who can receive large quantities of feed at a time. 
“This facility was designed to produce 150,000 ton/year of feed, but I think with a few tweaks and adjustments, we could produce more in the coming years,” says Whitmore. “Only four months into the process, we’re already nearing 50% of our goal capacity.” 

Cargill’s investment has paid off from the customer service perspective, as well. 

“Building the Owosso mill has allowed us to ensure that we’re delivering on our commitment to the highest safety and quality standards vs. our competition,” Abrahamzon says. “It also allows us to ensure nutrient consistency throughout the whole process to the animal, because cows, at the end of the day, crave consistency.” ❚

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