From Mexico to Turkey, pet food manufacturers’ most common problem with extruder machines is lack of maintenance, said Gary Lierz, Extru-Tech service technician during Petfood Technology Workshop Mexico, held in Ensenada, Mexico. Reducing employee turn-over to keep a trained, experienced maintenance staff can help pet food manufacturers increase efficiency and reduce costs, Lierz said.
Pet food extruder maintenance issues can reduce cat and dog food quality while degrading the lifespan and efficiency of machinery, said Lierz. Especially in the international market, a broken part can mean long, costly delivery times for specialized parts.
“Plant managers and workers can get complacent with the ‘go-go’ production mentality,” Lierz told Petfood Industry. “Sometimes they need to go back and look at maintenance.”
Dry pet food dominates the growing Mexican pet food market. Making that dry dog and cat food in an extruder is like baking a cake, Lierz said. Not only do the right ingredients need to be added, they need to be added at the right time, blended properly and cooked under the correct conditions. However, when pet food extruder maintenance is neglected, those factors can go wrong although a manufacturer may not realize that lack of cleaning and adjustment is the culprit.
For example, one customer in Mexico believed that his dryer was malfunctioning, so he reduced the moisture in his recipe. That resulted in kibble that broke easily and increased waste. Ultimately, a lack of steam dryer maintenance was diagnosed as the cause of the problem.
Catching these costly production problems can be difficult if the maintenance staff isn’t experienced. However, since pet food extruder maintenance crews often work late hours for relatively lower pay, the staff frequently experiences high turn-over, John Menold, Extru-tech Field Service Manager, told Petfood Industry.
“Maintenance teams get burned out,” Menold said. “Training new crews takes time and energy, but is hugely important.”
Beyond keeping a competent crew, Lierz offered other tips for maintaining pet food extruders.
If pressure gauges take too much time to maintain at the proper levels during operation, or if the system is new, he advised pet food manufacturers to adjust the settings during maintenance operations.
Extruders should never be run without some material in the system. If an operators tries to squeeze every last piece of kibble out of the ingredients, the pressure within the near-empty machine can damage parts.
Signs of a worn machine can include pressure fluctuations and increasing electrical amp load. The kibble may also become inconsistent in texture.