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RFID Ripens Cheese

Sachsenmilch AG, a German cheese maker, tags and tracks carts of cheeses to improve quality control during production and comply with European Union regulations.
By Rhea Wessel
Jan 08, 2007Sachsenmilch AG produces 25 different cheese and milk products sold in supermarkets around Germany, particularly in the company's home state of Saxony, formerly part of East Germany. At its production site in Leppersdorf, some 4.2 million liters of milk are processed daily, much of which goes into the three main types of cheeses the company makes.

Sachsenmilch wanted to make its cheese-production process more efficient, and to ensure that each type of cheese ripened for the correct amount of time, under precise conditions—the right temperature, humidity and air circulation. The company also wanted to automate the data collection needed to be compliant with European Union (E.U.) regulations requiring food manufacturers to document their entire production process. Sachsenmilch had been collecting this data by hand, but that proved to be too labor-intensive and open to error.

"We wanted to simplify the process for the people running the production line, and we wanted better data about our production," says Frank Altmann, a project manager for Sachsenmilch

In 2004, the company decided to expand and upgrade its factory. At the same time, it opted to replace its existing tracking system with an RFID implementation that would provide a better overview of the cheese-ripening process—in particular, which racks of cheeses go to which ripening and sweating rooms, and how long they stay there. Sachsenmilch's previous system had worked initially, but failed over time because of the moist environment, taking the company back to a tracking system based on pen and paper.

Sachsenmilch decided to work on its new cheese factory with Alpenland Maschinenbau GmbH (Alpma GmbH). Based in the Bavarian town of Rott am Inn, the company specializes in technology and machinery for cheese production.

Cheese production includes three basic steps: Proteins form curds in milk; the curds are separated from the remaining liquid, which is called whey, and formed into cheese; and the the cheese is ripened and aged based on different recipes to create a number of varieties. The last step allows cheese makers to differentiate their products from others on the market. Sachsenmilch's RFID application focuses on step three—the production machine that guides racks of cheeses along the fully automated ripening line, into and out of various sweating and ripening rooms. The RFID system includes 16 RFID interrogation points that record each rack's ID and arrival time, providing visibility into the ripening process.
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