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Guernsey Farms Dairy

April 26, 2009

I’m at home visiting my family in Livonia, Michigan this weekend.  My visit happened to coincide with the annual public tour of the Guernsey Farms Dairy.  I went to it with my sister and mom.  Their facility was a neat operation to witness; lots of stainless steel food-grade piping running between huge storage and processing vats, and several neat packaging and bottling machines.  I didn’t get to document much of the ice cream and milk production process; we were being shuffled through at a rapid rate to get all the tour groups through (the place was packed–we waited an hour and a half to get in.  free samples of great ice cream will draw crowds!).  Here is a short vid of an Elopak half-gallon carton packing machine which they use at the Guernsey Dairy:

Automated Assembly Awesomeness. 

And here’s a machine which fills small bottles, half-gallon plastic jugs, or full gallon jugs with milk:

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To switch between the different jug sizes, they just have to change a couple fixtures to accept the different size containers and program the machine to fill accordingly.  The small bottles shown above (pink, for strawberry flavored milk) can be filled at a rate of 90 per minute.

John McGuire, the business founder, is the scion of the family-run operation and the dude is 100 YEARS OLD.  He was shaking the hand of everyone who came through the place.  The guy had 14 kids and now has a brigade of grandkids.  The elaborate facility tour was being run entirely by the Multitudinous Members of the McGuire Mafia.  The tour, the facility itself, and the freaking huge family were all very impressive.

John McGuire was also a graduate of my undergraduate alma mater, Michigan State University (back then, it was “Michigan Agricultural College”).  Apparently, while he was at school earning a degree in dairy processing, he developed a method for making his ice cream taste better–he felt that heating the milk before turning it into other dairy products gave his products a better taste.  I’d concur; the (numerous) ice cream samples I had were some of the best tasting ‘scream I’ve ever tried.  Here is a (bad) picture of the big heat exchanger which cools the milk after it goes through The-Infamous-Taste-Enhancing-McGuire-Heating-Cycle:

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Machinery for food production must present some real special challenges that don’t have to be faced in designing devices for other industries.  Cleanliness is the most obvious thing which comes to mind; but the questions of chemical interactions and “environmental effects” on the machinery must become far more important.  Will the food degrade the devices?  What about sealing the machines–seals and o-rings can’t leech harmful chemicals or even a benign bad taste into the food.  If a sealant is used with an o-ring, it has to be edible.  You can’t just slap some RTV Black on there.  The machines are physically processing and being abraded by food.  As they wear out, they are inevitably losing material into the food–can humans tolerate the minute levels of material which do make it into the food?  Then you have to call in people with expertise in medicine and toxin experts to get questions answered which heavily affect your mechanical design. 

My professor from my first undergraduate design class mentioned to us that food production machinery is “pretty cool,” in some special ways.  I can imagine.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2009 7:40 am

    While automation made our life easy and hassle free, the contribution of ill effects, albeit in small amount to the dairy products has to be taken into account. As mentioned in the article, the wear and tear of the sealants and joints in the pipelines do have an effect on the consumer health. It is time that there are more stringent standards to deal with these pollutants.

  2. justinketterer permalink*
    May 2, 2009 10:37 am

    Dairyman,

    Thanks for commenting. Of course I can’t dispute that there have been instances when technological progress has led to the accidental harm of the consumers. But the consumers themselves have already delivered their opinion on the tradeoffs between “accidental harm from products purchased on a free market” and “vastly improved standard of living resulting from a free market.” If consumers actually thought living in a free market economy was very risky, they would likely move to the hills and become hermits–but it’s quite evident they aren’t! There are millions of people who agree, by the very fact that they are continuing to live within it, that trading freely in our society is a great benefit to them! So why then should we bother reaching for the force of government control and “stringent standards”? The consumers are evidently quite happy in the largely free market which we already have! Also, abandoning the notion of imposing standards obviates the need to engage in the morally dubious endeavor of using government force to impose our will on our neighbors (at their expense).

    I firmly believe that the consumers themselves are best suited to holding companies accountable for making bad business decisions–not draconian centralized planning and legislation. Preemptive market mechanisms already exist to ensure consumer safety; the Underwriter’s Laboratory (originator of the UL label seen on many electronic devices) is but one example of companies which “audit” products for safety. And, if bad products do make it onto the market place, freedom of speech allows this information to spread as fast as wildfire–which irrevocably harms the ability of companies to recover from their poor performance. For example, who is going to buy toys from China now, with the pall of “lead-based paint” hanging over products from that country? One of the hardest things for a company to maintain is a reputation of integrity and consistently good performance. That reputation is worth its weight in gold, but requires enormous effort on the part of the company–and a scrupulous devotion to PROMOTING the life of the consumer, not harming it! Government is a poor, brutish mechanism for dealing with “problems” in the economy. If we allow it to happen, it inevitably leads to regulatory choices made on the basis of political decisions–garnering votes and adulation from voters to ensure reelection. This practical fact is not related to what is “good for the consumer,” and turns political offices into a magnet for populist demagogues.

    I think it’s unnecessary to obsessively focus on the (very) few drawbacks to living in a society with a free market economy; our ability to trade freely with each other is exactly what has led to our fabulous standard of living, and this same mechanism is what eliminates businesses which can’t successfully contribute to our own well-being… It is in the self-interest of the companies themselves to ensure that their products benefit the consumer, not harm him. And of course, where companies willfully dupe consumers into purchasing harmful goods, they can be taken to court for fraud. I don’t think ‘more stringent standards to deal with these pollutants’ is the best answer to increasing design quality.

    Thanks again for commenting.

    – Justin Ketterer

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