This manufacturer's new facility can produce two-times more pet food than its original plant in Brainerd, Minn.
Once siblings Sarah Barrett Reiner (right) and Tom Barrett (left) learned the used twin-screw extruder their father, Mike, had purchased to make organic fertilizer for golf courses was better at making premium pet food, their course was set.
Tom joined his sister in the pet food business in 2009 and both Sarah and Tom credit much of their success to key mentors in the pet food industry who shared their knowledge and graciously helped them learn how best to use the equipment they had.
The company became profitable in 2011 and has doubled revenues every year since. Tom said the profit the company has made during the past nine years has been invested back into BPI with several expansions of the original facility in Brainerd that is now 140,000 square feet, and the new 170,000-square-foot plant in Little Falls, Minn., which went online in July.
In just 11 months from ground-breaking to product coming off the extruder — and during a pandemic — BPI built a new manufacturing facility designed for super premium, high-end pet food production. BPI’s new plant in Little Falls can produce 20,000 lbs per hour of extruded pet food, double the capacity of their Brainerd facility.
The system around which everything was built in Little Falls, the Wenger TT3630 thermal twin-screw extrusion system, is designed to handle ultra-high levels of fresh ingredients. The Wenger TT3630 thermal twin-screw extruder combined with downstream equipment offers BPI the ability to produce the challenging extruded pet food and treat formulations popular with today’s pet owners.
The TT3630 feeds to a three-pass, three-section CVR convection roaster/pre-dryer, which allows for higher levels of fresh ingredients in kibble plus the addition of roasting and baking capabilities. The CVR removes moisture, increases the overall dryer capacity and prevents the dryer from being a bottleneck.
The CVR is in the same room as the TT3630 extruder but sits in a pit to allow product to flow directly from the extruder on a very short conveyor into the convection roaster.
From the CVR, product goes to a Wenger three-pass, four-section sanitary dryer. The combination of the convection roaster/pre-dryer and the sanitary dryer more than doubles BPI’s overall drying capacity. The unique design of the vertical cooler helps reduce the temperature of extruded products before they pass through the coating system.
On the packaging side, Tom said BPI is more manual than most manufacturers with the goal of being a flexible co-packer, able to efficiently handle small runs with many different SKUs. All of the packaging systems in Little Falls were provided by JEM International, Shawnee, Kan. One of the packaging systems JEM International designed is a first-of-its-kind, small package auto-bagger that offers quick, 20-minute packaging changeovers.
JEM International also provided net-weight scales for each line along with additional net-weight scales and vibratory conveyors to blend added ingredient inclusions with kibble prior to packaging.
BPI designed its large-bag packaging lines to include more automation with FANUC end-of-line palatizing robots also provided by JEM International.
Of the total 170,000 square feet in Little Falls, BPI devoted 60,000 square feet to processing, 30,000 square feet to packaging, 75,000 square feet to warehousing and 5,000 square feet to office and ancillary space.
In addition to optimizing the product flow through the plant, controlling the data flow was also important. BPI uses Plex, Troy, Mich., for the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in both facilities to capture data starting from when a crop or ingredient is received and then tracking the product quality, traceability and overall plant efficiency all the way through to packaging and shipping.
Additionally, as part of BPI’s management of air flow and filtration throughout the plant, dust is collected in the cyclone room before hot air from the production process is exhausted out of the building.
With a brand new plant and mill expansion just completed in 2020, it would be understandable for Sarah and Tom to rest a bit. Instead, they say they are exploring options to expand but, as they have done in the past, they plan to do it within their means. Little Falls was designed with room to grow and ready to accommodate another processing line when the time is right.