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Editor's Pick


The smart way to milk

23 July 2019

Fullwood Packo collaborate with Festo to use automation that delivers greater freedom for dairy cows and farmers

The UK produces more than 14.7 billion litres of milk annually – but this is a drop in the ocean compared to our overall consumption of dairy products including milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt and cream. So, like many other industries, dairy farming is under increasing pressure to become more efficient and more productive.

A company at the forefront of automated milking systems is Fullwood Packo. Their conventional milking parlours and cooling systems are helping farmers in more than 80 countries to maximise productivity and profits, while creating a safer working environment for healthy cows and happy farm workers at the same time. Fullwood Packo have partnered with automation specialists Festo to deliver the flexibility and performance required in the modern dairy industry.

Fullwood Packo has been designing milking robots for well over 20 years, and focuses on delivering the best solutions to ensure safe, efficient robotic milking for dairy farmers. Managing Director Andrew Dodwell explains: “Today’s farmers have options for their cows: from the traditional involuntary approach to voluntary, fully automated milking of cow groups with M²erlin robotic milking. Fullwood Packo provides all options, and smart solutions with the M²erlin which now includes the brand new Batch M²ilking 4.0 concept.”

Milk Shake-up

Fullwood Packo works with its customers and invests in research and development to develop new technologies that will help farmers to manage their business more efficiently. The company’s latest and smartest M²erlin robot provides farmers with a robust system for voluntary milking cows. Using the automated, voluntary method, cows are free to walk into one of the milking robots' feeding stations at any point of the day. Once inside, each cow is identified, and the milking head is moved into position guided by the vision system to be fixed to the teats.

cows are free to walk into one of the milking robots' feeding stations at any point of the day

M²erlin is developed around improving milk quality and cow wellbeing. Farmers can achieve increased efficiency and maximise productivity with each robot able to milk up to 70 cows per day. It offers flexibility in configuration, so farmers can choose to allow their herd completely unrestricted movement, or use directed traffic options to control feeding and milking parameters.

The ability for cows to choose when they are ready to be milked positively improves milk quality and yield. Automation further allows farmers to collect data about yield rates and quality, as well as the general health of each cow. Says Andrew Dodwell: “Herd management software gives farmers complete digital control over the milking, feeding, health and fertility of their herd. So, not only can an automated milking system like M²erlin enable farmers to use their time more efficiently and maintain a better work/life balance, it also provides a wealth of information about productivity and cow welfare.”

To this end, Fullwood Packo has recently launched the smartphone M²erlinInfo app which allows dairy farmers to remotely view parameters such as milk yield, number and duration of milkings per day and time of last milking, with users also able to compare 10-day and 24-hour yield averages, thereby allowing them to measure productivity and make informed management decisions on a cow-by-cow or whole herd basis. The app can also alert the farmer/herd manager to potential problems – either with the milking machine or an individual cow – and gives users easy access to the robot’s cleaning records and maintenance schedules, thus ensuring each M²erlin is working as efficiently and hygienically as possible to safeguard milk quality and integrity.

Growing Market

It is estimated that currently only around five per cent of UK dairy farms are using robot milking, but it is a key area for investment. Fullwood Packo is experiencing an upsurge in demand and is looking to international markets for further growth.

Festo supplies complete cartesian robot assemblies, and pneumatic and controls kits for each M²erlin robot. These assemblies and kits mean that Fullwood Packo receives everything it needs for rapid incorporation into the M2erlin as a complete package. Festo supported Fullwood Packo with the original cartesian robot design – optimised for use in the demanding environment and application of the milking parlour. This continues with ongoing software programming support and upgrades.  It means that Festo can apply its automation expertise in ensuring the build quality, reliability and performance of the critical parts on which the automated milking system depends. This includes adherence to the strict hygiene standards and harsh washdown regimes associated with food production.

Festo supplies complete cartesian robot assemblies, and pneumatic and controls kits for each M²erlin robot

Swapnil Khedekar, Head of Technical Services at Festo UK, says: “We have developed a close outsourcing partnership with Fullwood Packo. We have worked closely over a long period of time from the intense days of designing the cartesian mechanism to optimising the production process to their customers’ demands through the sharing of both knowledge and technology.  Our complete assemblies and kits drastically reduce the need for multiple component order numbers and significantly reduces time in purchasing and logistics. The pre-assembled robots are built and tested by Festo automation experts and delivered on a Just in Time (JIT) basis using the Festo production capability – so all Fullwood Packo needs to do is connect them into their system on arrival.” 

By optimising the ordering process and developing pre-assembled automation solutions, Festo is providing ongoing support to Fullwood Packo in its ambitions to improve the lives of dairy cows and their farmers.