Every day, for 25 years, the yoghurt producer La Fageda has been proving that a business run by a team of people, including persons with disabilities, can be successful. The recipe for this is a mix of solid personal commitment, local raw materials, a clever marketing concept and high production standards.
La Fageda, located in the Garrotxa district of Catalonia, Spain, is one of the region’s largest employers. Of the 310 employees, 180 have access needs, learning difficulties, or mental health conditions. Hardly anyone can handle eight-hour workdays, yet management provides an appropriate job for everyone. Since 2009, the company’s turnover has grown by an average of 5% annually. In 2017, it was about 20 million euros. The company, whose product portfolio includes not only yoghurt but also ice cream, jams and desserts, has long since made a name for itself outside Catalonia. International delegations come every day to find out about the plant. There are now around 40,000 visitors per year.
The decisive factor for success was that La Fageda professionalised its production and marketing at an early stage. Consequently, La Fageda’s production is subject to the same standards of productivity and hygiene that are common in the food industry.
Strict requirements are placed especially on the filling equipment, which has to function like clockwork. This is where the yoghurt is fed into the filling machine. Here, the filling level is continuously measured in a small feed container during the filling of the various yoghurt and dessert varieties. A constant level is necessary to ensure that the filling machine does not come to a standstill. Every hour, 32,000 yoghurt cups are filled by three machines. Until recently, there was no continuous level measurement here. The capacitive sensors that were installed for maximum and minimum level detection are now being used as alarm sensors. However, the company wanted to optimise the filling process, so it looked for a continuous measuring system. Ultimately, an engineering company recommended the VEGAFLEX 81 guided radar sensor used in many industries for its reliability and versatility. The significant advantage of VEGAFLEX is its independence from temperature, pressure and vacuum.
There is no build-up that could become a problem for VEGAFLEX 81 because the funnel has a self-cleaning system inside. However, the problem for many measuring principles is the foam that forms as the yoghurt passes through the funnel in the container. A small agitator at the bottom of the yoghurt container can also lead to inaccurate measurements. VEGAFLEX 81 is particularly non-sensitive to foam and build-up on the probe. That’s why the instrument can cope with this disturbance and deliver reliable measuring results, ensuring that the filling system runs smoothly.
At another measuring point, the VEGAPULS 64 non-contact radar level sensor was used. These instruments are located in two clean in place (CIP) return tanks in another part of the facility. One of them contains water and soda (3% Na2CO3) and the other water and 3% acid to ensure CIP cleanliness. In the two tanks, VEGAPULS 64 continuously measures the level of the cleaning agent used for cleaning and sterilising the system. Here, the foam generated by the soda and the constant circulation of the liquid became a challenge. It can have an adverse effect on the level measurement.
The extremely tight focusing and high dynamics of the sensor enable precise, reliable measurement in the cleaning fluid tanks. Also, no continuous level measuring device had ever been used at this measuring point − only capacitive sensors that signalled the minimum and maximum level. These are still used as alarm sensors. However, the company wanted to optimise the process flow here too, and utilise the advantages of continuous level measurement.
La Fageda was impressed by the reliability of the measuring instruments and the partner-like collaboration with VEGA. Thanks to the equipment and sophisticated technology with solvents, La Fageda’s employees can concentrate on their main task – producing the tastiest yoghurt in Catalonia.