Milk collection: The ultimate puzzle

Fluctuating milk quantities, changing milking times or the varying raw milk requirements of the DMK plants spell major challenges when it comes to finding efficient routes for milk collection trucks.

Thomas Klingohr is a mastermind when it comes to strategy. Where others might glance at an aerial photograph and see only trucks, farms, industrial sites and roads, he is able to see schedules, milk quantities and the shortest route from A via B to C. With his fleet of of 19 milk collection trucks at the Zeven site, he ensures that the maximum amount of milk is transported from the farms to the DMK dairy’s cooling tanks in the shortest possible time. “Milk that is freshly milked is sensitive and its shelf life is limited even when it is refrigerated throughout the journey. Our farmers depend on it being smoothly transported from their farms to the plants, 365 days a year, in all weathers,” says Thomas Klingohr, describing why his job matters. That is not all. Depending on the season, milk quantities fluctuate. There are greater volumes in the spring than in the fall. Additionally, different types of milk are needed. GMO-free milk may not be mixed with other types of milk. Furthermore, the collection times must match the milking intervals on the farms. Smaller farms milk twice a day, while larger farms milk their cows up to three times a day. Accordingly, milk can only be collected from some every two days, while on others, several trips are needed until all their tanks are emptied. “In the most extreme cases, we have a window of a maximum of 90 minutes at a fixed time, so for those, we really need to make a precision landing,” says Klingohr.

The work of putting the puzzle together starts once all the basic information is available. One factor is working out the schedule of shifts for the drivers. Germany’s most modern high-pressure facility has just been commissioned at the DMK plant in Erfurt. Under pressure “UHT4+” may sound like the name of a combat robot in the Star Wars empire, but it is actually a dream come true for plant manager Jens Klausen. “Our new automatic ultra high temperature (UHT) system consists of more than 100 pipes. It can withstand pressures of up to 100 bar and allows us to produce vegan and other demanding products to a whole new level of quality,” he says. “The machine was tailor-made for the DMK plant in Erfurt, and was built within the space of a year, right on time despite the pandemic,” adds project manager Andreas Allner. The BUs Brand and Private Label are delighted with the new technical possibilities. The facility means it is possible to implement whole new concepts, including a vegan spread that is scheduled to to go on sale in April 2023, for example. No queues must be allowed to form in front of the unloading stations at the Zeven site, so transport and processing do not come to a halt. The routes are also continuously checked, bearing in mind questions such as, “Are there construction sites on any of these roads? What do the access routes to the farms look like? Should we expect weather-related disruptions? These are all important parameters that have to be taken into account – sometimes on a daily basis,” he says.


The first step is to feed all the information into software that handles the planning. Then the team optimizes what is theoretically possible, using a great deal of practical experience. The new routes are discussed with the drivers, whose local knowledge plays a key role in the process. Thomas Klingohr says: “Our colleagues in the collection trucks know the conditions in the collection area and on the farms much better than we do in the office.” Afterwards, the farmers are given a few days’ notice about the new collection times and any special collections that may be involved. Special pickups are needed if a farm or collection truck does not have enough capacity, based on the time shifts. Thomas Klingohr says, “If there are any problems with the new collection times, for example concerning the milking times, there is still time for farmers to get in touch with us so that we can improve our planning.”


The tours are then adjusted in line with the latest planning. The milk volumes brought in each day by the milk collection trucks show how far Thomas Klingohr and his team have succeeded in their mission. They document the effectiveness of the tours. The goal is to get as close as possible to using the full maximum weight of 40 tons per milk collection truck. “We are getting better and better at this, because we are a great team,” says the logistics specialist modestly. That, too, is typical for Klingohr.

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