Regional Australian Microsoft partner, Advance Computing, is poised to roll out a milk monitoring platform, built on Azure, to over 180 dairy farms around the country.
Advance Computing, based in the regional Victorian town of Kyabram, has embarked on a pilot program with long-time client, Australian Consolidated Milk (ACM), trialling a cloud-based internet of things (IoT) solution aimed at delivering greater milk temperature transparency for dairy farmers.
ACM, also based in Kyabram, bills itself as “Australia’s fastest growing dairy company”. It collects milk from farms, testing it and transporting it to a range of high quality food producers. The company now serves around 180 farms and suppliers, handling 350 million litres of milk each year.
The idea behind the new platform and its associated smartphone app is to make it easier for ACM’s network of farmers to take action to preserve the quality of their milk before it spoils due to temperature fluctuations, potentially saving them big dollars in the process.
According to Kim Morris, ACM’s field service support and quality co-ordinator, there are five aspects of milk quality that need careful monitoring, with temperature traditionally one of the more challenging elements.
While most farm vats have temperature gauges on them, a farmer might not know if the electricity supply to a vat has been interrupted during the day, causing temperatures to rise. If electricity is restored before the farmer can check on the milk, there may be no obvious signs that the milk has been compromised.
This can lead to milk tankers driving off filled with spoiled milk. In July 2017 alone, ACM experienced no fewer than 12 spoiled tanker-loads of milk. Given that the loss of a milk tankers’ worth of milk can cost up to $10,000, it made sense to find a way to avoid such temperature variance.
This is where Advance Computing comes in. The Microsoft partner had already developed ACM’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and built a reporting app for the company’s farmers using Azure, Xamarin, SQL, and .NET, which delivers lab results, trending, quality and payment information.
“It can also send alerts to mobiles through Azure Notification Hub so that farmers can take action,” Advance Computing director, Chris Motton, who spoke at Microsoft Summit in Sydney on 13 November, said.
The new pilot program is a subset of the existing technology Advance Computing has already developed for ACM. It gives farmers real-time visibility into how they’re tracking from a milk quality point of view.
ACM is now piloting the live monitoring system using Azure IoT Hub and Microsoft Flow at at least one farm site. The data ties in to the existing app and to ACM’s Azure based ERP, developed by Advance Computing.
“The apps only been developed within the past few months, and temperature has only been within the last few weeks. So, our turnaround times are quite quick,” Motton told ARN.
While the pilot trial is live at one farm at present, it is expected to be rolled out to all ACM’s 180-plus farms by early next year.
The monitoring system not only incorporates the core cloud-based platform built by Advance Computing, but it also involves the use of hundreds of custom-built IoT devices attached to milk vats in the field, which feed data into the monitoring system to provide real-time information for the farmers.
According to Motton, the only challenge faced by his tech team so far has been the variance in milk vat shape and size, which can make it tricky in some cases to fit the IoT devices.
Regardless, the program has so far progressed without any major challenges, and is on track to be rolled out to all the farms in ACM’s network by next year.
“We showed the app to a few of our suppliers and they’re very excited about it,” Morris told ARN.