Lely showed the second generation of the Orbiter mini dairy factory at EuroTier. Introduced in 2018, 4 of these are in operation in the Netherlands. Sales are now starting in Germany and Belgium, according to Sergio Ooijens, head of value projects at Lely.
What has changed?
“The installation is much more compact and fits in 2 containers. That is half the surface area of the first generation. The Orbiter still pasteurises, homogenises, and selects the milk flows from the Astronaut milking robots. In addition to whole and skimmed milk, it can also produce whipped cream and several types of yoghurt. Also, in addition to the standard PET bottles, it can also fill bag in box and cups. The livestock farmer is therefore much more flexible in his sales. All processes are automated, and the amount of labour required has been significantly reduced.”
The design of the installation seems to have been modified as well?
“That is correct. We learned a lot in the first 4 years with the Orbiters running commercially, both in terms of technology and the marketing of the milk. One of the learnings was that the black casing of the containers, which were intended to pique curiosity, is counterproductive. It seemed that there was something to hide. It now has transparent parts, and the process can be viewed from the outside. Transparency is key and that is an important aspect for our target group – livestock farmers who market dairy themselves.”
How are the Orbiter sales going?
“We are now expanding sales to Belgium and Germany. The first 2 have already been secured, and the 3rd is on its way to a customer. It is striking that Dutch buyers opt for a lease construction and that foreign customers are more in favour of buying, although this may also have to do with the strongly improved financial results in the sector. I have the impression that the foreign dairy farmers who are interested in an Orbiter already have a stronger position in the retail sector than the Dutch pioneers who also had to develop that part.”
Will you continue to offer lease contracts?
“Yes, but the lease form will be adjusted. In the first lease contracts, Lely took on a considerable amount of risk. The lease consisted of a fixed amount per litre of processed milk. That flexibility will decrease. They will become regular lease contracts. The option of paying per litre will continue to exist, but there will be many more preconditions.”
How big will the market for the Orbiter be?
“More than 40,000 Lely Astronaut milking robots are currently in operation. Of course, the market for the self-marketing of milk is not that big. I cannot estimate whether 40 or 400 Orbiters will have been sold in 5 years’ time. We are scaling up production and are investing in the development of our people. We see potential and are still learning every day about dairy technology and the marketing of milk.”