On-farm milk vending has grown in popularity in Ireland over the past few years. Farmers who wish to shorten the supply chain and get more value for their milk typically invest in vending systems to sell directly to the public.

However, for the nine farmers who have established a home milk vending business in Ireland to date, the process has been very challenging.

It was seeing these challenges that inspired Limerick-based pasteuriser manufacturer Unison Process Solutions to develop a containerised, all-in-one milk processing and vending unit.

The Smart Microdairy picked up an innovation award for agri-engineering – established company category at this year’s Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena.

The Irish Farmers Journal recently spoke to the company’s managing director Paul Sheehan and business development manager Michaella McMahon about the unit.


Unison was set up in 2006 by Paul. Originally, it was mainly a service company for equipment such as heat exchangers and homogenisers in the food sector.

However, Paul soon spotted an opportunity in the market for small pasteurisation units as there was a particular need for them from artisan food producers.

After years of design, manufacturing of the new, fully automatic, high-temperature short-time (HTST) compact pasteurisers began at the compnay’s Limerick plant in 2012. Its compact pasteurisers are now exported all over the world.

Over the past few years, Paul noticed a growing trend across Europe and the UK of farmers selling milk directly to customers through milk vending machines.

When he started to receive enquiries on whether his pasteurisers could be adapted to suit these vending machines, the idea for the Smart Microdairy was born.


Paul and Michaella explain that on most farm vending setups to date, the farmer typically had to build a separate clean room and pasteurisation area to comply with all of the Department of Agriculture’s requirements. They say that many of these requirements are the same for a small processing plant as they are for a large processing facility.

View of the Smart Microdairy from above.

Paul explains that the clean room is a particular challenge on a working dairy farm, given that farmers must change from their farm clothes into a clean gown, hat and shoe covers, and ensure they are keeping to all HACCP guidelines when entering the room.

As the output from vending machines is relatively small, milk producers tended to use batch pasteurisers.

As the name suggests, batch pasteurisers heat and cool milk in batches, which is inefficient and very labour-intensive.

Due to Department of Agriculture requirements, the pasteuriser in the clean room and the vending machine are generally not located beside each other on the farm.

That means farmers would have to physically move the milk tank from the pasteuriser to the vending machine every day. This is time-intensive and, in cases where the farm has only one operator, can pose a challenge from a health and safety point of view due to the weight of the tank.

Smart Microdairy

As Unison had already developed a compact pasteuriser with automatic cleaning and pumping and was supplying vending machines to the Irish market, the team is set to work on developing a fully integrated unit.

A key requirement was to make a self-contained unit so a farmer wouldn’t have to enter the clean room.

The Smart Microdairy.

The team worked with customers, HACCAP consultants and the Department to fully understand what was required for selling milk on farms. The end result was a containerised, fully automatic, turn-key micro-processing unit.

As the unit is fully integrated, it means that farmers do not have to build a separate clean and pasteurisation room, as this is already contained in it.

Milk from the milk tank is piped directly into the unit. The farmer can pasteurise the milk without entering the unit and can control this via a mobile app.

The milk is stored in a tank and pumped directly to the vending machine when needed, which also comes with the unit.

Once the farmer pours a concrete base, supplies internet, electricity, drainage and water, Unison will deliver the unit.

The system can typically be ready to start processing milk within four hours of arrival. The Smart Microdairy typically requires 10 times less labour than current milk vending systems due to its high level of automation.

Plans for the future

Enterprise Ireland has supported the company in reaching new markets through its Market Discovery Fund and have also provided innovation, employment, digitalisation and digital marketing grants.

Prices start from €80,000 plus VAT and Unison believes that the trend of direct selling to customers is going to continue to grow.

The patented Smart Microdairy is poised to meet the demands created by this trend. In anticipation of continued market growth, the company plans to double its workforce by 2024.

Paul says there are around nine milk vending machines in operation on farms around the county, all of which are using the Unison compact pasteuriser.

The company has already sold two Smart Microdairys in Ireland, which will be delivered before Christmas.

It has also sold a unit in the UK, with another 20 strong leads. The product will be launched into EU markets in November.

  • Name: Unison Process Solutions.
  • Director: Paul Sheehan.
  • Location: Limerick.
  • Founded: 2006.
  • Employees: 24.