Although we might not always realize it, vacuum plays a role in countless aspects of our everyday lives. In this series, we take a closer look at just how much we rely on vacuum, from the way we breathe to our bicycle helmets to life-saving medical procedures.

Modern dairy production has come a long way since traditional methods, where farmers had to milk animals by hand. With the advent of milking machines and other new technology, now farmers can milk several cows and other animals at once with great efficiency and accuracy – and also without hurting animals’ teats or glands. Many machines are also carefully designed to limit the risk of exposure to microorganisms that could place the animal at risk for mastitis, according to the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois.

“Machines use a type of vacuum pump to suction the milk.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization explains that the basic design and premise of most milking machines are similar. For example, most machines use a type of vacuum pump to suction the milk, a vacuum regulator to control airflow and a holding container where the milk is held during the process.

To operate these machines, farmers will place cups, which are connected to vacuum tubes, on the animals’ teats, where vacuum pressure will draw the milk into the container. Today’s machines offer features that will automatically unlatch from the animals once the milking process is done, while more advanced versions are operated by computer systems that can both regulate the flow of vacuum pressure and shut off when the process is completed.

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