Bühler is announcing a transformative moment in the history of flour milling with the opening of one of the most high-tech mills on the market. Mill owner Whitworth Bros. Ltd., the UK’s largest miller, is reaping the benefits of the Mill E3’s technological and digital capabilities.
At the heart of the Mill E3 lie more than 15,000 data points collecting information on all aspects of the production process. It is the volume of data being analyzed, along with the cutting-edge application of blockchain technology, that will enable the most efficient, transparent, and consistent production possible, and therefore the highest quality product.
The new plant, built for the UK’s largest miller Whitworth Bros. Ltd., is situated in the north of England at Whitley Bridge in Yorkshire. The opening of the first Mill E3 is a key staging post in the journey to the SmartMill. The data generated and analyzed at the Whitley Bridge plant will drive the evolution of milling technology from the current data assisted mill into a plant capable of using its own process parameters in a closed loop to optimize production. This development of the self-adjusting mill will be the precursor to the SmartMill.
From vision to reality
According to Roman Sonderegger, Head of Business Unit Wheat & Rye at Bühler, the Mill E3 has today turned from a vision to reality. The Whitworth Bros. mill is set to impact the entire milling industry by redefining future digital services. “This is a very significant project for Bühler that allows us, for the first time, to gather so much new data on the milling process, while also giving us the opportunity to collaborate with Whitworth Bros. as we work closer towards the creation of the SmartMill,” says Sonderegger. “This is also momentous in working towards our corporate target of cutting energy, water, and food wastage by 50% in our customer value chains by 2025.”
The opening of the Mill E3 is the culmination of nearly two decades of close cooperation between Bühler and Whitworth Bros. “Bühler is excellent at building flour mills and we are pretty good at running them,” explains Mike Peters, Managing Director of Whitworth Bros. “We can feedback observations in real time conditions in which we are dealing with client expectations and production pressures. Running and maintaining a mill is very different from building one.”
The Mill E3 in action
The concept of the Mill E3 centers on the idea of using modular “plug and play” installation of milling equipment to cut the installation time by up to 30%. It also cuts building costs by reducing the volume of the mill. Mills can significantly reduce their running costs thanks to energy efficient equipment and making full use of digital services.
The Arrius fully integrated grinding system, a key component of the Mill E3, provides lower energy consumption, faster installation, along with the highest food safety standards, reliability, and optimum grinding performance. At the Whitley Bridge plant, the Arrius grinding technology has been used at scale for the first time. “The wheat coming into the mill is first checked by online sensors to establish its key parameters,” explains Andrew Thomson, Technical Miller for Whitworth Bros. “But then the sensors in the Arrius rechecks and controls the distribution of the feed, which allows the grinding system to adapt again to the changing characteristics of the wheat at the point of milling. It is this unique usage of sensor technology that ensures optimal grinding parameters are achieved at all times.”
The layout of the mill is designed for optimal performance with easy equipment accessibility for maintenance. Preassembled and tested blower modules are designed for quick “plug and play” installation. They are housed in containers outside the building enabling the most efficient pneumatic transfer of product throughout the plant.
Digital solutions to help deliver targets
Sensors feed data every few seconds to Bühler Mercury Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to facilitate control of every aspect of the mill’s internal workings and to the IoT platform Bühler Insights where algorithms compare past and present production and process parameters. This ensures the mill is always operating at optimal efficiency to achieve the most consistent high-quality product achievable.
“What is most exciting about the technology is that it provides the operator with data in real time, which enables the miller to take key and well-informed decisions about the plant,” explains Peters. “We feel at Whitworth Bros. that we are pioneering and what we need to understand through the 15,000 data points are the optimum machine parameters required to ensure the continued manufacturing of high-quality products using digital technologies. Once that is defined accurately you can then be more exact in the way you set up your mill process and further push your process capabilities.”
Other service modules used in the Mill E3 include for instance the Temperature and Vibration Management Service (TVM), Yield Management System (YMS), Error and Downtime Analysis (EDA), Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and Replay. Together these provide continual data feeds on machine and process trends, potential maintenance issues and how machine performance relates to quality and efficiency.
“The SmartMill services are like having a lot of Lego bricks available and you, as a miller, pick whatever you need to deliver against your needs and your targets,” explains Sonderegger. “What is most exciting about this journey is that we are only at the beginning and all the data we are gathering will allow us to come up with new ideas and with new services to optimize and help our clients around the world.”
Another key feature of the Mill E3 is the development of a seamless interface from laboratory systems to Bühler Mercury MES and Bühler Insights and then on to Whitworth clients through blockchain in the future. Currently in development, the blockchain application will enable the secure transfer of data to clients providing transparency around the exact process parameters being used in the milling of their product.
The vision is that blockchain will reduce the need for such frequent sampling and laboratory testing as clients access production parameters in real time as part of the product certification process. The key advantage of blockchain is secure data collection and storage allowing for highest data security and transparency. In the end, it will enable a consistent, retraceable and food safe product.
“We are currently working with Bühler to ensure that all the data we are observing on the blockchain system aligns with our laboratory data before we go live with blockchain with our clients in the future,” explains Thomson.
Blockchain has yet undiscovered potential. Future application of blockchain could include using sensors in vehicles to monitor time taken, ambient temperature and other safety processes. It could be used to monitor equipment performance as a form of smart insurance or to improve traceability.