Bühler and Whitworth Bros—the UK’s largest miller—have opened a high-tech flour plant called Mill E3 at Whitley Bridge in Yorkshire, England. 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.
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.
The opening of the Mill E3 is the culmination of nearly two decades of close cooperation between Bühler and Whitworth Bros.
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,” says Mike Peters, managing director of Whitworth Bros. “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,” says Roman Sonderegger, head of business unit wheat & rye at Bühler. “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,” says 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.
Bühler is driven by its purpose of creating innovations for a better world, balancing the needs of economy, humanity, and nature. As a relevant solution partner for the food and mobility industries, Bühler is committed to reduce energy, waste, and water in its customers’ value chains by 50% by 2025. Billions of people come into contact with Bühler technologies as they cover their basic needs for food and mobility every day. Two billion people each day enjoy foods produced on Bühler equipment; and one billion people travel in vehicles manufactured using parts produced with Bühler technology. Countless people wear eyeglasses, use smart phones, and read newspapers and magazines – all of which depend on Bühler process technologies and solutions. Having this global relevance, Bühler is in a unique position to turn today’s global challenges into sustainable business. Bühler contributes to safely feeding the world and is doing its part to protect the climate, producing solutions that make cars, buildings, and machinery more energy efficient.
Bühler invests up to 5% of turnover into research and development. In 2020, some 12,500 employees generated a turnover of CHF 2.7 billion. As a Swiss family-owned company, Bühler is active in 140 countries around the world and operates a global network of 100 service stations, 33 manufacturing sites, and application and training centers in 24 locations.