Buhler’s first Mill E3 will revolutionize the flour industry
Bühler heralds a turning point in the history of the flour mill with the opening of one of the most high-tech mills on the market. The owner of the Whitworth Bros. Ltd., the UK’s largest miller, is reaping the benefits of the technological and digital capabilities of the Mill E3 factory.
At the heart of Mill E3 are over 15,000 data points collecting information on all aspects of the production process. It is the volume of data analyzed, as well as the cutting-edge application of blockchain technology, that will allow the most efficient, transparent and consistent production possible, and therefore the highest quality product.
The new factory, built for the UK’s largest miller, Whitworth Bros. Ltd., is located in the north of England at Whitley Bridge in Yorkshire. The opening of the first Mill E3 is a key step in the journey towards the SmartMill. The data generated and analyzed at the Whitley Bridge plant will lead to the evolution of grinding technology from the current data-assisted plant to a plant capable of using its own closed-loop process parameters to optimize production. This development of the self-adjusting mill will be the precursor of the SmartMill.
From vision to reality
According to Roman Sonderegger, Head of the Wheat & Rye Business Unit at Bühler, the Mill E3 has now gone from a vision to a reality. The Whitworth Bros. plant is expected to impact the entire flour industry by redefining future digital services. “This is a very important project for Bühler which allows us, for the first time, to collect so much new data on the milling process, while also giving us the opportunity to collaborate with Whitworth Bros. as we get closer to creating the SmartMill, ”says Sonderegger. “It is also critical to achieving our corporate goal of reducing energy, water and food waste in our customer value chains by 50% by 2025.”
The opening of Mill E3 is the culmination of nearly two decades of close cooperation between Bühler and Whitworth Bros. “We can feed back real-time observations in which we face customer expectations and production pressures. Operating and maintaining a factory is very different from building a factory.
The Moulin E3 in action
The concept of the Mill E3 is based on the idea of using a modular “plug and play” installation of milling equipment to reduce installation time by up to 30%. It also helps reduce construction costs by reducing the volume of the crusher. Factories can significantly reduce their operating costs with energy efficient equipment and full use of digital services.
The fully integrated Arrius grinding system, a key component of the Mill E3, offers lower energy consumption, faster installation, as well as the highest food safety standards, reliability and optimum grinding performance. At the Whitley Bridge plant, Arrius grinding technology was used on a large scale for the first time. “The wheat entering the mill is first checked by online sensors to establish its key parameters,” says Andrew Thomson, technical miller for Whitworth Bros. “But then the sensors in the Arrius recheck and control the feed distribution, allowing the grinding system to adapt again to the changing characteristics of the wheat at the time of milling. It is this unique use of sensor technology that guarantees optimal grinding parameters at all times. “
The layout of the crusher is designed for optimum performance with easy accessibility of equipment for maintenance. The pre-assembled and tested blower modules are designed for quick “plug and play” installation. They are housed in containers outside the building allowing the most efficient pneumatic transfer of product throughout the plant.
Digital solutions to help achieve goals
Sensors transmit data every few seconds to Bühler Mercury’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to help monitor every aspect of the internal workings of the plant and to the Bühler Insights IoT platform, where algorithms compare past and present production and process parameters. This ensures that the grinder is always operating at optimum efficiency to obtain the most consistent high quality product possible.
“What’s most exciting about this technology is that it provides the operator with real-time data, which allows the miller to make key, well-informed decisions about the plant,” says Peters. “At Whitworth Bros., we believe we are pioneers and what we need to understand through the 15,000 data points are the optimal machine parameters required to ensure the continued manufacture of high quality products using of digital technologies. Once this is precisely defined, you can then be more precise in how you set up your grinding process and push your process capabilities further. “
Other service modules used in the E3 shredder include for example Temperature and Vibration Management Service (TVM), Yield Management System (YMS), Error and Downtime Analysis (EDA ), overall equipment efficiency (OEE) and proofreading. Together, they provide continuous data feeds on machine and process trends, potential maintenance issues, and the relationship between machine performance and quality and efficiency.
“SmartMill services are like having a lot of Lego bricks available and you, as the miller, choose whatever you need to meet your needs and goals,” says Sonderegger. “What is most exciting about this journey is that we are only at the beginning and all the data we collect will allow us to come up with new ideas and new services to optimize and help our clients through the world. “
Another key feature of the Mill E3 is the development of a seamless interface from lab systems to Bühler Mercury MES and Bühler Insights, and then to Whitworth customers via blockchain in the future. Currently in development, the blockchain application will enable the secure transfer of data to customers by providing transparency on the exact process parameters used in milling their product.
The vision is that the blockchain will reduce the need for such frequent sampling and lab testing, as customers access real-time production parameters as part of the product certification process. The main advantage of blockchain is the secure collection and storage of data, allowing maximum data security and transparency. Ultimately, this will allow for a consistent, traceable and food safe product.
“We are currently working with Bühler to ensure that all the data we observe on the blockchain system aligns with our lab data before moving to blockchain with our customers in the future,” says Thomson.
The blockchain has an as yet unknown potential. The future application of blockchain could include the use of sensors in vehicles to monitor time taken, ambient temperature, and other security processes. It could be used to monitor equipment performance as a form of smart insurance or to improve traceability.