An uncommon miller

by Teresa Acklin
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Mill owner in Germany adapts short flow system to traditional European milling environment.

   From 1984 to 1988, Dieter Otto Graf was general manager of Standard Flour Mills in Nigeria, a 1,300-tonne per day facility with 65,000 tonnes of grain storage. When Nigeria imposed a ban on wheat imports, Mr. Graf came home to Lahnau, Germany, to run the family mill.

   Compared with the Nigerian facility, the Graf family mill, with its capacity of 40 tonnes of wheat a day, was very small. And the Miag milling equipment dated from 1952. Because of the mill's size and age, closing it down would not have been unreasonable.

   But Mr. Graf and his wife Anne decided to revive the mill. From their home situated less than 50 meters from the milling plant, they set about to totally reorganize the mill's operations.

   Today, after a total investment of Deutsche mark 2.5 million, Neumuhle Otto Graf has a daily capacity of 120 tonnes, is ISO 9000 certified and uses the latest in milling and testing technology, including process controls and near infrared systems.

   At the heart of the milling operation is the Kice KSU Flour Mill, a short flow system that Mr. Graf says has helped Neumuhle Otto Graf survive and compete in the fiercely competitive German market. Manufactured by Kice Industries, Wichita, Kansas, U.S., the KSU unit was the first U.S.-built flour mill installation in Europe since the 1950s.

   SEARCHING FOR SIMPLICITY. Situated on a small river, Neumuhle Otto Graf was purchased in 1936 by Mr. Graf's parents. The original water-powered mill was built in 1742, processing both wheat flour and oilseeds.

   Mr. Graf's father Otto was an engineer and miller, and young Dieter chose the same career path. Dieter spent time in the Army in the late 1950s and in 1960 went to Austria, where he studied engineering and learned the milling process.

   Although Mr. Graf was trained as a European miller, his experience in Nigeria broadened his outlook toward milling and encouraged him to look at new ideas and concepts. As he worked to renovate the family mill, he believed that there had to be a simpler, shorter way to mill flour.

   During this period, Mr. Graf used his engineering and milling knowledge to develop a system to shorten one aspect of the milling process. The result was Vibronet, a dampening system that reduces both tempering time and the number of tempering bins. Subsequently, Mr. Graf has sold more than 100 Vibronet units to other processors.

   Meanwhile, he learned about the Kice KSU short flow system through a friend in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, where a mill had installed the KSU unit. After visiting that mill, Mr. Graf decided to try the short flow unit in his mill in Germany.

   The order for the KSU mill was placed in 1993. Mr. Graf pointed out that most U.S. mills run on an extraction rate of 70% to 75%, while he needed more than 80%. He worked with Kice engineers to amend the flow diagram to reach this rate, and the system was installed in August 1994 — in a mere six days.

   Mr. Graf says the mill can compete with larger mills with long flow designs because the short flow allows for just-in-time production. The KSU unit also has resulted in lower costs for maintenance, energy, production and processing while maintaining quality with simplicity, he says. The mill operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, shutting down one-half day per month for maintenance, which is handled by an outside engineer.

   Mr. Graf appreciates the long flow design for the quality of its flour and acknowledges that long flow produces a flour that the short flow cannot. He also thinks the customer should pay for the higher quality; when it comes to mass production flour, he believes the long flow process is not neccessary.

   He notes that the milling process basically is simple — separating the bran from the endosperm. The KSU mill is based on traditional milling techniques with fine flute corrugated rolls, but needs only six passages to produce flour versus the traditional 14 to 20 passages in a modern long flow mill.

   Part of the success of the new KSU mill is the development of an on-line protein analyzer, which controls the wheat mix entering the tempering system on a 24-hour basis. Flour is not blended, but is produced through mixing and blending of wheat only. Appropriate additives are incorporated for each customer's specifications.

   Neumuhle Otto Graf produces all types of flours. About 35% is used by industrial bakers, 35% by middle-sized bakers and the remainder by foodservice bakers. Some 90% of the flour is shipped in bulk, with only 10% shipped in bags for small bakers.

   The mill uses mostly German and French wheats. The wheat bran is sold to feed millers.

   Flour sales are handled by distributors. A total of nine people work at the mill: one head miller, two shift millers, three drivers, one quality manager and Dieter and Anne Graf, who handle the administration.

   Mr. Graf is quite pleased with the consistency of product from the new mill, and he says customers have commented that the flour from the new KSU unit is more consistent than the flour from the old mill. He adds he can compete with larger mills because of the consistent quality of his flour, the 24 hour availability of product and personalized service that allows for special relationships with customers that bigger mills cannot replicate.

   In effect, the KSU mill confirmed Mr. Graf's theories that a simpler, shorter process could be effective and profitable for small and medium-sized mills operating in the traditional European milling environment. He has put his belief in the short-flow system into action as a sales representative for the Kice KSU mill in Europe.