History meets high tech

by Teresa Acklin
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South Africa's BB Cereals blends 19th century roots with state-of-the-art milling system.

   In 1992, BB Cereals (Pty) Ltd., Durban, South Africa, marked its 60th year of flour milling in the Durban area. And what better way to celebrate than to start up one of the world's most technologically advanced flour mills?

   BB Cereals began operating its “new” B mill in Congella, about 2 km from central Durban, in August 1992. From the automatically controlled silos to the electronic measuring equipment and process control, the rebuilt B mill contains highly advanced systems. Since the start-up, the B mill, managed and operated by BB Flour Mills, a division of BB Cereals, has exceeded all expectations of the company's management.

   “From a general management point of view, the mill is well balanced and well planned,” Arnaud Le Roux, general manager of BB Flour Mills, said recently. “And we've realized yields 2% better than expected.”

   The new B mill has a daily capacity of 288 tonnes. That's more than double the capacity of the old B mill, a 35-year-old plant whose daily capacity was a mere 108 tonnes.

   The new B mill also doubled the total daily milling capacity of BB Cereals' Congella mill complex, which includes a second, older mill known as the A mill.

   But the B mill's advantages extend beyond an increase in flour milling capacity. Quality also was a major factor in the decision to upgrade the mill; the baking industry, spurred by increased consumer awareness, began to insist on a higher-quality, more consistent flour from its suppliers. The new B mill has enabled BB Flour to satisfy that demand.

   BB Cereals invested 13.6 million rand, or about U.S.$4 million, to modernize the B mill. The project included rebuilding the cleaning section and increasing the number of storage bins to 24 from 16. But it is the milling equipment itself that attracts the most interest in the B mill.


   The B mill has the distinction of being the world's first flour mill to be equipped entirely with eight-roller mills invented by Buhler Ltd., Uzwil, Switzerland. The patented twin-stage grinding system is based on the application of eight-roller mills without intermediate sifting between the twin passages.

   Seven Buhler Airtronic MDDL eight-roller mills with roll lengths of 1,000 mm provide the B mill's daily capacity rating of 288 tonnes. In contrast, the A mill uses 18 roller mills to attain the same capacity.

   The seven Buhler roller mills are set up in two rows, with four in one row and three in the other row. The units in each row are connected by a continuous casing. Sifting is accomplished by two eight-section high-capacity plansifters.

   The new B mill, which was engineered by Buhler (Pty) Ltd., Johannesburg, is incorporated on five floors of the building. It includes three purifiers, two small sifters for final sifting and three bran finishers. Electronic scales weigh all finished products.

   The system's compact design required only 60% of the space used by a traditional mill. Additional benefits of the compact system include economical energy use and low maintenance. The plant's computerized process control enhances productivity.

   “It is really a ‘person-less' mill,” Mr. Le Roux said, adding that the mill had been “trouble free.”

   The new B mill represents the continuation of BB Cereals' long tradition in baking and milling. The company that today is called BB Cereals opened its first flour mill in Congella in 1932. But BB Cereals traces its roots to 1851, when an English baker named J.F. Baumann opened a tiny bread and biscuit factory in central Durban.

   His nephew, J.M.L. Baumann, later joined him in the business, hence the origin of the initials “BB.” In fact, BB Bread remains a standard bread brand in South Africa today.

   Over the years, the Baumanns' bread and biscuit business continued to expand, leading to construction of the flour mill in 1932 to supply the company's baking plants. In subsequent years, the company also moved into related product areas until the Baumann family sold the entire business in 1981 to Anglo-Transvaal Industries.

   In 1988, Maizecor, a major maize milling and stock feed manufacturer, acquired the BB Bread/milling portion of the business and renamed it BB Cereals. In 1990, General Food Industries (Pty) Ltd. was established as the parent company for BB Cereals, Maizecor and other companies that make up the Genfood group.


   Today, BB Cereals' Congella flour mill produces bread and cake flour, whole- wheat flour and biscuit flour. BB Flour's primary customers are in-store and retail bakeries, industrial bakers — and the vertically integrated BB Cereals, which operates four bakeries serving wholesale and retail markets throughout the region.

   In addition to branded products such as BB Flour and the aforementioned BB Bread, BB Cereals markets confectionery products under its Wareings label.

   BB Cereals expects demand for basic, high-value foods to expand along with continued urbanization. The B mill will help BB Cereals capitalize on this anticipated growth.

   Meanwhile, the company's satisfaction with and pride in its new B mill radiates from its housekeeping to its hospitality.

   The mill is connected to the administrative office, separated only by glass doors; from the office, a sparkling clean mill floor is visible, waxed to a high sheen. It's maintained that way 24 hours, every day.

   And the management of BB Cereals has been a gracious host to almost 100 millers from every continent who have come to see the first mill of its kind, and one that showcases what can be achieved through a commitment to quality and efficiency in today's competitive milling environment.