Nisshin adds new mill in Higashinada

by Arvin Donley
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One of Japan’s largest flour milling complexes just got bigger when hen Nisshin Flour Milling Inc. opened a new mill with two new milling units in Higashinada, Japan.

The $120 million (12 billion yen) project, which began in July 2006 and was completed in June 2008, added 7,600 cwts of daily capacity with the addition of a D unit and E unit to three existing milling lines. That brings the overall daily milling capacity at the Higashinada complex to 24,800 cwts.

The addition of the D and E units marks the first expansion at the Higashinada complex since 1994, when the C unit, which has a capacity of 8,900 cwts per day, was built. The facility opened in 1971 with a daily capacity of 3,500 cwts and the first expansion occurred in 1976, when the 4,800-cwt.-perday B unit was added. The A, B and C units are housed in a separate mill on the Higashinada complex.

The new facility covers approximately 2,200 square meters as part of the three-hectare complex in Higashinada, which is a ward in the city of Kobe.

Nisshin officially celebrated the opening of the facility with a special ceremony on Oct. 10.

The new, highly automated mill combines both cutting-edge technology with a variety of features designed to assure the best possible performance in the all-important areas of product quality, safety and hygiene.

"The technology or mill design features in this facility are mainly targeting improvements of hygiene and product safety," said Mr. Akihisa Sasaki, president of Nisshin Flour Milling Inc.

Some of the measures taken to ensure good hygiene and product safety include:

• pumping filtered air through to each floor at a rate that keeps inside pressure positive;

• the absence of windows to prevent dust and insects from getting inside the facility; and

• making the surfaces where the floor meets the wall curved so that unwanted material cannot accumulate.

Mr. Sasaki explained that a typical Nisshin flour mill has grating floors in order for better observations or control of operations. But the floors in the new mill are made of concrete so that dust cannot drop through to lower levels.

"The current priority at Nisshin is better quality and sanitary control rather than easier operations," he said.

The plant uses no chemicals, either as flour improvers or for sanitation purposes, relying instead on its stringent quality control and hygiene standards.

The wheat used at the Higashinada facility comes from Hanshin Silo, an import port elevator that sits adjacent to the milling complex. Hanshin Silo, which was founded in 1970, a year before Nisshin built its first mill at Higashinada, underwent a 16,200-tonne storage capacity expansion in March 2008, bringing its total storage capacity to 85,300 tonnes. The 165-meter berth, which accommodates Panamax-sized vessels, facilitates two pneumatic unloader systems with a total unloading capacity of 800 tonnes per hour.

From there, the wheat is transferred to 15 new 60-tonne (900 tonnes total) silos that have been installed adjacent to the new mill. Another 825 tonnes of storage capacity (15 55-tonne silos) was added for tempered grain.

Once in the mill, the wheat passes through cleaning equipment — a classifier, combinator, destoner, disc-cylinder separator, scourer and aspiration channel — mainly manufactured by Uzwil, Switzerland-based Buhler AG. Buhler also supplied the roller mills and purifiers in the mill.

The Japanese flour milling industry has long been known for its ability to make many different types of flour and the Higashinada mill is typical in that regard. Mr. Sasaki said more than 200 types of flour are produced from 30 patterns of wheat grain blending.

The new mill mainly produces flour for noodles and durum semolina. Mr. Sasaki said the Higashinada complex’s primary customers are bakers and noodle makers, as well as Ma Ma-Macaroni Co. Ltd., which are all located within a 27,000-square-kilometer area near Kobe. He said a small amount of flour will be exported to other Asian markets.

In addition to flour, the mill produces byproducts such as millfeed that is sold to the domestic feed industry.

Employees in the mill’s quality control center run a series of standardized analyses on the flour, including tests to determine color, bacteria counts, and the levels of moisture, ash and protein, etc. Test baking is also performed as a quality control measure. Mr. Sasaki said the company invites customers to do test baking in the technical service center.

Visits from customers as well as the public are encouraged and accommodated in the mill design. All visitors, as well as mill operators, must wear hats, white coats and paper over-shoes as part of the strict hygiene standards. The visitors are taken to observation decks on each floor where the milling process can be viewed through large picture windows.

To reduce labor costs and ensure complete control of production and product quality, a computerized process control system monitors product from grain intake to finished flour.

"We keep two years worth of samples of grain and flour, so if there is a complaint we can trace back and figure out the reason for the problem," Mr. Sasaki said.

Although the mill does not have "lights out" capabilities, the facility requires minimal manpower. With the addition of the new mill, Mr. Sasaki said the per-employee productivity at the Higashinada complex will rank first in the company.

He said productivity at Higashinada is 85,000 cwts of flour per employee per year. In 2006, productivity of all Nisshin flour mills in Japan was 57,000 cwts of flour per employee per year.

Nisshin’s commitment to efficient operations can also be measured in the steps it has taken in the Higashinada mill to keep energy costs to a minimum. Mr. Sasaki noted that high-performance electrical devices, such as motors, were installed along with an automatic air-volume control system for blowers, which can automatically change the rpm of the blower to the appropriate level, depending on transfer length and flow rate.

He said that to save energy for the negative pneumatic conveying system in the mill, a Nisshin-designed automatic air flow control valve was installed above each cyclone, which keeps air volume stable.

As in several of its other Japanese mills, Nisshin installed an automatic rack warehouse for flour storage. The warehouse can store about 355,000 25-kilogram sacks of flour, or about 193,000 cwts.

Eight Rack Master manless lifts transfer the flour bags to and from 7,100 racks. The bags are taken to and from the lifts via the automated Sorting Transfer Vehicle System, which includes two cars for load-in and eight cars for load-out.

"Its operations are highly computer controlled in connection with our order entry system," said Mr. Sasaki.

These warehouses, which stand several stories tall, are beneficial in Japan, where space is at a premium. Japan is a relatively small country (378,000 square kilometers, about the size of Germany and Switzerland combined), but it has the world’s 10th-largest population (nearly 128 million).

The rack warehouse is particularly important at the Higashinada facility, which has no more room for horizontal expansion now that the new mill has been constructed.

Mr. Sasaki said the highly automated warehouse also benefits Nisshin through its accurate inventory control, record keeping and savings in labor costs.

"The inside of the warehouse is kept clean for hygienic storage, and the highspeed roller shutter, which opens only when products pass, prevents foreign materials from coming in," Mr. Sasaki said.

About 60% of the flour produced at the Higashinada complex is shipped by bulk, while 40% is bagged. There are seven pits for bulk load-out, with the flour passing through rebolt sifters before it is loaded for transportation to customers.

One of the reasons that it costs more to build a milling facility in Japan than in many other countries is the threat of earthquakes and the millions that must be spent in protective engineering to make sure the mill is built to withstand a large quake, like the one that struck Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995. That 7.2-magnitude earthquake, which killed 5,100, caused only minor damage to the mill at Higashinada.

Nisshin said the new mill is built to satisfy the strict earthquake-proof building requirements in Japan, which included strengthening the top part of the foundation piling system.

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