Tsurumi flour milling complex

by Teresa Acklin
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Japan's largest single milling plant houses six mill units, produces 150 types of flour.

   In a recent visit to Japan's largest flour milling complex, the Tsurumi mill of Nisshin Flour Milling Co., Ltd., where Nisshin will build a new 500-tonne milling plant as “the mill of the 21st century,” attention to innovation in the milling process dominated discussions and a mill tour. Under the guidance of Haruo Yamazaki, managing director and general manager of Tsurumi, a visitor became quickly aware that Nisshin conducts extensive research on both the milling process and flour products, all with the goal of increasing yields, assuring quality consistency and reducing manning requirements. A large sign in red reads “N.I. 21,” which means “Nisshin innovation for the 21st century” as the principal goal of the men who operate this large flour milling complex.

   Located on Tokyo Bay, which facilitates receipt of wheat by ocean-going vessel from Japan's three principal supply sources, Australia, Canada and the United States, the Tsurumi mill was opened in 1926 and from its start has been Nisshin's largest plant. Rebuilt in the wake of the damage sustained in World War II, the plant was equipped with a pneumatic conveying system and modern milling equipment in the late 1950s.

   Tsurumi, along with the large and modern Nisshin mill on the opposite side of Tokyo Bay in Chiba City, constitute the Tobu Division of Nisshin. The company operates its 13 flour mills as parts of six regions, and, of course, this division, serving flour customers in the Tokyo metropolitan area, is the largest.

   Quickly apparent are ways in which Nisshin, and probably other large Japanese flour milling companies, operate differently from their American peers. Tsurumi alone has a staff of 200, of whom 30 are millers, assigned as six operatives to each shift in the six 24-hour day operations. The balance of the staff is engaged in wheat storage, office work, maintenance, distribution and laboratory tasks, with an extensive testing facility housed in the large office building that is at the heart of the Tokyo Bay industrial complex, served by ship, but also by rail and highways.

   Tsurumi has total grain storage capacity of 105,000 tonnes, served by a 204-meter berth with water depth of 12 meters. Three pneumatic unloaders transfer 5,800 tonnes of grain per day. Wheat arriving at the elevator by ship is owned by the Japanese Food Agency, and the elevator acts as an agent for the agency in handling grain that moves into the adjoining flour mill and also in providing wheat supplies to other milling companies.

   Long experience has made the task of receiving and blending wheats from three different supplying nations almost routine. Specific qualities are sought from each exporting country's offerings, and relatively small changes are made from year to year in the makeup of the grists for specific flour. The quality of flour is primarily determined at Nisshin by wheat selection rather than blending of finished flour, the executives explained.

   No chemicals are used in the Nisshin mill for sanitation or any other purpose, such as bleaching and maturing, and nothing is added to flour, except for enrichment for the school lunch program in Japan and vitamin C and malt when requested by an end user.

   In a discussion with Nisshin executives, it becomes apparent that milling at Tsurumi is devoted to producing a large number of different grades and qualities of flour, each designed for a specific flour product. The mill produces 100 types of hard wheat flour and 50 of soft wheat flour, making the concept of running a large mill on a limited number of straight grade flours, as often is the case in other nations, seem most unusual.

   While the present Tsurumi mill looks like a huge single flour mill, the plant actually is divided into six totally separate milling units. Units A-E have daily wheat grinding capacity of between 250 and 300 tonnes, and each is typically devoted to grinding flour of specific wheat blends, to produce, for example, various types of bread, noodle or cake flour.

   The F unit is a durum mill with daily capacity of 170 tonnes, turning out 122 tonnes of semolina primarily for Nisshin's own use in manufacturing Italian-style pasta for the Japanese market.

   Four of the milling units are housed in the original mill building, and the other two are in an addition built after World War II. The six units have a total of 100 rollstands, all located on one huge floor but separated to serve the needs of each discrete unit. A central control room on the rollstand floor monitors the entire milling operation.

   About 65% of the flour produced at Tsurumi is bagged, almost entirely in 25-kg paper sacks, with the remainder shipped in bulk. The Nisshin executives pointed out that the Chiba City mill across the Bay is a mirror image of Tsurumi, with two-thirds of its output shipped in bulk and only a third bagged. This, of course, reflects the different sorts of customers served by the mills.

   Tsurumi has 9,000 tonnes of bulk flour capacity, which is used primarily to age flour, and the Nisshin executives indicated that flour aging depends on the wishes of individual customers.

   Reflecting the large volume of bagged flour, Tsurumi has an extensive flour packing operation, with six lines handling 25-kg bags, four lines packing millfeed in 20- and 25-kg bags, one line packing household flour in 500-gram packages and two lines packing 1-kg bags for family use.

   Nisshin has pioneered in the development of automatic warehousing of bagged flour, and the Tsurumi warehouse complex provides a window into this highly-automated process. The automatic rack warehouse for 25-kg bagged flour has capacity to hold 328,000 bags, or 8,200 tonnes of flour, while the warehouse without racks holds another 398,000 bags, or 9,950 tonnes. Shipping makes use of nine palletizers.

   Movement of flour from Tsurumi is handled by two or three trucking companies that contract with Nisshin to handle these shipments, in bulk and in bags. Bulk flour is distributed directly to about 30 large baking plants in the Tokyo area, and Tsurumi has nine bulk load-out stations, each equipped with rebolting sifters. Bagged flour moves mainly to six depots operated by Nisshin at strategic points in its distribution area, from which the flour is trucked to baking and other customers.