Bühler expert ready to help Thai rice processors

by World Grain Staff
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BANGKOK, THAILAND — Bühler recently interviewed a member of its global team of rice technologists with expertise in rice analysis, processing and research. Dr Ye Aung is a member of Bühler’s global team of rice technologists whose expertise in rice analysis, processing and research underpins the company’s continuous commitment to maximizing yield and consistently high quality products for its customers. 
Aung’s expertise, his personal commitment to his customers’ success and his drive for quality, innovation and improvement, reflect those same values that are embedded in Bühler’s commitments as a company both here in Thailand and throughout the world.

Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler said its Thailand based professional customer service and local support, provided by dedicated, highly qualified engineers, through its network of customer service and application centers, is part of the company’s commitment to customer Service Excellence. 

Bühler: How long have you worked in the rice industry and with which organizations? 
Aung: I have a PhD in post-harvest technology and have worked in rice processing since first starting work in Myanmar 38 years ago. At the end of the 1980s, I worked in Myanmar at Agricultural Produce Trade Corp. I then moved to Thailand and worked for six years for the Soon Hua Seng Group, the largest rice exporter in Thailand, where I was responsible for production, quality control and innovations.

During this time, Bühler first began to introduce its new technologies for rice production and came to Soom Sua Sene to discuss its new machines with me.

Over time, I developed an excellent relationship with the head of Bühler’s rice division and when Bühler opened its dedicated rice center in Bangalore, India, I visited, and it was here that serious discussions took place about a possible future with Bühler.

Bühler: What appealed to you about the opportunity of working with Bühler? 
Aung: I was hungry to develop my knowledge, based on my experience. Soon Hua Seng’ six rice mills had always concentrated on quality and innovation, so I was familiar with those issues, which were also important to Bühler. I was keen not just to use the Bühler machines, but also to be instrumental in the development of the technology that makes such a difference to rice processors and helps them to improve their rice quality and mill efficiency. That was 17 years ago and I still feel the same today.

Bühler: What was your first task with Bühler?
Aung: Soon after I joined, Bühler launched their new BSBP whitening machine and I was there to look after customers and help them to achieve the rice quality they wanted from the new machine. With my understanding of rice quality, I had the know-how to formulate a processing sequence that would optimize their rice milling to meet their requirements.  
Bühler: In which countries did you help with the technology and how has your geographic reach changed over the years?
Aung: At that time, I worked mainly in India, South East Asia and the Middle East. Bühler then started expanding its market activities to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and other countries in South East Asia. Customers still come to Bangalore, where our global R&D team is based,  to see the technology in action and to discover what the Bühler solutions can do for them. 
Bühler: What is your main role now and how has it changed over the years?
Aung: I am responsible for ensuring that the machines we sell work well for our customers. My job also involves technology, R&D, engineering, marketing, and consulting. I advise customers on how to use the technology and what is the best technology for them, and then feedback to Bühler in the event of any changes that are needed. I now work mainly on turnkey projects. I work closely with our R&D department, building on my knowledge of the process, and customers’ requirements. Knowledge is what ensures that we are always one step ahead within the industry. 
Bühler: What examples can you give me of your work?
Aung: We have to meet the required yield and ensure that the quality of the rice meets our customers’ needs and expectations. If you are going to design a rice mill, you have to understand the entire process involved in transforming the paddy into white rice. We could achieve white rice with only one pass through an Ultrawhite, but this would result in high levels of breakages. If you do two or three passes, breakages are reduced, but once you move to four passes, the breakages increase again, due to the excessive handling of the rice. 
The best method very much depends on the quality of the raw material and the environment, and my job is to use my know-how to plan the process according to each customer’s requirements and their regional conditions.

I work all over Southeast Asia and have seen how paddy quality varies from region to region.  For example, the paddy quality in Thailand is very different to that in Indonesia, where it is weaker and breaks more easily. I can’t copy the rice processing method I use in Thailand for a rice miller in Indonesia because it won’t work. In addition, humidity and climate affect the quality of the incoming raw material and therefore the effectiveness of the process. I create a flow chart to accommodate all the parameters involved in a process, including individual rice varieties and environmental conditions, in order to verify that the final process will meet our customers’ end product requirements. The flow-chart will be different for each customer.

Bühler: What are you most proud of in your working life? 
Aung: Reducing breakages in the milling process. When I first came to Thailand, 22 years ago, rice mills were producing rice using two passes and were obtaining yields of just 43% to 44%. I studied their grain shape and saw that it was easy to break the rice with two passes, but that if we altered the process to include three passes for long grain white rice, or four passes for parboiled rice, we could achieve fewer breakages. Initially, the rice millers were skeptical but I was confident and Bühler made the commitment to the initial customer that it would work and achieve the greater yield we expected with the new process method.  Now, the whole of Thailand has converted its technology to three passes, and they now achieve 46% to 48% yields. We gave them the results they were looking for. 
This is the same for polishing, where quality and quantity work in reverse order: if you go for high yield your quality reduces; and vice versa. However, with our flow chart, Bühler can demonstrate that it is possible to increase both quality and yield. 
Our ideas are followed within the industry, and this raises the quality of the entire market. 
Bühler: How has the industry changed over the years?
Aung: When I joined Bühler in Thailand, we had around 17 customers, each with small machines; now we have about 57 customers and big projects involving entire rice milling installations. Customers’ businesses are growing. I am on my way to oversee a Bühler-designed production facility in Cambodia that can produce 2,000 tonnes per day, whereas existing rice millers in that country are producing 200 to 300 tonnes per day. It can be a real surprise to rice millers to discover the size of Bühler installations and the quality achievable.  And, it is my job to make these installations successful!

Bühler: What are the greatest challenges you face in your work?
Aung: It is important for us to share our expert knowledge with customers to help them better to understand their raw material quality and the effect it can have on their end product. The effectiveness of rice milling is dependent on both the machine’s performance and raw material quality. If you have a good machine but poor raw material you will have a bad end product, and it is all too easy to blame the machine. However, I highlight to customers that if they have poor incoming product they need to reduce the throughput per minute of their process, which will give them a smaller capacity. It is part of my remit to demonstrate just what a difference raw material quality will have on yield, and that both raw material and machine are vital for quality control in the end product.

Bühler: What are the main challenges in the rice industry today? 
Aung: Sustainability in rice processing is going to be critical and we can help our customers make their operations more sustainable by reducing their energy and operating costs, which should help boost their productivity and profits.

As a company we spend four to five per cent of our turnover in basic research and applied development, which is significantly above the industry average and Bühler is working hard on machines that provide high quality and yields with low energy consumption. We partner with our customers to develop solutions that give better performance, better efficiency and that encourage sustainability within the industry.

Bühler: What advice would you give to young people in the industry? 
Aung: Another part of my job is training the younger generation and I teach them to study product characteristics and not machines alone. The process, the machine, and the raw material are all vital to product quality. It is very important for us to share and pass on our expert knowledge which is why we offer an internship to Naresuan University.

Bühler: What are your thoughts as you look back on your career so far?
Aung: I am close to retiring now and my job has been the same for the past 38 years, but my responsibilities have grown and grown along with the industry. I spend 95% of my time with customers and I work seven days a week. And, I love my job!