Big plan comes to fruition

by Arvin Donley
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Brazil-based M. Dias Branco’s ‘Great Mill of Aratu’ is a fully automated food complex that includes a port terminal, flour mill, biscuit factory and pasta plant

As the largest pasta and biscuit producer in Brazil, M. Dias Branco is accustomed to doing things on a large scale.

So it came as no surprise that in the summer of 2002 the Brazilian food corporation announced a highly ambitious plan to build a fully automated food complex in northeastern Brazil that would include a port terminal, flour mill, biscuit factory and pasta plant.

The contract provided for the construction of a turnkey production plant in the bay of Aratu, which is a suburb of Salvador in the state of Bahia. An area of 344,000 square meters was available for the building of Grande Moinho Aratu, which means "Great Mill of Aratu."

The facility was commissioned at the end of 2005 after a step-by-step startup of the various production processes. Design and engineering of the entire food complex had taken about 12 months and the start-up took another 28 months.

M. Dias Branco is named after Manuel Dias Branco, who in 1927 founded the company in Fortaleza, Brazil. The company is still privately owned by the Dias Branco family and is led by President Ivens Dias Branco.

Today, the corporation, which includes two group sections — Adria and M. Dias Branco — has a total of 10 large production facilities in the eastern states of Brazil on the Atlantic Coast, a company for the construction of industrial and residential buildings and a hotel chain.

This summer, M. Dias Branco completed another expansion of its Aratu port terminal. The project, which was coordinated by the grain handling business unit of Uzwil, Switzerland-based Buhler AG, included the installation of a new soybean export facility with a receiving capacity of 1,000 tph, 130,000 tonnes of storage capacity and a mobile ship loader with a throughput of 2,000 tph. Claudio Dias Branco, vice-president of the company’s industrial milling division, said the first phase of the soybean facility became operational on July 28.

He said the expansions at Aratu, as well as recent expansions at facilities in the Brazilian cities of Natal and Cabedelo, have played a vital role in the company’s growth plan.

"Before, the vast expanse between our (facilities) and the market generated enormous costs in the logistical department, as the finished products needed to be transported over long distances to their end user," Claudio Dias Branco said. "This removed the competitive edge in areas where other companies have production units and government tax incentives.

"Therefore, the decentralization of our production was of extreme importance, since it enabled us to reach other market areas with the same commercial conditions as our competitors. Now, production and sales continue to rise and the utilization of installed capacity is close to 80%."

Claudio Dias Branco said 60% of the company’s flour production is used internally at its biscuit and pasta plants, with the rest going to large wholesalers, distributors and other baking and pasta companies.

The "Great Mill of Aratu" project required complex coordination between Buhler’s milling, grain handling and pasta business units, which were each responsible for their own plant sections. Buhler’s project team handled coordination of the construction site, while Zurich, Switzerland-based ABB was a consortium partner in charge of energy transformation and distribution.

On the pier of the complex stands a Portalino 300 mechanical ship unloader, capable of retrieving up to 300 tonnes of wheat per hour from ships as large as 40,000 deadweight tonnes. From the Portalino, the wheat is transferred directly by a belt conveyor to the concrete bulk storage bins, which hold a total of 80,000 tonnes. Some of the wheat is also transferred through a loading pipe onto road vehicles.

The flour milling section of the Grande Moinho Aratu facility consists of two independent cleaning systems with a capacity of 24 tph each plus two flour milling systems that each have a daily capacity of 550 tonnes (1,100 tonnes overall). The process flow charts of the two mills have been purpose designed for making fine flour and achieving a maximum yield of bright flour for the company’s pasta production line. Inside the building, sufficient space is still available for accommodating a third mill.

After grinding, the flours undergo final sifting on a plansifter. They are checked online and automatically blended on the basis of their ash values. The flours are then transferred to the flour storage bins.

Following intermediate storage, three batch mixing systems produce customized flour blends tailored to specific products. This may also include, as required, the addition of micro-ingredients and liquids. A pneumatic conveying system directs the appropriate raw materials to the pasta lines and the cookie factory.

Products are packed by a six-spout bagging carousel and a high-speed bagging system for 1,250-kilogram (kg) bags and then transferred by belt conveyors for loadout onto trucks. In addition, Grande Moinho Aratu is equipped for bulk loadout of products and for packaging products into smaller-size bags. The byproducts are ground on a hammermill. Fine and coarse bran are stored separately, bagged by a bagging scale and an auger packer and loaded onto road vehicles.

The complex includes a biscuit factory and a pasta production plant. For biscuit production, small storage bins are available for holding additives such as starch, specialty flours, sugar, oils, lecithin and micro-ingredients such as powdered milk, salt, flour improvers, chocolate powder and emulsifiers. The processes of recipe formulation, supply of the dry solids to the kneader and addition of invert sugar, water, lecithin, and malt are fully automated.

Pasta in northeastern Brazil is made mainly from bright soft wheat flours and egg powder. The pasta section of the Grande Moinho Aratu facility is also fully automated. Batch mixers prepare the flours and actual pasta production is accomplished on two Turbothermatik systems with capacities of 3,500 kg per hour for long goods and 2,000 kg per hour for short goods. A special grinding system allows pasta scrap to be returned to the production line.

Grande Moinho Aratu is completely automated and features process monitoring and retracing of materials.

All process streams are monitored by scales in four interlinked control rooms located in the port terminal, the flour mill, the biscuit factory and the pasta production plant. The entire complex is controlled from a centralized location.

The Buhler WinCos process control system controls and monitors the production processes, keeps statistics of bin contents and guarantees process retraceability. The biscuit dough fermentation times and the timely call-up of the next kneading batch are also automatically monitored.

The entire plant in Aratu can be remotely monitored from the corporate headquarters in Fortaleza, Brazil. In the event of a power failure, an emergency power generating set will automatically cut in.