Modernization program required balancing production to fill gaps

by Stormy Wylie
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   MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — While the Coronet Mill in Manchester is the only completely new flour mill built by Allied Mills Ltd. as part of its Project Apollo, extensive remodeling and modernization programs have been undertaken or are in process at other milling locations in the group, which is a part of Associated British Foods P.L.C.

   Carrying out this immense project over a five-year period has necessitated a careful balancing of flour production to fill gaps created by mills that were closed in order to permit modernization to proceed. This necessitated extremely heavy runs at other plants, including a new mill like the Manchester unit, in order to keep flour customers supplied.

   The balancing has worked extremely well, according to Ralph Richard, chairman of Allied Mills, and Martin F. Connolly, managing director.

   The most active program under way as part of Project Apollo is at the Sunblest Mill at Tilbury, a major port for the city of London. This mill adjoins the large grain elevator contracted to the group.

   The Tilbury mill, with an original capacity of 300 tonnes of wheat grind per day, was shut down just before Christmas 1998 to allow the remodeling to proceed. This involves construction to make space for a new 600-tonne milling unit (9,600 cwts of flour in U.S. terms), to modernize the existing infrastructure, and to install within the complex a durum mill with daily grind of 120 tonnes to produce semolina for the expanding U.K. pasta market.

   Scheduled to start operations in November 1999, the greatly expanded Tilbury mill will emerge from Project Apollo as a totally new plant producing both regular flour and semolina. All of its products will be shipped in bulk, primarily to serve the large bakeries of Allied Bakeries and other baking companies producing bread and similar products for the vast London metropolitan area.

   Tilbury's location on the east coast means that the plant has easy access to European wheat, and it utilizes imported wheat, mainly French, it was noted.

   Signifying the changing nature of the British flour market was Allied Mills' decision to concentrate at a single site, the Sovereign Mill in Corby, its production of specialist products — mainly mixes for use by commercial bakers. Corby also is the site of a large A.B.F. operation processing wheat and flour into starch and a vital wheat gluten plant.

   The Corby mill, built about 15 years ago on a greenfield site, has been totally modernized. Its capacity was left unchanged at 450 tonnes of wheat grind per 24 hours, equal to a U.S. milling capacity of about 7,200 cwts of flour per day.

   As part of Project Apollo, the Corby complex has been expanded by the building of a huge, completely automated blending plant for the production of a broad range of flour-based mixes. In addition, the special products division plant now has facilities for cooking wheat germ.

   While the Corby plant primarily serves the U.K. market, it has developed a growing export market in the Middle East and Japan and, to a more limited degree, in Northern Europe. Cake mixes have especially built export sales.

   Because of its range of products, Corby's output is mostly shipped in packages ranging from 1-tonne totes to 12-, 16- and 32-kilogram sacks. A trend toward smaller-size bags reflects the growing awareness of safe handling and lifting needed in the workplace.

   Rankin Flour Mills at Rochford has already been completely remodeled as part of Project Apollo. All the old equipment was removed and the mill was totally modernized. A new warehouse was added at Rochford, and the plant's capacity is now at 450 tonnes of wheat grind per day, equal to 7,200 cwts of flour. About 60% of the Rochford output is shipped in bulk, while the balance moves in bags.

   The final project in Project Apollo will be modernization of the Seaforth Mill at Liverpool, which will involve shutting down the mill during the construction phase. Capacity at the plant will not change from the present 300-tonne total, however, and its production will continue to be shipped in bulk. Considering that Liverpool is only about 35 miles from Manchester, the discussion with Mr. Richard and Mr. Connolly turned to the reasons why two mills should be operated in such close proximity, especially when one has been newly built.

   Seaforth was described as an ideal site for its access to the market of Ireland, to which substantial quantities are exported, and also for its access to imported wheat. Indeed, imported wheat to be ground at the Coronet mill in Manchester is delivered to Liverpool before being moved by lorry to the new mill.

   As part of Project Apollo's commitment to leaving the group's total capacity unchanged, Allied Mills already has closed three flour mills — J.&R. Snodgrass, Glasgow; Thomas Sugden & Son, Brighouse; and H.& R. Ainscough, Burscough, Lancashire. In early 2000, two more mills will be closed — Cranfield Brothers Ltd. at Ipswich and Crayford Flour Mill at Dartford, Kent.

   On balance, Project Apollo will have resulted in the closing of five flour mills, the building of one totally new mill and the extensive modernization, remodeling and expansion of four mills.