Rapid advances in information technology provided one of the keys to the decisions by the privately owned Satake Corporation of Japan to restructure its worldwide organization as the next stage in its expansion plans. Improving technology has enabled the company to centralize some of its operations, such as research and development and engineering, at its headquarters in Hiroshima while expanding technical services provided by its regional organizations.0
The aim of the new structure is to reduce overhead and improve efficiency and customer service by investing in up-to-date equipment and communications systems. The recent changes also involve the corporation's decision to expand its flour milling activities, which is becoming an increasingly important part of the worldwide business that began as a manufacturer of rice milling machinery 104 years ago.
The milling engineering operation in the United Kingdom, formerly Satake U.K. Ltd., has been restructured and renamed Satake Corporation U.K. Division. It has moved from its historic base at Cheadle Heath in Stockport in northwest England to Bredbury, a few miles away on the other side of Stockport. The new 27,000-sq-ft building includes offices, conference and meeting rooms, a demonstration area, spare parts warehouse and a workshop.
The Bredbury development made it possible to integrate the wheat and rice milling engineering businesses for the first time.
At the same time, the U.K. subsidiary of ESM International, the color sorting machine business acquired by Satake in 1992, has been transferred to Bredbury to integrate more closely with milling machinery operations.
Coincidentally, the move to Bredbury brings the U.K. milling machinery company back to the area where it began manufacturing 85 years ago. Satake established a formal presence in the U.K. when it took over the combined flour milling engineering businesses of Henry Simon and Thomas Robinson in 1991. It was the first overseas acquisition by the Japanese company, although the three companies had a long history of cooperation beginning in 1898 when Henry Simon built his first plant in Asia in Nagasaki, Japan.
Henry Simon acquired a business at Bredbury in 1915 and used it as a foundry and manufacturing unit until moving to new headquarters at Cheadle Heath in 1926. Henry Simon Ltd. was taken over by the Thomas Robinson Group in 1988.
In addition to the U.K., which has been identified as an important market with potential for development, the operation in Bredbury is also responsible for cereal-sector activities in the rest of Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is also the base for a team of 22 field engineers, backed up by experts from the company's headquarters when needed.
Masaaki (Mike) Nakagawa, divisional manager, who joined Satake in 1998 to oversee the move to Bredbury, said the improvement in communications through new technology made these changes possible. "Communications are very important now that we are centralized," he told World Grain. "We are now able to see the real benefits of I.T. (information technology) in improved operations and services."
A new PC-based, computer-aided design system is internationally compatible, enabling instantaneous data exchange with group companies and suppliers. Equally important is the use of I.T. to provide a direct link with customers for service problems and to enable engineers to use remote and on-line diagnosis.
Another aspect of the Satake U.K. Division's role in developing its customer service in the U.K. is expansion in contract maintenance service, to give customers the option of contracting out work previously done in-house. This will include the supply of new and recorrugated rollermill chills with the aim of filling the current capacity levels of 1,500 new and 4,000 refurbished rolls a year.
Other areas for expansion include increased technical support and a wider range of supplies to include "soft" products such as sleeves for dust collectors, screens for separators and clothing for sifters. User groups are being set up to discuss areas of common interest and ways of improving milling equipment technology and maintenance. Brought together, Satake aims to provide a one-stop shop for advice, project design and execution, spare parts, repairs and maintenance.
The reorganization also involves the closer integration of the Vision Systems Division (ESM), headed by Tony Balzan, which has become the center for the sales and marketing of the color sorting product range in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
ESM began in 1931 in Lowell, Michigan, U.S., with machinery designed to sort navy pea beans. By the time it was acquired by Satake in 1992, it had expanded its technology to cover a wide range of crops, including coffee beans, peanuts, agricultural and horticultural seeds, plus larger materials such as tomatoes and plastics.
The machines use cameras sensitive to different colors and types of light such as infrared or ultra violet to separate damaged or discolored products. Recent developments enable the machines to separate out materials such as clear glass or stones and plastics for recycling.
The Vision Systems Division recently began supplying color sorting machines to Germany to take ergot out of rye for seed and grain crops for milling and rice markets in northern Italy and Spain.
FOCUS ON MILLING The acquisition of the milling companies in 1991 enabled Satake to apply rice processing technology to develop new products and processes in wheat milling. One of the technical developments that Satake believes will become increasingly important in the 21st century is the PeriTec system for flour milling.
The PeriTec system, introduced over five years ago, involves the selective debranning of grain and new technology in water addition and tempering. The system is already finding new areas of application as demand grows for different types of flour and semolina to produce an ever-increasing range of value-added products.
PeriTec reduces milling time, power consumption, bacteria and pesticide residue levels as well as providing a means of increasing milling capacity within existing buildings. Satake said its most important advantage was the change of wheat component inclusions in flour, which enhance the appearance, baking and nutritional characteristics.
PeriTec brought together Satake's expertise in rice processing and its U.K. subsidiary's technology in wheat milling to develop the technique that achieves a high level of bran removal with minimal endosperm loss. The VCW Debranner uses both abrasion and friction to strip off the bran layers.
The thickness of the layers removed can be selected depending on the type of flour and bran required. The bran removed is finer than that from conventional processing, with high levels of fiber and vitamins that make it ideal for functional foods.
At a removal level of up to 4%, the bran contains dietary fiber, a high proportion of pentosans, calcium, potassium and iron. At 8% removal, the bran contains additionally phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B1 and B2 and niacin.
The highest removal level of up to 12% produces a bran that also contains a high proportion of protein from the aleurone layer.
Crucial to the process is the use of water to help debranning. The outer layers of the grain absorb the water easily but the oil content of the seed coat layer provides a temporary "raincoat" effect, which helps with natural separation of the four outer pericarp layers.
Satake has developed a new machine for precise control of water addition in the PeriTec process. The Hydrator combines the use of slow-moving paddles with low-frequency vibration to break the surface tension of the moisture droplets and accelerate their penetration of the fissures in the kernels.
The Hydrator can be used at three stages: the principal tempering stage, as a pre-conditioner for debranning and as a post-debranning hydrator. As the main tempering mixer, it can add up to 6% or more in a single stage, which shortens the tempering time and allows for better control of the moisture content of the flour. Pre-conditioning immediately before debranning is where grains are moistened for up to two minutes in a process of closely controlled, partial penetration.
Since virtually all the pre-conditioning moisture is removed from the wheat during debranning, it has no effect on the moisture level in the finished flour. At the third stage, after debranning and prior to milling, the Hydrator can be used as a "trimming" process to add up to 1% water for a fine adjustment of the final flour moisture content.
The debranning process was first tried on durum wheats and then on a range of hard, semi-hard and soft varieties. It has been particularly successful when used on durum wheat in semolina mills where the production of pure semolina has increased throughput.
Satake said that in some cases when using the PeriTec process, it has been possible to increase capacity of existing semolina mills by up to 80% without adding any conventional milling equipment.
Its use has since been extended to starch mills, disc mills, maize degerming and for heat treatment of flour. New booster units further increase processing capacity. Satake's latest development is a unit for separation and recovery of shrunken and damaged kernels.
COMMITTED TO RESEARCH Satake believes strongly in the importance of ongoing developments in technology in improving existing methods as well as exploring new avenues of processing and production.
In particular, the corporation sees the value of integrating with chemical engineering both for conventional grain processing and for exploiting novel applications of cereals.
To further this concept, Satake's parent company donated over U.S.$1.6 million toward the establishment in the U.K. of the first academic Centre for Grain Process Engineering.
The Centre, established in 1996 within the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology, provides a focus for post-graduate research and teaching for the grain processing industries.
Process engineering research is provided in three areas: primary processing of cereals (flour milling), secondary processing of cereals (breadmaking) and novel uses of cereals based on fermentation technology. Current projects include studying wheat breakage during roller milling, aeration during bread dough mixing, cereal-based probiotic fermented drinks and the development of a generic, cereal-based fermentation medium for production of non-food products.
Headed by Professor Colin Webb, the Satake Centre provides a unique, university-based resource, with laboratories and specialized equipment. A wide range of short courses also are offered.
Satake recently followed up its original donation with a grant to appoint project officers in each of the three areas, Professor Webb said, and to develop and coordinate research.
Research papers have been presented at conferences around the world, including the U.S., France, Spain and Austria. The Centre also organized two conferences, Cereals: Novel Uses and Processes in June 1996 and Bubbles in Food in June 1998, both of which attracted worldwide participation and resulted in published books.
In recognition of Satake's contribution to technology, its president, Robert Satake was awarded an honorary doctorate of engineering by the university.