Perfecting the craft of milling

by Teresa Acklin
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Ocrim's international milling school described as a ‘flour milling Olympiad' for attracting a diverse group of students.

By Stormy Wylie

   For five weeks, three times a year, the town of Cremona, Italy, attracts people from nearly every country in the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe. Most of these visitors are not strictly tourists, although thousands of people each year visit the historic town, founded as a Roman colony in the second century and most famous for being the birthplace of the violin.

   Centuries ago, old masters such as Andrea Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù perfected their violin-making craft in this northern Italian city. Today, men and women from around the world are drawn to Cremona to hone their skills in a different craft — flour milling.

   A “scuola di tecnologia molitoria” (milling technology school) was established in Cremona in the mid-1960s by Ocrim S.p.A., an Italian equipment manufacturer with a half-century of experience in the design and manufacture of grain processing plants.

   “Ocrim decided to open a milling school to be more responsive to its customers' requirements and to share its know-how,” said Giovanni Piccioni, director of the milling school for the past four years.

   In the beginning, training was provided through Ocrim workshops, with theoretical classes held at the Institute for Technical and Industrial Engineering in Cremona. In 1979, Ocrim built a milling training center on the outskirts of Cremona, in the suburb of Cavatigozzi. In 1996, Ocrim moved the school back to “the heart of our company,” according to Mr. Piccioni — Ocrim's headquarters in Cremona.

   Ocrim spends about U.S.$350,000 annually to operate the school. Although the school is open to anyone, it is particularly for Ocrim's customers, Mr. Piccioni said, providing vocational training on the operation and maintenance of Ocrim milling equipment.

   “The rigorous quality standards imposed by Ocrim on its manufacturing process reflect the corporate belief that the search for excellence is the ‘motor' which drives any project,” Ocrim said in its milling school brochure. The same commitment to quality is incorporated in the milling school, the company said.

   The teaching staff is made up of Ocrim's project managers, technologists, builders, chemists and chief millers.

   Standard courses, offered in 5-week blocks three times a year (in March, May and September), are designed to train people to be head millers, laboratory analysts, maintenance chiefs and expert bakers. Special courses for customers also can be arranged, Mr. Piccioni said.

   Classes are taught in English, and interpreters are available when necessary.

   Each course gives an overview of the basics of milling technology, plant engineering, and chemical laboratory and quality assurance as well as specialized classes for each section.

   The miller's course provides general information on milling technology and introduces the latest technologies and milling methods. It is designed for persons with little milling experience, although most students are already working at a milling company, Mr. Piccioni said. Classes include plant engineering, milling machinery, mechanical maintenance, electronics and automation, laboratory and quality measurement and, of course, the milling process.

   Students learn all aspects of the milling process, from cereal receiving and handling to cleaning, flow sheets and the wheat milling process, in a pilot mill that Ocrim built especially for the school. The mill has a 24-tonne daily capacity, with a machinery maintenance shop, an electrical and electronic laboratory, a chemical and product analysis laboratory and a pilot bakery.

   As part of their training, students also visit several of Ocrim's recent installations in silos, flour mills, durum mills and maize mills.

   A baking course was incorporated into the school three years ago, in cooperation with the National Institute for Professional Training. “This area of study has been opened to prepare future specialists for the baking industry, which is playing a more and more prestigious role in grain-based foods,” Ocrim said.

   About 20 students enroll in each baking course, and all “have easily found a job,” Mr. Piccioni said.

   The school also maintains “cooperative relations” with such associations as the National Institute for Professional Training, the Association of National Millers, the District Association of Bakers, the Vocational Institute for Grain Milling Science in Torino and the Vocational Institute for Agriculture in Cremona.

   In the past three decades, more than 2,000 people have gone through the milling school. Less than 10% of the school's students are Italian. A boarding house, located not far from the school and within close distance to the historic town center, can house up to 40 persons.

   Mr. Piccioni described the school as a kind of “flour milling Olympiad.” “In 1997, for example, we had a fantastic exploit, with 162 enrollments of trainees coming from Brazil, Egypt, Congo, Romania, the Fiji Islands, China and many more countries,” he said.

   The managing director of a mill in Tanzania, who sent his senior miller to the Ocrim school, wrote, “For the short time since his return, we have started enjoying the fruits of the course as he has sought out some matters which were obstacles to run the mill, and we say we are now running smoothly.” In February 1997, Ocrim opened a second milling technology school in Jakarta, Indonesia, in conjunction with Bogasari Flour Mills, the country's leading flour milling company. The Ocrim-Bogasari Milling Training Center was set up to train technicians in the Asia-Pacific area. The center features a pilot mill with a 50-tonne-per-24-hours capacity.

   Ocrim has been the main supplier of flour milling equipment to Bogasari, which operates three flour mills in Indonesia with total daily capacity of about 17,800 tonnes of wheat.

   Ocrim also is considering opening additional milling schools in cooperation with customers in other countries, Mr. Piccioni said.

   The milling schools in Italy and Jakarta have served to strengthen relationships between the company and its customers, he added. “The customers have been acquainted with our school that for them represents a mark of quality of all the company,” he said.

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