Room for two

by Teresa Acklin
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Belgian flour miller builds new facility with expansion in mind.

   It's not often that a company installs a complete new flour mill in a building big enough for two. But a combination of long-term planning and on-going investment has enabled one of Belgium's leading millers to do just this.

   The company, Paniflower, has just completed the installation of the first of a new 300 tonne per day flour mill at its Brabomills site on the outskirts of Antwerp. The new mill incorporates some major advances in grinding technology, providing increased flexibility and high levels of energy savings. The building itself has been planned to take a second complete production line of the same size.

   The second line will replace the company's existing mill in the center of the city of Ghent, some 64 kilometers away. This mill will have to close down because of new planning regulations on manufacturing operations on city center sites.

   Paniflower is the third largest milling company in Belgium. It is a family-run business that has been in the milling industry since the l920s. The present managing director is Erik Vanherpe, son of the founder. Paniflower employs 75 people on the two sites and has an annual turnover of BF1.6 billion (U.S.$35 million).

   The company's first mill was in the town of Harelbeke. From there operations moved to the Ghent site where the business took the name Ganda Molens. In the early 1980s, the company made its next major expansion with the acquisition of Molens Herkens in Antwerp, which was renamed Brabomills. Paniflower is the group name for both mills.

   Originally built in 1890, the Brabomills plant — operating with very old rollermills — had a production capacity of 130 tonnes per day. Introduction of new equipment at the time of the takeover raised this to 200 tonnes per day from 16 rollermills.

   The new mill, with a daily capacity of 300 tonnes, was designed and installed by Buhler Ltd. of Switzerland to produce flour with eight rollermills only. It began production in October 1995 after only one week's start-up time. The mill is the first in Europe to produce flour for bread and other bakery products with the eight-rollermill grinding technology using two double roll pack passages without intermediate sifting.

   Planning for the new mill began five years ago when the company built an 8,000-tonne grain silo, bringing total storage at the site to 12,000 tonnes. Some 60% of wheat supplies arrive by water on 1,000-tonne boats. The shipunloader has a capacity of 150 tonnes per hour, while road intake capacity is 80 tph.

   Nearly 95% of wheat is sourced from European Union countries — mainly Belgium, France and Germany. Only around 5% now comes from North America, compared with 20% in the 1970s.

   The mill produces two main flour types, Fleur de Froment, which is white flour, and Farine de Froment. Farine de Froment is whole wheat flour or wheat meal, which can be 100% integral wheat meal or a blend of white flour with 100% integral wheat meal and/or by-products.

   From intake, the grain goes through the first cleaning unit, which was installed immediately after the new storage silos as a planned step toward the construction of the new mill. Each grain bin outlet is equipped with a Buhler model MZAF flow balancer linked to a chain conveyor, which allows proportioning and blending to be carried out at the first cleaning.

   After weighing, the wheat is split into two streams where the moisture content is adjusted with a model MOZK intensive dampener before moving into holding bins for a tempering time of up to 18 hours.

   The second cleaning unit was constructed with the new mill. The grain passes a scourer, aspirator and dampener before flowing to first break.

   HIGH FLEXIBILITY PROVIDED. The grinding section incorporates the new Buhler Eight-Rollermill technology, in which two break or reduction passages are placed behind each other, but the stock is sifted only after the second grinding. The six MDDL eight-rollermills handle five break and 12 reduction passages, while the products of the two breaks and two reductions flow to sifter compartments after passing through single roll packs of two MDDK Airtronic four-rollermills. This technique provides a high level of flexibility and allows for the production of particular lines of specialty requirements.

   The technique also reduces energy consumption in the grinding process by 35% compared with a conventional plant. Savings come from cutting out the sifting operation between two passages, thereby reducing the number of pneumatic lifts by more than a third. The smaller number of machines also makes maintenance easier.

   In the finished product section, a portion of the flour can be dried down to 12% from 15.5% moisture in a two section negative pressure pneumatic conveying system; the system uses steam heated air as a conveying medium in the first section and cool air in the second section. The batch mixing plant with a capacity of 25 tph produces tailor-made flour for each individual consignment, adding gluten and up to seven mini- and micro-ingredients.

   Latest technology in the bulk loading section features 32 loadout bins equipped with pneumatic dischargers with large fluidizing beds that activate the flour for high speed discharge into tankers. A telescopic loader can travel up to 9.5 meters along the loading bay so that separate compartments can be filled without the tanker moving.

   Loading capacity varies from 250 to 280 tph depending on the type of flour. A scale control closes the valve below the bulk outload when the pre-programmed quantity for each compartment is released.

   Production is monitored at all stages by the laboratory, which is exceptionally large for the size of the mill and incorporates a Buhler MLU-202 laboratory mill and a complete operational bakery. The importance of quality control is underlined by the fact that there are five staff employed in the laboratory compared with the four milling staff responsible for each production shift.

   Another feature of the quality control operation is the Quality Index developed by Paniflower and based on the company's own laboratory tests and the Pani-flower Baking Test. The Quality Index also provides the basis for the mill's own computer software program developed by the company that controls much of the day-to-day operations. It provides information for wheat purchasing, classification of wheat in the silos, optimalization of wheat blending before milling, formulation of wheat flour and wheat meal, production planning and forecasting.

   The importance and size of the laboratory, the development of the Quality Index and the Baking Test highlight the emphasis Paniflower places on quality and consistency at all stages. The company produces 35 different types of flour to a very tight specification and aims to provide “made to measure” products for all its customers.

   Paniflower has more than 1,000 customers in Belgium, the Netherlands and northern France. The customer base ranges from small, local bakers, who account for about 40% of outside sales, to large industrial bakers accounting for the rest.

   On-going contact with customers is maintained by a team of 10 salesmen while a program of baking demonstrations is designed to keep customers in touch with new developments and opportunities in bakery processing.