Style and substance

by Teresa Acklin
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Spanish company blends grace of regional culture with latest in mill technology.

   By Melissa Cordonier, Editor

   Jerez de la Frontera is a city located about 100 kilometers south of Seville, Spain, in the southern region of Andalusia. The colorful environment of Jerez includes a 12th century fortress and mosque built by the Moors and several historic wineries known around the world for producing fine sherry.

   Jerez also is home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts, a prestigious riding center featuring the Dancing Horses of Jerez. Andalusians for centuries have bred and trained horses, and their passion for the graceful yet powerful creature is deeply imbedded in the culture.

   So when the time came for Jose Sanchez Polaina-Moreno, chief executive of the family milling company Grandes Molinos de Andalucia and a native of the region, to name his company's new flour mill on the outskirts of Jerez, it was not surprising that he chose the name El Caballo — Spanish for “the horse” — to celebrate family and regional tradition.

   The mill, completed in 1994, rises elegantly from the rolling plains surrounding the facility. The mill and wheat silos are enclosed in a single structure, and only a few windows break the crisp lines of its bright, cream colored exterior. A mounted row of flag poles marches across the front of the mill portion of the building; the mill's logo, depicting a rearing horse, extends nearly three stories on the building's silo section.

   The El Caballo mill is Grandes Molinos de Anda-lucia's showpiece facility, reflecting the Sanchez family's pride in a business that has grown and prospered over five generations. El Caballo also reflects, along with a sister mill in nearby Cadiz, the company's commitment to the latest in milling technology.

   Francisco Sanchez-Polaina, Mr. Jose Sanchez's father and the third generation of the family to work in flour milling, founded the present-day Grandes Molinos de Andalucia 50 years ago after the Spanish Civil War. The company purchased its first mill in the city of Jaen, about 425 km east-northeast of Jerez.

   In 1957, the Jaen mill was remodeled as a durum facility, and the company began to export the mill's semolina output to North African markets. The mill currently has a daily capacity of 400 tonnes.

   After Mr. Jose Sanchez assumed company operations from his father, Grandes Molinos de Andalucia acquired its second mill in 1990. This facility, located in Jerez, has a current daily milling capacity of 100 tonnes and serves the domestic market.

   In addition to acquiring that mill, the company also decided in 1990 to build a completely new facility to supply its growing export semolina market. A free trade zone had just been established in the port city of Cadiz, on the Atlantic Ocean some 36 km from Jerez, offering an attractive opportunity for a mill to serve customers in North Africa.

   The company's fourth mill is El Caballo in Jerez, for which ground was broken in 1993. El Caballo grinds bread wheat mostly for export markets.

   In conjunction with the construction of El Caballo, the Sanchez family formed Compania Agricola El Caballo Soc. Ltd., a new company wholly owned by Grandes Molinos de Andalucia. The new company also assumed operations of the existing flour mill in Jerez.

   Through 50 years of expansion, the head office of Grandes Molinos de Andalucia has remained in Jaen, home of the company's first mill. Francisco Sanchez Polaina-Tirado, the company founder's grandson and the fifth generation miller, has entered the family business part time as general manager while completing his studies at the University of Seville.

   Today, with four mills, the company's total daily capacity is 1,325 tonnes. But even in 1991 and 1992, the Jaen and Cadiz mills each year ranked third and fourth, respectively, among 130 Spanish mills in terms of sales, according to a milling industry report.

   And although more than a third of the 130 mills experienced a decline in sales between 1991 and 1992, Grandes Molinos de Andalucia's three mills saw total sales increase by an aggregate of 21% during that period.


   Grandes Molinos de Andalucia has exported semolina from its Jaen mill since 1957. But growth in the company's export business expanded sharply upon completion of the company's Cadiz plant, Molinos Bahia de Cadiz.

   The durum mill in Cadiz, which produces semolina for couscous, initially was constructed in 1990 with a 200-tonne per day capacity. The facility quickly was expanded with a second 200-tonne per day unit that came on line in 1992.

   But as the market for semolina in North Africa continued to grow, Molinos Bahia de Cadiz needed even more capacity to meet the demand. The company then began to examine ways to expand.

   Spain's accession to the European Union and the subsequent end to tariff barriers on imported milling equipment encouraged the company to take a closer look at suppliers outside of Spain, Mr. Francisco Sanchez said. At the same time, the company became aware of the new wheat debranning technology under development by Satake U.K., Stockport, U.K.

   The debranning technology offered a solution to the need to increase capacity as well as product quality, while minimizing the size and cost of building expansion, Mr. Sanchez said.

   Satake's PeriTec system consists of a conditioning and debranning process that occurs before the first milling break. Conditioning in the bins is controlled by computer software to assure accurate moisture levels and timing.

   Wheat then flows through a series of wheat debranning machines, which remove the bran. The degree of removal is controlled through speed selection, abrasion pressure adjustments and grain flow. Because the bran is removed before milling, fewer breaks are required.

   New site construction at Molinos Bahia de Cadiz was minimal, including four new bins adjacent to the existing structure. Two bins hold 230 tonnes each for dirty wheat, and the other two hold 120 tonnes each for conditioning; the conventional “A” mill uses four 120-tonne dirty wheat bins and three 40-tonne conditioning bins.

   In 1993, conversion of Molinos Bahia de Cadiz's “B” mill was completed, making it the first to operate with the PeriTec debranning system. The project, which included fully automating milling operations, increased the B mill's daily capacity to 360 tonnes from 200 tonnes, and no additional milling equipment was required. The increased capacity comes from higher extraction rates and throughput.

   A smaller cleaning and debranning arrangement was installed to raise the A mill's daily capacity to 215 tonnes. Total capacity at the Cadiz facility now is 575 tonnes a day.

   The mill stores only enough wheat to cover 24 hours of operation, and wheat arrives regularly by truck. The plant is situated about 50 to 90 meters from the quay, and the finished product is handled through a sling system.

   The mill's semolina is packed manually in 50 kilogram bags; packers can fill about 50 tonnes per hour. The bags are stacked on slings, where they remain until they are unloaded on the vessel. Hoists load and unload the slings to and from the trucks and the warehouse and to the vessel.


   Before the Cadiz project was completed, planning and work began on the Sanchez family's newest mill, El Caballo. The company selected Satake U.K. for the greenfield project, which consists of a conventional milling system for bread wheat.

   El Caballo has a daily capacity of 250 tonnes and was designed for future expansion. The mill curently operates with 10 Satake model RRMB rollermills. Other equipment includes two closed circuit aspirators, two milling separators, three purifiers, three plansifters, four branfinishers and three quiversifters. A laboratory, process control room and offices complete the main mill facility.

   The structure was designed with aesthetics, as well as functionality, in mind. The floors are constructed of marble throughout, while the main stairway is polished white marble. For energy efficiency, the mill contains only a few windows on each floor. The largest windows, some of which are stained glass, are reserved for the stairway landings.

   A new warehouse stores bagged flour destined for export. Transportation of incoming wheat and outgoing flour is accomplished by truck.

   When planning the mill, the Sanchez family's goal was to create a prestigious mill built to the highest standards. The mill also represents a milestone in the company's development as a high quality producer of mill products, Mr. Sanchez said.

   With its export mill in Jaen, the new El Caballo mill in Jerez, and the unique PeriTec mill in Cadiz, the company is confident of its future as a leading Spanish supplier to overseas markets.