Italian milling machinery maker Ocrim on Sept. 14-15 brought together milling sector stakeholders from around the world for Open Day at its Cremona headquarters. The prime focus was meeting the company’s customers, but the conference that formed a large part of the weekend’s events took a close look at non-traditional feedstocks likely to be used increasingly in the sector.

In an interview in the margins of the meeting with World Grain, Alberto Antolini, CEO of Ocrim, explained that the event was first held “about 10 years ago almost as a joke.” It had come to attract “an audience of people, friends, customers who could share with us those few moments enthusiasm that can occur in an event like this.”

“Our profession is a complicated profession,” he said. “The work side-by-side is longer and consequently the human and professional relationship, which goes from the zero phase to the final phase, takes a very long time.” The event creates “a feeling between supplier and customer in order to reach the common goal.”

Marco Galli, chief technologist at Ocrim, explained the demands facing milling equipment manufacturers.

“Today, the trend we are seeing is that the market is requiring plants to be flexible for future requirements,” he said. “More flexible means a plant which is efficient and reliable, with the utmost productivity, which can manage product market trend changes, which is energy saving, which is ease of maintenance and easy day-by-day operation.”

Fabrizio Baccinelli, sales director at Ocrim, added: “Our mission is to share all our expertise and knowledge to the market, gained from our international experience, as we operate globally from west to east. Certain requirements that you see in Asia are not so common as in Europe or the U.S., or vice versa. However, markets are changing and will continue to change in the future, hence, our goal is to provide our customers with a tailor-made solution not only for today’s market but also for their future needs, providing them with a competitive advantage.”

Asked how the drive for flexibility affects milling machinery design, Galli said that “the experience that we have is that today a lot of awareness is placed on reducing power or energy as one of the aspects.”

“Different technologies or solutions for saving energy are available in the market and we continue to develop new technologies. However, we should not forget that energy savings can also be achieved through how efficiently you operate and manage the plant,” Baccinelli said.

Sophisticated automation and plant design solutions allow to maximize productivity by minimizing downtime and consequently energy savings. Galli explained that one way Ocrim managed to fulfill this goal was to introduce the Modular Technology Concept, making it possible to stop only part of a plant for maintenance or trouble shooting, while keeping the rest running.

“This allows you to save a lot of energy, maintain a lot of productivity, which then is an economic benefit,” Galli said.

In response to a question on how flour mills would be different in 8 or 10 years, Galli suggested that they would be designed to produce more specific products and a mix of products. Baccinelli gave legumes as an example.

“Legumes are being introduced in flour milling,” he said. “Realistically, how the market is going to look in the future is not easy to say.”

Ocrim CEO Alberto Antolini was one of the featured speakers at Ocrim’s Open Day in September. Photo courtesy of Ocrim.

Pulse processing examined

Pulses were a theme of Baccinelli’s presentation at the conference.

He noted that “21.8% of the world’s population relies on plant protein as a major source of the protein in its diet.”

Production of pulses had jumped sharply in recent years. Pulses “are showing up in unexpected places,” he said, citing bread, pasta and snacks as examples. “Legumes are becoming a popular ingredient in the pet food industry.”

Drivers are the change in awareness, politics and sustainability.

“Some consumers identify as partially vegetarian,” he said. “This has led to increased demand for non-animal protein.”

Thirty percent of consumers consume gluten-free products by choice, because they perceive them as healthier.

“In Western countries, more emphasis is placed on sustainability,” he said. “About 3 kg of plant protein is required to produce 1 kg of meat.”

Celiac disease also has played a role.

Simona Diguini, biotechnologist at Ocrim, outlined the huge range of possible alternative flours.

“We make flours with everything,” she said.

One factor is the increase in wheat allergies, creating a need to find substitutes to wheat and other gluten containing cereals.

“People need different diets,” she said. “We have to consider the mechanical function that the gluten gives to the flour.”

Massimo Blandino, a researcher at the University of Turin, looked at the use of maize in the Italian flour milling sector. The cereals area in Italy has fallen, affecting maize production.

“Ten years ago, we had 100% supply,” he said of maize.

Now imports of the grain are growing. He explained that the problem with supply is the volatility of prices.

“It makes it difficult to plan for farmers,” he said.