With its ideal location in the heart of Eurasia, where East has met West for the exchange of goods and services for centuries, El Grano LLP decided to step up its involvement in grain handling and processing to take advantage of what its geography had to offer.
Businesses located in this area have access to the markets of Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, China and countries to the south.
El Grano, which originally milled wheat in relatively small capacities, set out to overcome regional challenges and focus on quality in order to gain a competitive advantage in the global market. To that end it commissioned a greenfield silo facility in Akkol City, Kazakhstan, for wheat and sunflower seeds with a total storage capacity of 12,000 tonnes. The project, completed by Bühler’s local Grain Management division, also included solutions for intake and loading with access via train and truck conveying, automation, cleaning and drying systems.
Within the short amount of time following commissioning in 2018, El Grano already is seeing the benefits of its new facility. In the future, the facility could be expanded to include a new mill and an additional storage silo.
“Today El Grano operates the most advanced plant in Kazakhstan,” said Vitaly Goncharuk, director, El Grano.
Finding opportunity in challenges
El Grano was founded in 1997, 100 kilometers north of Astana in the Akmola region. It has one silo storage unit and two flour mills. The first mill has a capacity of 40 tpd and is located in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Its second mill, with a capacity of 60 tpd, is located at the site of its new 12,000-tonne storage silo in Akkol.
El Grano faced several challenges on different levels, but it had strategic goals to establish itself in the market. The Kazakhstan market is dominated by large private and state-owned holdings that tend to rely on quantity rather than product quality. Local requirements and standards are in many respects much lower than those on the international stage.
Kazakhstan is a leading exporter of wheat and flour. It has a large cultivated area that provides enough raw material for the processing industry. There are currently 300 operative mills that produce between 5 million and 6 million tonnes of flour per year. The installed capacity is higher, but many mills are not in operation.
Kazakhstani grain production in 2020-21 is expected to recover to 13.5 million tonnes, following a drought-impacted crop the previous year of 11.4 million tonnes, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Exports are expected to increase modestly to 6.7 million tonnes, partly due to concerns related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The nation has implemented restrictions on exports of certain food products, including wheat and wheat flour, the FAS said. Flour exports last year were low at 1.4 million tonnes, compared to the 2.8 million tonnes exported in the past year. This reduction was due in part to increased milling of Kazakhstani wheat in Uzbekistan.
While El Grano produces flour only for the domestic market, the company does plan to export wheat.
In order to compete in the international market, El Grano decided it needed to focus on quality, not just quantity. It set out to cater to customers with high demands and to offer made-to-measure solutions. To do that, it needed a facility with flexibility in operation and the ability to extend storage capacity in the future.
Smaller companies in Kazakhstan have difficulty financing investment in new plants and modernization. Currency fluctuation, harvest risks, poor service networks and a low-skilled workforce add to the challenges.
New storage facility
With its new facility, El Grano wanted a plant that would provide reliability and flexibility in operation. It also wanted to work with a company with a local presence. Bühler met those requirements, with the local team providing support during and after project execution. Bühler also provided expertise in purchasing third-party equipment and offered its help in planning for future expansion.
“If you want to be a leader, you have to work with the best: the best people, the best suppliers and business partners, the best solutions, and the best equipment and technologies,” said Andrey Yurchenko, owner, El Grano.
Bühler helped in securing government support and subsidies for the project. Knowledge transfer was a key element of the project. Representatives from El Grano were able to visit different reference projects in other countries as well as talk with experts and participate in training courses and learning programs.
The new project included four steel silos with storage capacity of 4,000 tonnes each, an intake system that includes two truck lines with a capacity of 100 tph and one rail intake with a capacity of 100 tph, and a loadout system that includes one rail line with capacity of 100 tph and one truck line with a capacity of 100 tph.
Processing equipment includes one drum sieve model MZKM 95 10/90 with a capacity of 100 tph; one universal cleaning machine model LAAB TAS 204A-4 with a capacity of 100 tph; and two Ultratrieur LADB UN404/8, each with a capacity of 12 tph.
Drying technology includes a Dryer Eco Dry STKX6-15/02 with a capacity of 50 tph. Conveying equipment includes 18 trough chain conveyors, each with a capacity of 100 tph; eight elevator legs with a capacity of 100 tph each; and two elevators legs with a capacity of 25 tph each.
El Grano already is seeing the benefits of the new facility. It can now process even the lowest quality wheat into a high-quality product. The day-to-day operation requires less personnel and less energy, and the systems are intelligent and easy to run. The company is achieving significantly lower operation costs per tonne than its competitors.
Dust emissions are reduced and overall the new plant is sustainable and an environmentally friendly solution. This is attracting new staff to the company and helping it secure new orders and customers.
El Grano can ensure the required raw material quality, particularly the protein quality, because of the gently drying system. This means avoiding the loss of raw material and achieving higher yield of the product with required qualities
With the new plant successfully in operation, El Grano already plans to extend the current set-up by installing a new mill and additional silo storage. The company is planning to extend the silo storage capacity to 40,000 tonnes and build a 150-tpd mill by 2025.