LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS, US —Returning to an in-person 125th International Association of Operative Millers’ Conference and Expo gave suppliers a chance to showcase their new products once again in person and answer questions from potential customers face-to-face.

More than 100 companies exhibited at the 125th IAOM Conference and Expo, Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in Little Rock, Arkansas, US. The event had been postponed from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bühler showcased Arrius its new integrated grinding machine. It takes up less space, has improved grinding efficiency and provides energy savings, said Hendrik Weichelt, sales account manager, milling solutions.

“It’s not a roll stand anymore,” he said. “We refer to it as an integrated grinding machine. The electrical cabinet is part of the machine that helps save space, installation and startup time. You just plug one cable into the machine.”

Arrius also features a direct gearbox connection that offers 10% in energy savings. A new feed module with an asymmetrical inlet and screw ensures there is uniform spread and distribution over the whole length of the rolls, Weichelt said.

“It helps lengthen the lifetime of the roll because you are efficiently using the whole roll,” he said.

Four sensors on each side of the Arrius measure the grinding pressure in the rolls so the millers can determine what needs to be adjusted.

“People are extremely curious; it is a new innovation,” Weichelt said. “We are on a journey to create the first smart mill. This is one part of the whole picture.”

Bühler also was highlighting BühlerVision, a remote service and maintenance solution that was born out of the pandemic. It uses smart glass technology in a hands-free unit worn around the head.

“Customers have them, we have them and we can view what they are viewing at the same time,” said Andrew Ruggiero, area service manager/US East. “We’ve had very, very positive reception.”

Using the remote connection speeds up reaction times and reduces travel time and costs, he said.

The technology was just one of the innovative ways Bühler created to stay in touch with customers during the pandemic, Ruggiero said.

“In March 2020 everyone was scared; we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We as a company had great leadership, great team mentality. We stuck together and came up with innovative ways to stay in touch with customers. We want to work through this because at some point, we have to provide food for 10 billion people.”

The pandemic moved meetings and face-to-face interaction with customers to mostly online, said Reed Dinsdale with Cimbira, but business has remained strong.

“We’re starting to get through the uncertainty of everything and people are getting to a point where they can slow down a little bit and evaluate where they are in capital investment,” Dinsdale said.

With the surging demand for flour during the pandemic, flour millers were focused on producing as much as possible.

“Everybody is getting through that surge and can get back to capital projects and maintenance,” Dinsdale said.

Cimbria highlighted its SEA TRUE color sorter during the Expo. It features full color front and rear cameras with the ability to add NIR cameras to run in tandem. Models range from one to seven shoots for a capacity from a couple hundred bushels per hour to 1,200 in a single machine.

At its booth, Norvell had its new all metal sifter on display that is wood-free. The frame and inlets and outlets are stainless steel and the panels are lined with stainless.

The stack of sieves can be moved out as a unit, so if you’re working on a ladder it’s not necessary to remove each tray, said Brian Weaver, production engineer.

Like many equipment suppliers, Norvell has experienced some supply chain concerns and labor issues, said Andrea Bryant, sales and marketing.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of price increases, whether it’s raw materials or just shipping,” she said. “We do have some product we import and it seems to be very difficult even getting information on when it’s going to be here. For the most part, customers are understanding. At this point, it’s a universal problem.”

Cimbria’s Dinsdale agreed that the supply chain is an issue along with freight challenges.

“So far we’ve been able to navigate through that without seeing any real effect on manufacturing lead time,” he said.

With customers having trouble finding labor, he’s noticed an increase in requests for automation.

“A lot of companies have expressed real interest in automating as much as they can because they’re having trouble finding people to work,” Dinsdale said.