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‘Our future is digital’

06 October 20206 min reading

Philipp Marquart Production Manager Grüninger Mühlen Flums, Switzerland

“The more we digitally link and control our individual processes, the more we can simplify standard processes. That will also reduce the number of potential sources of error. The bottom line is that all of this leads to consistent quality and yield, savings in energy consumption and, ultimately, optimized working conditions.”

Philipp Marquart grew up close to the headquarters of Grüninger Mühlen, in Flums, in the uplands of St. Gallen (Switzerland). Philipp Marquart completed his apprenticeship as a miller at the Grüninger family business before undertaking further training at the Swiss Milling School in St. Gallen, followed by attendance at the Master School in Stuttgart (Germany) where he won the “Best International Young Miller” award. In November 2017, Philipp Marquart became Production Manager at Grüninger Mühlen at the age of 20. In addition, he has been an expert examiner at the Swiss Milling School (SMS) in St. Gallen since 2018 and an expert examiner for the milling profession, specializing in food (Swiss Certificate of Competence) since 2019.

We interviewed with this inspiring young miller about the future of milling and the opportunities digitalization offers to our industry.

Philipp Marquart, at 23, you are currently the youngest production manager in the Swiss milling industry. May I ask, do you have sufficient experience for the role? Yes, actually I do. I’ve been working for six years already in the milling industry and so I already have quite a bit of experience. I have gained important knowledge that I know how to use. Also, I think that in a developing industry, too much routine could be a hindrance.

Especially when it comes to breaking new ground? Yes, exactly. Here, too, I follow my principle: In order to achieve the possible, the impossible must be tried again and again. I’m open to innovation and want to learn about, and try out, new technologies. It’s important that I don't have tunnel vision – I want to look out for what else is happening.

What innovations and new products have you come across at the Grüninger mill? Quite a variety, depending on the area: where automation and monitoring are concerned, there’s a lot happening. Thanks to Bühler’s automation, the Grüninger mills have been running in single-shift operation for ten years already — eight hours actively operated, 16 hours run on automatic. This means there is a quality check around the clock. If any deviations are detected, the system alerts the miller on duty. On the whole, what I found when I joined the company has given me a good starting point for further innovations.

What innovations have you introduced since then? We have further expanded and modernized our automated quality inspection for flour using NIR technology so that, in future, quality-conscious production can continue to be guaranteed around the clock. We were also the first mill in the world to introduce Bühler’s Mercury MES Manufacturing Execution System. It enables us to monitor every process and coordinate incoming and outgoing goods, thus ensuring complete traceability. Then, as a pilot partner of Bühler, we equipped five of our 17 grinding and milling passages with new roll sensors. We hope that this will provide us with information about temperature and vibration, and about power consumption related to the entire grinding process. The next step is to work out the implications from this data. Among other things, we would like to compare the two factors, machine wear and yield, and find out at what point a higher yield is more costly than a lower one. Wear and energy consumption are indicators that can be altogether higher and we therefore have to take them into account.

What conclusions have you already reached? It's still a bit too early for that. However, we have already come to some initial conclusions about temperature and vibration dependency. We’re working with the people from Bühler to assess our experiences and we meet with them regularly.

What “digital” projects are you working on next? We’re currently looking into how to link our laboratory to production. Up to now, the laboratory has been completely separate from the mill. By linking it to production, we would save an entire work step. To put it simply, in future, the Mercury MES control system will automatically find the correct parameters for the correct grinding process based on the laboratory values.

You are committed to digitizing Grüninger mills. What do you see as the advantages of this? The more we digitally link and control our individual processes, the more we can simplify standard processes. That will also reduce the number of potential sources of error. The bottom line is that all of this leads to consistent quality and yield, savings in energy consumption and, ultimately, optimized working conditions.

Grüninger Mühlen is a relatively small player by international comparison. Is digitizing the mill worth the financial expense? Yes, in fact it’s extremely worthwhile. We must not only compare ourselves with other countries, but also proof ourselves on the Swiss market. That means that we work here under “Swiss” conditions with high personnel costs, a very high level of quality and with end consumers who demand a high level of transparency. Digitization helps us to meet these requirements.

What other possibilities do you see for further digitization at Grüninger Mühlen? Our company doesn’t just do production. Individual divisions are still working with different systems. We need to bring all the processes together from intake, the whole production, quality assurance, warehousing up to delivery into smart systems that work with each other and are compatible with the Mercury MES control system. This will simplify our work and lead to continuous improvements.

Will you be able to turn Grüninger Mühlen into a smart mill by 2030? In a family business like ours, it’s the management that basically decides on the future. From my point of view, we are working towards a smart, autonomous mill. In production, staff will be able to concentrate on monitoring processes and ensuring compliance with standards.

What role do humans play in the “smart mill”? We mustn’t forget that we work with natural products. Not everything can be standardized. We still need our employees’ knowledge and skills. It is they — not the (digital) machine — that have a feel for the subtleties and nuances, and they are the ones that set the standards.

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