“After automation, digitalization is the next logical step on the way to intelligent milling. This means that applying today’s possibilities offered by digitalisation, the yield of the mill can be optimised and the quality of the products significantly increased, traceability improved, energy consumption reduced and overall plant efficiency decisively increased. Those are promising perspectives! We have been focusing on the topic for some years. But now we are moving full speed ahead.”
Head of Business Development Wheat & Rye
Bühler AG in Uzwil / Switzerland
Global digitalization is progressing rapidly. Experts anticipate that by 2020, four billion people will be digitally connected with each other, 25 million apps will be in use, a total of 25 billion sensors will be monitoring processes in productive operations and a total of 50,000 billion gigabytes of data will be stored worldwide.
What does digitalization mean for milling? What is the role of digitalization in the milling industry? Digital services are the first step in the complete digitalization of the modern mill. Peter Striegl, Head of Business Development, Business Unit Wheat & Rye at Bühler and his team are on the digital path towards making mills intelligent.
Here are Mr. Striegl’s answers to questions about digitalization in the milling:
Peter Striegl, has the digital age reached the milling industry as well?
Yes and no. Modern mills are mostly automated already, meaning they are centrally controlled. The majority of individual processes run autonomously. But that in itself does not yet have a lot to do with digitalization.
So, what is ‘digitalization’ then?
In addition to automatic control systems, modern mills are also increasingly equipped with various sensors that detect diverse specific data and report these to a central control. This is where digitalization comes into play. The stored data are transformed into signals that can be further processed.
“Can” you say?
Even though many mills are equipped for the digitalization step, there still aren’t many mills that actually evaluate the data they collect and link the individual processes. We estimate that about 95% of all the data that is collected is not evaluated. After automation, digitalization is the next logical step on the way to intelligent milling. But we are still at the beginning of digitalization in the milling industry.
Where do you think the reasons for this lie?
The topic of digitalization is just at its beginning; it is very complex and it is also abstract. Many millers don’t know what to think about it, or only have a limited concept of it. In addition, the benefits are not always easily recognized for individual milling operations. A survey of 17 different industries carried out by the IT company Cisco Systems found that downtime is reduced by 48% when so-called digital services are used, errors are reduced by 49% and energy consumption is reduced by 18%. At the same time, according to the survey, the efficacy of the entire plant is increased by 16%.
What does this mean for milling?
This means that applying today's possibilities offered by digitalisation, the yield of the mill can be optimised and the quality of the products significantly increased, traceability improved, energy consumption reduced and overall plant efficiency decisively increased. Those are promising perspectives!
And how is digitalization supposed to create all that?
The increased use of sensors means that all the data collected can be systematically evaluated and then the findings which are identified implemented.
That sounds fairly easy?
It’s not. There is still a long way to go until we reach complete digitalization of milling. We are also anticipating that the food industry will be developing new business models in the years ahead. We want to follow that carefully.
Is Bühler already on the way to doing that?
We have been focusing on the topic for some years. But now we are moving full speed ahead. That means that we need to develop optimization options with our customers in all areas and work closely together on digital applications. We are looking at three different levels. The first level concerns the manufacturing process. The individual machines with their sensors and control systems are at this level. The second level concerns collecting, digitizing and analyzing the data from the other activities of the mill, such as logistics, quality assurance, auditing and so on in order to draw the necessary conclusions. We understand our task as making the necessary instrumentation available to the mill operators. They should be able to create transparency in order to increase the efficiency of the overall mill.
And the third level?
Here we are looking at whether digitalization can give rise to new business models in the added value chain of grain processing. But that is still far in the future.
And what specific tools can Bühler offer today to help mills move in the direction of digitalization?
As mentioned before, digitalization requires “smart” equipment, processes and state-of –the-art automation systems. With our Mercury MES (Manufacturing Execution System) we made a huge step into this direction. Mercury MES enables a seamless exchange of information throughout the systems involved in the production process. Data availability and real-time feedback allow smart decision making, increasing your milling performance and productivity. Mercury MES is web-based, thus adaptive and accessible on any device. Plus it is the backbone for digital services which increase your profitability through new and better insights. On top of that, we have launched several digital services on the market over the past few months. For instance, our compact and portable system GrainiGo™ which makes a simple, fast and accurate analysis of freshly harvested maize. All of our digital services share something in common: They relieve customers of the monitoring work and help them optimize their mills.
In other words, Bühler is on the way to digitalization. Is everything going smoothly?
Mostly, yes. The longer we work on the topic, the more we recognize new possibilities through digitalization. And we also run into obstacles, of course. One challenge, for example, is IT security. To achieve the greatest benefits from the evaluation of the data, values from all of the mills and machinery should ideally be compared. In our concept, this should take place on the Bühler cloud where the Bühler customer data is merged. All Bühler customers benefit from anonymous data collection in compliance with international security standards without any trade secrets being divulged in the process. We work very closely with market leader Microsoft, both technically and in terms of security.
What does the digital future look like for milling?
Intelligent milling is our goal. Intelligent, because the actions determined from the collected and evaluated data are executed automatically. The intelligent mill is constantly optimizing itself and learning in addition.
Is the head miller still going to be needed when mills can regulate themselves?
Absolutely... Without the miller, who has the process knowledge, it won’t work in the future. His ‘feeling’ will still be needed, even 20 years from now. But his daily routine will change. Digitalizing the mill will give him important index numbers and help him make the right decisions faster.