Automation in milling industry

08 October 20217 min reading

If we are talking about a forward-looking system like automation in milling, smart mills, and Industry 4.0, we cannot ignore this system. What we are supposed to do is to optimize the infrastructure of our businesses and energy distribution systems to make Industry 4.0 available and to benefit from the facilities and advantages offered by the system.

Karan Singhal
Plant Manager 
Swiss Bake, Trade Kings Group, Zambia

Among the basic targets of the transition to automation and smart milling are to reduce human-based works by ensuring the establishment of the ergonomic & save energy, to achieve maximum efficiency and capacity in optimum conditions by optimizing losses & wastage, and produce high reliability products. In the context of quality criteria using high-tech digital instruments in all processes and provide a more profitable and sustainable working environment in the manufacturing industry where profit margins are low in a tough competitive environment. 

Today, especially in the food sector, sustainability and traceability are two very important factors. Therefore, process control is vital in milling plants where tons of production are made per day. 

Automation is a must for quality and error-free production in these plants. What opportunities and advantages does automation offer to flour mills? What kind of solutions can information technology and operational technology offers to millers are being discussed herein.

Following opportunities and advantages are being offered by automation systems to flour mills


• Automation provides mills aid by removing variability. 

• In flour mills, it is capable of continuously monitoring production streams, for variances in production rates and quality. 

• Dips in rates and quality can be monitored on real-time bases, and in some cases, corrected upstream automatically. 

• Automation also offers trending and historical data to help management in finding the most efficient methods for production. 

• Equipment condition monitoring can provide an early indication of imminent machinery failure, providing the opportunity for planned maintenance and improve production uptime. 

Automation systems affect the yield of milling plants

• Systems can react to changing variables without delays or need manual interventions.

• Information can be presented to operators, engineers, and management to review control variables to drive consistency.

• Operators are not required to be in front of each control point to make adjustments.

• They help meet regulatory compliance as well as quality of product, safety of human resource and machinery.

The basic principles of a properly functioning and designed automation system are:

• Consistent production output.

• Higher availability

• Operators adjust variables rather than controls.

• Safety is increased by keeping operations out of harm way.

• Availability of historical data, as well as real-time operational data.

In many countries around the globe, medium and small-scale facilities continue to operate manually, each and every plant is suitable for automation. In my view, developing countries where labor costs are low, automation is needed to increase safety, improve production, and achieve plant optimization. However, the level of automation could differ. In developed countries, we have achieved a “lights out” fully automated operations that only require a minimum amount of maintenance personnel. The cost for automation control systems varies from 16-25% of the total budget based on size and sophistication of the plant. In today’s connected world, with VNP, one can control and support the plant from anywhere, anytime 24/7.

The innovations and solutions brought to the milling industry are: 

• Ethernet-enabled (smart) MCC’s, which enables operator to clear faults and monitor statuses without going into the MCC room.

• More diagnostic and performance data is available.

• Reduced downtime with replacing units.

• Enhanced production reporting and data to measure plant performance quickly and precisely.

• Tracking of products throughout the process.

• Migration of legacy automation systems to the newer and updated control systems.

The convergence of IT (Information technology) and OT (Operational technology) opens a great opportunity for everyone involved. The convergence of business systems with plant-wide / site-wide automation systems provides for more tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs), regulatory compliance (genealogy, track and trace), as well as supply chain management if needed. The industrial automation and IT groups, who previously had little interaction, are now collaborating to share standards, best practices, innovations, security policies, procedures and technology.

The milling industry will have to embrace IoT, or they will be left behind. Regulatory compliance, recall procedures, food security and innovations will force them to stay current. Plant optimization, cost competitiveness, and productivity gains are the benefits of a digital small mill.

Further, smart mills work within a secure wireless network, and they will be supporting a highly automated process, linked seamlessly with enterprise software working through the cloud. Operators are controlling the mills from their tablets, with all the facility data at the fingertips, including the equipment manuals.

As we know, Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industry revolution, it’s the way we produce product due to digital transformation. IoT makes 4.0 possible and smart mill a reality. Equipment in our process industry are getting smarter, and they are producing critical data that are essential to increase productivity. These machines are connected with one another and create and share information. In our milling industry, we have smarter roller mills, scaling systems, moisture controller that are communicating with the plant master controller, and some are communicating with each other producing better results. In our industry, I see the adaptation of Industry 4.0 to be slow due to its cost, but it will happen.

Millennials are the driving force behind this requirement, and we better adapt. This technology revolution, though very slow to adapt in the milling and grains industry, is here to stay.

In conclusion, I can maintain that if we are talking about a forward-looking system like automation in milling, smart mills, and Industry 4.0, we cannot ignore this system. What we are supposed to do is to optimize the infrastructure of our businesses and energy distribution systems to make Industry 4.0 available and to benefit from the facilities and advantages offered by the system.

About Author

Karan Singhal, Milling Technologist Professional with accomplished 12.5 years of experience providing proficient, cost-effective, innovative solutions for increasing operational efficiency, improving product quality, maximizing yields, and achieving production goals. Possesses technical and mechanical knowledge of milling equipment, systems, processes, and methods. Refined operations management expert within large-scale multifaceted production environments. With both tertiary and extensive practical experience within the FMCG, wheat flour milling, maize milling, oat milling, legume and pulses milling including related grain processing thermal applications, combined with the relevant, proven expertise, in GMP, OHS, JIT, MRP, Food-Processing, Quality-Assurance, Food-Safety, Product Traceability, Production Scheduling, Process Enhancement, Raw Material Purchasing, Packaging Operational Coordination within related in-house external service industries.

He has Postgraduate Diploma Course in flour milling from International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM), Lenexa, Kansas, USA (2021) and Postgraduate Diploma Course in Flour Milling Technology from International School of Milling Technology, CSIR - Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India, Mysuru, Karnataka, India (2011-2012). He is the author of many professional editorials in renowned milling industry magazines and an active member of IAOM.

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