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Digital transformation in the milling industry

07 September 202010 min reading

Digitalization is progressing rapidly. It offers various opportunities to improve processes, increase value, reduce food wastage, better usage of resources, quicker decision making, and transparent communication throughout the value chain. With the development of technology, the era of self-determining and self-assessing production facilities in which all components of machinery communicate with each other will become widespread. The milling industry has to embrace this production mode and adapt to new technological developments.

In recent years, with the acceleration of technological developments, the world has begun to enter a digital transformation. This transformation affects and changes personal and work life in almost every way. The world is now more “smart.”

The concept of digitization, which has been affecting all processes of business life, will affect institutions, organizations and companies whether they are local or global, small or big. In the context of globalization, which is a necessity of the fourth industrial revolution, digital transformation is a necessity for all sectors.

One of the sectors influenced by innovation and digitalization is the food processing industry. It is vital to keep pace with this transformation for the milling sector just like for every sector. Innovation can meet the needs of the rapidly growing world population with digital investments in a sustainable manner. Technology has the potential to bring greater advantage to all players in the supply chain, bringing greater efficiency to production processes. The companies that realize this are making investments to adapt to the changing market conditions and to the digital age in order to meet the demand. Companies are working on innovative technologies to produce solutions that include a controlled production system, develop systems that conduct comprehensive data analysis, improve process efficiency, ensure easy and fast machine maintenance, and make a long working life possible.

The milling industry, where the digital revolution shows its effect, still has a long way to go in this context. For the moment we are at the very beginning of the road, yet the direction is clear. With the development of technology, the era of self-determining and self-assessing production facilities, in which all components of machinery communicate with each other, is starting. More efficient facilities will be built in which inputs, particularly energy consumption, and resources and maintenance costs and periods are reduced.

The milling business is essentially a matter of quantity management. A desired level of quantity must be produced within a certain time with the minimum workforce and with the expected world’s population rise from 7.2 to 9.5 billion people by 2050, feeding everyone will be a global challenge, requiring contribution throughout the complex food value chain. Consumers also want to know where their food has come from and how it has been grown, harvested and processed. They are also interested in its environmental impact and whether its’ growers were paid fairly. “Until now, the industry has only been able to dream of solutions for providing consumers with food that they can trust. But now, with the opportunities opened up by digitalization and automation system, we are closer to capturing sustainably the food system’s full value,” says Senior Milling Technologist Karan Singhal. “Technical philosophy should be to develop innovative technologies to improve process efficiency, sustainable usage of resources like energy, water, land and water in crop cultivation, continually monitor the level of bacteria that is being reduced during the milling process, gather information about temperature and humidity in silos to safe guard from unwanted bacterial growth, mould infection and mycotoxin contamination, compensate for wear, ensure dust-free environment, require minimal spare parts, provide easy-in-line maintenance, establish long term reliability, maintain a longer service life.”

For healthy and nutritious food to be available to billions of consumers around the globe each day, these commodities must be transported in bulk, stored, traded, processed, and distributed through various channels. And while the commodities are in-transit, they can be exposed to various conditions like extreme weather, poor storage facility, physical, chemical or biological contaminations. “However, digitalization is inspiring exciting new solutions that can address these issues, enabling processes to be adjusted to optimize yield, save energy, prevent wastage or contamination and remove defective produce,” Mr. Singhal notes.

Digitalization has enabled in creation of numerous applications and software which can be used on various terminal devices. It offers various opportunities to improve processes, increase value, reduce food wastage, better usage of resources, quicker decision making and transparent communication throughout the value chain.

Besides, businesses that produce appropriate innovative solutions by observing emerging needs and demands during the pandemic period, will have important opportunities. In the agri-food sector, food safety and food accessibility have come to the fore. In this respect, food industrialists will focus on technology and digitalization investments as much as possible, which will increase efficiency and reduce food losses. For example, by creating a blockchain infrastructure in the supply chain, flour industrialists can track information such as the origin of the seed, the rate of pesticide used, transportation and storage conditions for each party of the wheat and they can make all these data available to the consumers. The transparent tracking of the chain will not only provide food safety but also reduce intermediaries and product losses within the chain.

What does digitalization mean for milling? What is the role of digitalization in the milling industry? How can we define the modern mill? “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,” answers Peter Striegl, Head of Business Development Wheat and Rye at Bühler.

Prof. Farhan Alfin, who has a long experience in providing consultancy in flour milling and milling science, also points out the big data. “If someone asks me about my imagination of the smart mill, I will say that it has to produce flour of a certain customer without any human intervention. This means that the mill has a big database include all mill parameters for example requirements of customers, quality characteristics of wheat that are in the mill silos and has the ability to produce that flour from wheat by regulating the production parameters. The first stage of an intelligent mill is establishing a big database by monitoring every point of milling process from raw materials to products and all operational status of machines”

In a flour mill, with the data of the real-time sensors, you could adjust the pressure of the rollers or send the flour through more cycles to adjust the granulometry, or maybe decide to pass it (or not) through more plansifters or purifiers. “The beauty of this is that you don’t have to wait until the product is ready to process again, or accept that some product will be lower quality because of the time involved in taking a sample, analyzing it, and then adjusting the machines. The quality loss is minimized,” says Industrial Mechanical Engineer Prof. Gustavo Sosa. “For example, in a rice mill, you could know in real-time the percentage of broken grains. If your hullers and your polishers had hydraulic or electromechanical regulation, you could adjust them instantly to decrease the percentage of broken kernels, and also adjust the graders downstream so they catch more of the defective grains,” he notes.

To achieve Artificial Intelligent Mills, Industry 4.0 has to be applied. Appling Industry 4.0 in the mill process and machines included in the process carried out in three stages:

1. Creating a big digital data collection in a cloud platform by developing an advanced sensors technology. This data collection is called industrial data repository or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. 2. IoT (Internet of Things): Mill process machines have to be developed to have the ability for communication on the internet to automatic control systems. 3. A fully automated process that can completely be controlled from outside the mill with machine learning technologies has an artificial ıntelligence algorithm trying to mimic, and eventually supersede human behavior and intelligence.

All these digital data collection, storage, analysis, and evaluation can enhance transparency in the milling process as well as throughout the value chain. “Due to so deep penetration of digitalization many pilot projects are been conducted to trace wheat grain from farm to fork using blockchain technology, to provide full traceability and transparency,” says Mr. Singhal.

In an intelligent mill, the actions determined from the collected and analyzed data are executed automatically. The intelligent mill is constantly optimizing itself. “The AI milling system will be concerned to collecting and analyzing the data from the other activities of the mill, such as logistics, quality assurance, auditing and so on in order to take the necessary conclusions,” notes Prof. Alfin. “Intelligent milling system will be equipped with special process algorithms that allow software applications to become more accurate in predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed. This system will be developed to create a maintenance program that reduces possible maintenance errors and decreases personal and maintenance costs.” points out Prof. Alfin.

AI mill systems have the potential to bring greater advantage to the production process. Miller has to know that the investments in new automation and digitalized systems is more efficient and profitable than conventional mill system. AI mill systems will improve process efficiency, eliminate personnel errors, the yield of the mill can be optimized and significantly increase the quality of the products, improve traceability, reduce energy consumption, need fewer workforces, ensure easy and fast machine maintenance, and make a long uptime.

“The milling industry will have to embrace IoT, or they will be left behind,” warns Syed Ashraf, Vice President of Automation and Electrical Engineering at Kice Industries. “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 plant.”

According to Mr. Ashraf, future IoT mills will 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 industrial revolution; it’s the way we produce products due to digital transformation. IoT makes 4.0 possible and smart factory a reality. Equipment in our process industry is 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.” he underlines.

Having access to reliable contaminant mitigation, trustworthy information and real-time quality monitoring are not new challenges for food processors. However, digitalization enables the industry to deal with these challenges so that we can provide healthy food to feed the ever-increasing global population.

Thanks to technological advancement and the research and development work carried out by suppliers, it is certain that the input expenses can be lowered, maintenance cost and duration can be reduced, and facilities with quieter and fewer workers can be built. Also, we can predict that future mills will be faster and safer in food safety, hygiene, and quality control.

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  • Digital transformation in the milling industry Digitalization is progressing rapidly. It offers various opportunities to improve processes, increase value, reduce food wastage, better usage of resources, quicker decision making, and transparent communication throughout the value chain. With the development of technology, the era of self-determining and self-assessing production facilities in which all components of machinery communicate with each other will become widespread. The milling industry has to embrace this production mode and adapt to new technological developments. [button color="red" size="small" link="https://millermagazine.com/english/making-the-smart-mill-a-reality/.html" icon="" target="true"]Click To Read >>>[/button]
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