BLOG

Vorarlberger Mill: A traditional Austrian flour mill equipped for the future

10 March 20218 min reading
flour mill

The Vorarlberger Mill in Austria epitomizes the successful combination of tradition and cutting-edge technology. The introduction of Bühler’s Integrated Grinding System (IGS), Arrius, two years ago has not only improved efficiency and quality, it also future proofs the mill’s technology, so that they are ready to take advantage of increasing digitalization.

The Vorarlberger Mill is located in Austria’s westernmost community of Feldkirch, nestled in between the sloping foothills at the entry of the Ill Valley, near the border to Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. The region is blessed with a rich heritage and is proud of its culture, new and old. The same goes for the Vorarlberger cuisine which is deeply rooted in tradition. Local specialties include Riebel – a dish based on fried semolina – Spätzle, the famous pasta from the “Ländle”, and Vorarlberger Streuselkuchen. They may have humble origins, but today they form a colorful mélange of traditional rustic recipes and modern ideas and sophistication, diverse but typical and enriched with authenticity and style.

This is the local culture in which the Vorarlberger Mill has its roots and whose needs it strives to meet. It’s not all about size, but about quality and variety, according to Heinz Kollmann, Head of Production and Technology at the mill. “We are a relatively small mill,” he says. “This is why our employees are all the more challenged to deliver the best products with which our customers can celebrate perfect cooking and baking successes.”

A MILL ROOTED IN TRADITION

Founded in 1926, the current business is based on the merger in 1992 of three mills in the Vorarlberger region. Of the three original joint venture partners, two remain involved in the company today: the Rhomberg family and the Hagen family – both with long milling histories in Vorarlberg. In addition to the flour mill, the company also has a feed mill and a wood pellets production facility in Dornbirn, Austria.

buhler

The business prides itself on the continuation of traditions with a modern flavor. Its diverse range of user-friendly flour recipes are all based on Vorarlberger originals. "Vorarlberger Kuchenmehl" (Vorarlberger cake flour) and "Vorarlberger Spätzlemehl" (Vorarlberger spaetzle flour) are household names in the region, for commercial customers and private consumers alike. “The mill processes around 20,000 tons of wheat, durum and spelt annually. These are relatively small quantities in a European context but regionally the mill is one of the larger ones,” says Kollmann.

Kollmann comes from a milling family and has been involved in milling since childhood. After graduating from the milling school and master school for milling in Wels, he continued his career with an apprenticeship as a baker. He knows the ins and out of milling in minute detail and is committed to providing customers with high quality products whilst ensuring the highest level of safety and sustainability in production. He also knows the challenges the industry faces.

THE ONGOING DRIVE FOR EFFICIENCY

Milling has always been about efficiency – creating the most from the raw material available at minimum cost and of course within the quality limits. Efficiency is thus king when it comes to new investments,” says Kollmann.

The Vorarlberger Mill is a five-story swing mill with a capacity of 110 tons of wheat and 90 tons of durum per 24-hour operation. The mill’s silos hold 8,500 tons of grain. Five different types of semolina are produced alone. “What really matters to us are extraction rates, consistent quality, quick recipe swaps and fast product change times. In comparison to these, pure throughput and capacity are not the most critical factors,” says Kollmann.

The range of end-products manufactured at the Vorarlberger Mill is impressive: There are over 30 different flours, semolina and baking mixes. “Schnell & Gut” is the leading brand in Austria with ten different product mixes. The products form the basis for many of the new and traditional recipes of the region and beyond. The customers include commercial and industrial bakeries, restaurants, food service providers and large pasta factories in Austria and the neighboring countries. Private households buy the products mainly in grocery stores but also directly through sales via the mill.

Eighty percent of the grain comes from the plains of Lower Austria. The mill has its own railway connection. “The Vorarlberger Mill is not located in one of the main harvest regions of Austria. That is a competitive disadvantage. As we’re committed to our business here in the Vorarlberg, we need to compensate with product quality, efficiency and innovation,” says Kollmann. This is where leading edge technology comes in.

A LEAP AHEAD

The Vorarlberger Mill used to operate Bühler’s MDDC roller mills, which had been in service for several decades. By modern standards these had become outdated both in terms of hygiene and safety, and mechanical components had reached the end of their lifecycle. A complete replacement was necessary.

The millers therefore decided to replace the old system with Bühler’s 0-series Arrius grinding systems. Altogether fourteen MDDC roller mills were replaced with 12 Arrius Integrated Grinding System (IGS). After the old roller mills were removed, the floors had to be reinforced to bear the additional weight of the new system.

The complete realization of the project including the necessary building adaptation took approximately one month. Mechanical works started end of July and lasted until August 26, 2018. Commissioning was then completed within a week.

“With the introduction of Arrius we skipped three generations of roller systems,” says Kollmann. “Not everything went smoothly at the beginning. We knew the set up would be a real stretch for us. Both teams at the mill and Bühler had to rise to the challenges. For example, the control and setting of the feeding module was a task that required good collaboration between Bühler and the Vorarlberger Mill. All parties did a fantastic job which paid out in the end.”

POSITIVE IMPACT - TODAY AND TOMORROW

The business is seeing the benefits already. The amount of manual work has decreased, there is less need to change machine settings, and overall efficiency has increased. “‘Set it and forget it’ is what I like to say – we set the grinding gap once and we know it will remain stable,” says Kollmann.

Arrius not only brings added automation, it also provides the flexibility required to change recipes quickly and to accurately control the starch damage, ensuring a highly stable grinding performance. Safety and ease of maintenance have also improved. The IGS stays closed when it is in operation. When it is not operating, it is easy to access the feeding module and grinding chamber, making it much faster to carry out roller changes and regular maintenance works.

“A nice side effect of Arrius is also the reduced noise emission. It runs really quietly which has improved the working conditions within the mill,” says Kollmann. “Next to the commercial factors, it really enriches the work experience.”

The business is now not only well set up to meet today’s requirements in terms of technology, hygiene and safety, it is also ready for the future. “With the installation of Arrius we can easily increase capacities should the market demand it and grasp the opportunities offered by further digitalization,” says Kollmann. “This project has definitely secured the mill’s success for generations to come.”

ARRIUS IGS: OVERVIEW OF BENEFITS

[box type="shadow" align="" class="" width=""]Arrius MRRA is the first fully integrated grinding system (IGS). It sets a new benchmark in grinding performance for wheat, durum, rye, barley, corn and spelt.

Energy efficiency Enabling mechanical energy recovery, the integrated drive unit consisting of motor and gearbox the efficient system allows for energy savings of up to 10% compared to conventional systems using belt drives.

Building investments savings Direct suction and integrated drive unit allow for installation on one floor reducing building investment costs. An alternative version with outlet hopper is also available.

Fast installation The plug-and-play design features an integrated drive unit and switch cabinet, significantly reducing installation time. The system setup requires only three connecting cables (power supply, emergency stop, communication) and compressed air and product inlet/outlet.

Best grinding efficiency The feed module with asymmetrical inlet and distribution screw ensures uniform mixing and distribution of the grain over the entire grinding gap. The pre-stressed rollers allow for up to 10% higher starch damage with the same energy consumption compared to conventional roller mills. The pre-stressed rollers ensure a precise and stable grinding gap.

Maximum food safety All surfaces in contact with the product are made of stainless steel and other food-grade materials. The entire inlet area of the feeding module is accessible for cleaning through the inlet door. Product deposits are reduced by a simplified grinding chamber design and improves aspiration. Hygienic levelling feet allow for cleaning under the machine.

Highest operational safety The grinding chamber is secured by an electronic lock. Roller and bearing temperature are continuously monitored, an alert activation and stop function of the drives ensure safe operation. The grinding chamber doors are fitted with hand guards for safe product sampling.

Best-in class usability An intuitive user-interface simplifies the operation of the Arrius. All main operating parameters of the grinding system are displayed on the main screen. Operating parameters can be easily monitored and changed via touch screen fitted on each side of the Arrius. The touch screens are mounted on swiveling arms allowing for a direct view even during product sampling.

Improved flexibility Thanks to the integrated web server, Arrius can be operated by smartphone, tablet or PC within the mill.[/box]

Articles in Cover Story Category