I-Control by Interstates offers plant floor control stations for receiving, loadout, hand add, mixer dump, and inventory transfers to accommodate each mill’s unique process.

Oct 01, 2021

Beyond Your Basic Mill

Flour facilities deliver food-safe product with the help of data and automated design

The process of turning wheat into flour is an ancient one, and remains to this day a very important one. Wheat is the most widely produced cereal in the world, mostly prepared for human consumption. The global flour market was valued at $200,497 million in 2015 and is expected to reach $270,895 million by 2022 according to Allied Market Research statistics.

Yesteryear’s millstone has made way for percussion grinders and rotary sieves in modern flour mills. As wheat is routinely ground, separated, sieved, and parceled out for purchase, great care must be taken to ensure each step of the process is executed perfectly.

U.S. flour millers must adhere to FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules pertaining to preventative controls for human food, in addition to sanitary transportation and other guidelines. While flour regulations and processes vary from those of feed milling operations, both can benefit from ramping up digital and automated strategies designed to improve on food safety and ingredient handling.

Food-grade flour and the future of feed

Flour is the foundation of our breads, baked goods and fried favorites. The food-grade grain must be closely monitored in its production, and today’s smart mills and operations personnel are up to the task.

North American flour supplier and grain innovator Ardent Mills has more than 40 community flour mills and blending facilities throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Seth Beyer is Ardent Mills’ plant manager in Lake City, MN, and handles all inbound and outbound shipments at the mill.

Beyer says that while flour has a simpler manufacturing process than feed, it is more heavily regulated. Therefore his team is more hands-on when it comes to testing, examining contents and possible contamination, and adhering to food safety protocols.

That said, he and others in the industry believe the gap between flour regulation and feed regulation is narrowing, particularly as more consumers desire to know what goes into the product they feed their livestock and pets.

“You’re starting to see this market change to ‘I want to know where my pet food comes from,’ and you’re seeing a more food-safe approach to animal food,” Beyer says, “But [at this time] flour milling as a human product is much more regulated.”

Despite the nuances of flour and feed milling, strategies can be adopted and implemented to improve both.

Ben Langstraat is an automation manager at Interstates, a purveyor of electrical engineering, electrical construction and control systems based in Sioux Center, IA. He explains flour mills often have a different focus on food safety compared with feed, and both provide unique challenges.

“Feed production uses regulated ingredients and has sequencing concerns when producing food for multiple species that we don’t see to the same degree in flour,” says Langstraat.

Flour mills, he adds, tend to be extremely data focused — more so than feed operations — and often employ “smart machines” to track and quantify ingredients.

“There are many in-line scales throughout flour mills that we don’t often see in feed,” says Langstraat. “Quantities of product movement are tracked in ways we don’t often see in the feed world. Many flour mills often have a focus on yield and process efficiency that we often do not see in feed. Flour mills operate in more of a continuous process with longer runs, and the data they capture is more time-based than a feed mill’s production run-based data.”

Flour and data

The “smart” machines mentioned earlier provide a wealth of data that can be monitored. Some examples of this are roll stands with temperature and vibration sensors that help with maintenance and equipment loading.

“All these smart machines and scales in modern flour mills require networking throughout the plant floor that we often don’t see at the same level as the feed industry,” says Langstraat.

The data attached is invaluable for a number of reasons — food safety and accountability to be sure, but also overall plant safety and efficiency.

Data can help solve problems, for example, by tracking ingredient movement and providing proper controls to prevent carry-over and product contamination. Langstraat believes the feed world could gain from flour’s focus on process data to also help drive plant efficiency.

“Control solutions need to be able to provide track-and-trace information in both scenarios,” says Langstraat.

“The plant controls need to act on the data available to aid operations staff in making good decisions.”

He adds, “In the past much of this logging and planning was done on paper. A simple control solution that only provides machine interlocks is no longer sufficient.” ■

Sara Scullin

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Marketwatch: Oct, 26

cmdty National Corn Price Idx: ZCPAUS.CM

open: 5.1614
high: 5.1895
low: 5.139
close: 5.1704

cmdty National Soybean Price Idx: ZSPAUS.CM

open: 11.8617
high: 11.9478
low: 11.8144
close: 11.943

cmdty National Hard Red Winter Wheat Price Idx: KEPAUS.CM

open: 7.5274
high: 7.5849
low: 7.5238
close: 7.5716

cmdty National Soft Red Winter Wheat Price Idx: ZWPAUS.CM

open: 7.0893
high: 7.1297
low: 7.0671
close: 7.1023