Miller Milling

The evolution of the milling industry

Miller Milling has transformed into one of the world’s most digitally advanced milling companies in a whirlwind year. With a vision to lead the evolution of the milling industry, grow their business, and contribute to a sustainable society, the company embarked on its journey to harness the potential of connectivity.

It was  the power-generating potential of the St. Anthony Falls – a natural waterfall on the Mississippi with a 15-meter drop – that attracted the first flour millers to Minneapolis, Minnesota, nearly 200 years ago. Minneapolis soon became home to some of the most advanced milling technology of the time, experiencing a golden age from 1880 when the city was known as the “flour milling capital of the world” for over 50 years. With such heritage, it should not come as a great surprise that Miller Milling Company, founded in 1985 and headquartered in Bloomington, just outside Minneapolis, has picked up the technological baton to become one of the world’s most digitally advanced wheat milling companies.

Developing IT to reach a global vision

From left to right: Daisuke Ito, Director of Engineering at Miller Milling, Liam Cassidy, Head of Automation at Bühler North America, Juan Martinez, Sales Account Manager at Bühler Minneapolis, Jeff Hole, Senior Vice President of Operations at Miller Milling, Simon Tiedge, Director of Technical Milling at Miller Milling.

 

The global flour milling industry is a traditional sector that for generations has been content to create its products in time-honored fashion. However, for Miller Milling there were two factors driving change. In 2012, it was bought by the Japanese holding company Nisshin Seifun Group, which also owns Nisshin Flour Milling, Japan’s largest flour miller with ambitions to become the world’snumber one flour milling company in regard to customer satisfaction.

“Nisshin Group, the parent company, and Miller Milling believe IT adoption in the milling industry is far behind other industries and we will only be able to grow a successful business and contribute to a sustainable society by developing IT,” explains Daisuke Ito, Miller Milling Director of Engineering. “So, in reality, if we wish to reduce energy consumption and waste while producing a stable, high quality, and safe product for our customers, there is no other option than to develop the IT technology.”  

The other driver came from the market. Environmentally aware and health-conscious consumers are increasingly alert to the provenance of their food, which means Miller Milling’s clients are demanding ever-greater transparency and auditability of their products. “Food safety, traceability, and sustainability are all being pushed by our customers, so we have to move forward and keep up with these changing demands,” explains Jeff Hole, Senior Vice President of Operations at Miller Milling.

 

As negotiations unfolded, a synergy began to form between the two teams as they realized the potential of being able to digitalize and analyze any part of the production process where it was possible to place a sensor. “We came together and formed a single team, an ecosystem, where we set common goals by breaking down the walls that exist between customer and supplier. So we said, ‘Let’s get connected and get your data flowing and then let’s develop systems together’,” explains Cassidy.

Meanwhile, the Miller Milling management team was invited to Switzerland to attend the Bühler Networking Days event in August 2019, where Bühler announced its ambition to have solutions in place to cut energy consumption, water, and waste by 50 percent in its customer value chains by 2025.

As the owner of one of the only mills in the United States to generate 15 percent of its energy requirement from its own solar panels in Fresno, California, it was a message that aligned with Miller Milling’s own corporate ambitions.

When Bühler’s sustainability targets were unveiled, they spoke to Miller Milling’s bottom line and the demands of their customers for greater sustainability, but also to their desire to do the right thing when it comes to climate change. 

A joint sustainability agenda

“Once you open the digital door there are so many possibilities that open up, and one of them is environmental,” explains Simon Tiedge, Director of Technical Milling at Miller Milling. “For example, we are working on kilowatt meters in all our plants that will feed straight into Bühler Insights so we can see exactly how many kilowatt hours per ton we are consuming every minute, then we will do the same thing with water content, moisture additions, and misused products, so now we will have control of all of our resources minute by minute. It’s not only the speed of reporting but it’s the big overview that will give the user the biggest bang for their buck.”

 

The Miller and Bühler teams were on a voyage of discovery. Once it was apparent that sensors can measure many different parameters, including  humidity and temperature, the teams started to capitalize on new ideas. “The Bühler Insights platform is growing every day and literally every day we have a new sensor and a new idea. We just pull in the data, we record it, and then we start linking sensors and plants to each other and they start making sense,” explains Tiedge.

 
Watch this video that Microsoft made about Miller Milling and its digital journey with Bühler.

Embracing the potential of new systems

A concern for many companies, especially in more traditional industries, is how you carry your employees with you on this transitional journey without alienating staff or making them fearful of job security. Miller Milling decided to turn this concern on its head by looking at digitalization through the lens of health and safety. “It’s a little difficult to wrap your head around it, but we believe one of the key pillars to Bühler Insights is around our employees and their health and safety, and in particular their wellbeing,” says Tiedge.

The first thing the Miller management team realized is that employees lived with complex technology in their everyday lives, so the idea of it being introduced in the workplace was a natural evolution rather than something to fear. They found that their operations teams quickly grasped the potential of the new systems and embraced the new direction for the company. “The younger generation is used to doing everything on their phones, so why would they want to come to work in a place where there was no technology? If we can invite employees to use their current knowledge of technology then it helps us too,” Hole points out.

Staff working in the more traditional, semi-automated mills are required to do a lot of fairly mundane testing procedures to try to assess quality, often involving potential laboratory work as well as sampling, resampling, and analysis. “We realized that this data analysis was not just for management but for our team members working in the mill, so they can save a lot of time currently spent on collecting information. Instead, they can now spend time doing further data analysis, allowing us to improve efficiency,” explains Ito. Workers also quickly realized that with digitalization they did not have to spend hours not knowing if they were meeting optimal production parameters. Using Bühler’s digital technology, it is possible to get instant results by automating the sampling process using infrared (NIR) technology and other online sensors. 

 

“What we are trying to do is unlock the full potential of our employees by enabling them to improve the process on a daily basis and give them the time to do what they are supposed to do,” explains Tiedge. “By using Bühler Insights we pretty much give them the data they need in the palm of their hand via an app so they can see minute by minute if they are winning or whether they have to improve what they are doing, which is of great value to an employee.”

Under the old regime, plant operators arriving at the plant for a new shift would raise concerns about the time it took to understand what had been happening overnight, especially if there was a problem. With digital data available on mobile phones it is much easier to isolate problems quickly while sharing real time production parameters across all mills, giving operators valuable additional insights. 

 

 

Daisuke Ito, Director of Engineering at Miller Milling Daisuke Ito, Director of Engineering at Miller Milling
Nisshin Group, the parent company, and Miller Milling believe IT adoption in the milling industry is far behind other industries and we will only be able to grow a successful business and contribute to a sustainable society by developing IT. So, in reality, if we wish to reduce energy consumption and waste while producing a stable, high quality, and safe product for our customers, there is no other option than to develop the IT technology.

Daisuke Ito, Miller Milling Director of Engineering

Once you open the digital door, there are so many possibilities that open up and one of them is enviromental.

Simon Tiedge, Director of Technical Milling at Miller Milling

Simon Tiedge, Director of Technical Milling at Miller Milling.
Jeff Hole, Senior Vice President of Operations at Miller Milling Jeff Hole, Senior Vice President of Operations at Miller Milling
Food safety, traceability, and sustainability are all being pushed by our customers, so we have to move forward and keep up with these changing demands.

Jeff Hole, Senior Vice President of Operations at Miller Milling

Full transparency beyond the mill

One of the most important advantages of this digitalization is the benefits it brings to Miller Milling’s clients, such as the speed at which data can be transmitted. “With these systems we are able to get data to our clients on order logistics, with the goal of getting this information to them prior to the flour being delivered,” explains Hole. “It means much more timely data for clients, with them being able to receive notifications on when their order is milled, loaded and into which trailer, the time it leaves the mill, Certificate of Analysis information, security seal numbers, and estimated time of arrival.”

But the journey does not end here. Once you open the door to digitalization the direction of travel is set, but, the destination keeps shifting as the technology evolves. Traceability is key to customers and one of the next areas that Miller plans to explore is the ability to trace any specific flour back to the field where the wheat was grown to enable clients to better market their products.

Another area of exploration is logistics. With delivery trucks across the US, digitalization means being able to place sensors to monitor and control every moment of these journeys in terms of the environment in the trailers and predicting exact arrival times. Feeding big data into production systems around predicted weather patterns, climate, and humidity, will also improve capacity for cutting wastage. “We don’t know what is going to happen next in the tech world, so we have to keep our eyes wide open and look outside our industry to other sectors that may be picking up on stuff before we do. But for us, the focus will always be on three pillars: sustainability, customer satisfaction, and the benefit to our employees,” says Tiedge.

 

 

Liam Cassidy, Head of Automation at Bühler North America
Together we formed an ecosystem, wherewe set common goals by breaking down the walls between customer and supplier. Liam Cassidy, Head of Automation at Bühler North America.

Liam Cassidy, Head of Automation at Bühler North America

Locations

Miller Milling Company, headquartered in Minneapolis, has 13 mills spread over five plants located in:

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