Innovate to grow

Wudeli Flour Group, China

Flour-based foods are a staple diet for hundreds of millions of Chinese people. The world’s biggest flour enterprise, the Wudeli Flour Group, has joined forces with Bühler to continuously optimize flour-milling, improve automation levels, and build digital factories for the benefit of customers, farmers, employees, the state, and business.

The Hebei roller mill in Daming County, near the eastern city of Handan, is situated in one of the world’s biggest wheat-producing regions. The plant is among the most advanced roller mills operated by the world’s largest flour manufacturer, the Wudeli Flour Group. Rows of enclosed Bühler machines operate in a dust-free environment overseen by just three operatives in any single shift. Each day more than 5,100 tons of flour leave the plant for the Hebei, Beijing and Northeast region’s restaurants and steamed bun shops producing the flour-based delicacies that make up China’s most- eaten staple foods.

By any standards, the growth of Wudeli Flour Group from a family mill to a global manufacturer in just 30 years is impressive. Zhiguo Dan was just 17 when he opened his first mill with his sister, brother, and father in 1989. Today, he is president of a company that operates 19 plants with a daily wheat processing capacity of 45,000 tons. Under existing expansion plans, daily output is set to rise to 80,000 tons a day in the coming years, sufficient to supply one-third of China’s flour needs.

Zhiguo Dan acknowledges that this sort of growth was only possible under China’s recent policy of economic reform. But he believes it is also a result of some core values being established early on: “2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Wudeli. Over the past three decades, we have been focusing on one thing: making the best flour.”

Benefit for all

Zhiguo Dan’s father believed that to achieve sound and steady growth a company must “benefit all” by satisfying the needs of customers, farmers, employees, the country, and the enterprise. Customers must be supplied quality flour and efficient service at a reasonable price. Farmers have to be able to sell their wheat at a profit and be paid in cash upon delivery, while employees should enjoy high and stable wages, generous benefits, training, promotion opportunities, and a pleasant work environment. The business needs to be allowed to make profits by applying strict management criteria and allowing economies of scale to facilitate large-scale, low-cost operations. Finally, the country should be allowed to benefit the people by collecting reasonable taxes.

“When the five sides combine into a community of shared interests where customers are willing to buy, farmers are ready to sell, employees are full of passion, and the country shows support, a virtuous circle will be formed,” Zhiguo Dan explains. “When Wudeli becomes better, all sides will reap more profit, and this is our beautiful vision and ultimate goal.”

Wudeli Flour Group has built its factories in the main regions for wheat production and by coordinating with local governments. With this, the company has been able to establish a sound demand-supply relationship with local farmers. Generally, the company buys wheat through independent purchase and auction based on the principle of setting a price on quality.  “I just want to sell my wheat to Wudeli, regardless of the distance of transport,” explains one wheat farmer. “That’s because Wudeli is well-known for its integrity. They offer a favorable price and pay me in cash.”

By winning the trust of farmers, Wudeli has secured a continuous supply of wheat.

Another guiding principle has been to drive expansion through innovative development. At the heart of this is the principle of quality control. Wudeli applies a simple rule in all its plants: “Unqualified wheat shall be banned from entry, and substandard flour shall never leave the factory.”

To guarantee that the highest quality wheat is used for production, Wudeli has developed its own system to provide automatic sample surveys. This data is then used to set a price for the raw material, eliminating any chance of human error. An automated receipt and weighing system is in place to provide highly efficient and accurate warehousing. In the unprocessed wheat testing laboratory, Wudeli uses Bühler solutions to accurately test for moisture within a minute from starting analysis, by using LED lamp technology to detect imperfect wheat. According to the relevant state provisions tolerance for insects, mildew, sprouts, and other impurities in the wheat should not exceed 6%. Wudeli has set a much higher standard and rejects all wheat that contains more than 1 % foreign matter.

After the inspection, unprocessed wheat is categorized and enters the cleaning section where it goes through 15 processing steps, including using vibrating screens for selection and surface cleaning using wheat scourers. Later, the wheat enters the grinding section which consists of 17 steps with each step following strict operation specifications and technical standards.

We believe Bühler will always be there for us on our way to become the world’s largest flour manufacturer and will remain our close ally forever.

ZHIGUO DAN, President of the Wudeli Flour Group

Readiness for change

Each finished product leaving the factory undergoes more than 20 quality control measures including moisture, ash content, gluten, processing precision, sand content, and magnetic metal content. “The testing equipment is worth hundreds of millions of yuan. The purpose of making such a huge investment is to ensure the safety and stable quality of the flour,” explains Zhiguo Dan. “Overall, we rely on systems and equipment to eliminate the influence of any human factor to meet all standards satisfactorily.”

Wudeli has reached a first pass yield higher than 99 % and an ex-factory pass rate of 100 %. “Innovation is the source for the thriving of an enterprise,” points out Zhimin Dan, Chairman of Wudeli Flour Group and the elder brother of Zhiguo Dan. However, innovation should not just be limited to the manufacturing side of the business but also be applied to research and development, management, and to business philosophy.

When it comes to innovation, talent is a primary resource. In addition to eight senior flour engineers and 130 professional flour technicians, Wudeli also employs well-known food experts as regular technical consultants for the company. It also works in collaboration with several higher education institutions including the Henan University of Technology. Over the years, Zhiguo Dan has asked his technical team to conduct independent research and development to upgrade capacity and increase profits. One example is the installation of bran brushing machines that has increased the flour extraction rate by over 1 %. The introduction of bran drying technology has helped to tackle issues such as short storage life and the transportation of wheat bran in summer. Since applying the new solutions, profits generated by bran products have increased. With the help of automatic warehousing and loading, the storage and handling of finished products is no longer necessary.

Innovation is the source for the thriving of an enterprise.

ZHIMIN DAN, Chairman of the Wudeli Flour Group

Wudeli has found that the flour produced using European techniques is more suitable for making western foods. Eastern flour-based foods are mainly prepared by boiling and steaming, so western techniques tend to result in dumplings or noodles sticking, affecting appearance and taste. By drawing on wheat milling practices from Korea and Japan and taking into account Chinese eating habits, Wudeli has developed an innovative processing method to provide its customers with flour products that are both appealing and tasty.

With the rapid growth of the Chinese economy has come the need for food manufacturers to shift their focus from satisfying people’s hunger to satisfying their taste buds. Wudeli has begun to produce a variety of specialty flour used to make dumplings, steamed stuffed buns, fried bread sticks, stretched noodles, and sliced noodles, among many others. The company is also speeding up its efforts to research and develop products that can better meet people’s nutritional needs. An example is the use of whole wheat bread flour containing the wheat germ and aleurone layers that are rich in micro-elements.

Wudeli has transformed itself from a family business into a modern corporation. 

The process has meant a radical change in management by developing a horizontal organizational structure in which there are no deputy posts. By doing this, each subsidiary or department has greatly cut down management costs and improved efficiency. Under the leadership of Zhiguo Dan and other family members, the Wudeli Flour Group has over many years formed its own corporate culture. Employees are encouraged to be creative, pragmatic, united, and entrepreneurial. Everyone is expected to adhere to the corporate values of integrity and diligence. The company’s attitude to wealth creation and profit is guided by an old Chinese adage: “A nobleman properly acquires wealth; diligence is a money-spinner, and thrift fills the cornucopia.”

 

Partnering with Bühler

In 1996, Wudeli took a major step when it installed Bühler flour production technology. Today over 80 % of the Wudeli Flour Group’s products are produced on thousands of Bühler machines including 2,740 roller mills, 1,307 purifiers, 647 screening machines, 232 de-stoning machines, 130 TAS cleaning machines, and 1,189 flow balancers, among other equipment.

“As a global leading supplier of milling equipment, Bühler has not only provided strong support for us in terms of equipment but also helped us to foster a global vision,” explains Zhiguo Dan. “In 2008, Bühler arranged a tour to Japanese and Korean enterprises for us, which has contributed a lot to promoting the overall quality of our products.”

Inside one of Wudeli’s new roller mills stands a roller mill of special significance. On it is engraved: “No. 10,000, June 8, 2019”. It is the 10,000th Dolomit roller mill manufactured by Bühler. “This machine is witness to the long-term cooperation between Wudeli and Bühler and a symbol of the glory jointly forged by both companies,” says Zhiguo Dan.

It is important for both the Chinese flour industry and Wudeli to keep growing in an automated, digital, and smart way. Today, the daily capacity of Wudeli’s newest roller mills is at least 4,000 tons. Increased automation means that while Wudeli’s business keeps expanding its reliance on human resources is decreasing. In August 2019, Wudeli and Bühler signed a cooperation agreement to build a digital factory capable of achieving total automation by integrating all of its information systems into the whole process management. In line with the “German Industry 4.0” and “Made in China 2025” initiatives, Wudeli aims to be a trailblazer in the transformation and upgrade of the Chinese flour industry.

 

wudeli

Becoming a trendsetter

“Wudeli and Bühler have deepened their relationship from simple business partners to strategic business allies in an all-round way, with their collaboration areas ranging from equipment to digital factory and from additives to research and development, promising a broader prospect for cooperation,” says Zhiguo Dan. “In the beginning, we were wondering who would be there for us when we set out to forge the largest flour enterprise and who would remain our strategic partner in the next 10 years, 20 years, even 50 years, or 100 years. Now, we believe Bühler will always be there for us on our way to remain the world’s largest flour manufacturer and will be our close ally forever.”

Looking to the future, Zhiguo Dan adds: “With great achievements comes great responsibility. In a spirit of pursuing perfection, Wudeli will strive to provide consumers with safe flour. Wudeli is determined as well as confident to become a trendsetter for all flour manufacturers and will usher in a new era of rapid development for the whole industry.”

Bühler products used by this customer

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