Panta rhei!

31.01.2007 The Buhler Feed and Oil business unit is holding its own in the global markets as a reliable partner for the feed and vegetable oil milling industries and for the producers of bio-energy. “Panta rhei – everything is flowing.” With these two words, the Greek philosopher Plato once summarized the teachings of his colleague Heraclitus. In his theory, Heraclitus states that everything comes and goes, and that there is no permanent reality in the world except the reality of change. This is also true for the Feed and Oil business unit.

Panta rhei I – from machine supplier to plant builder
The Feed business unit, which focuses on plant and equipment for manufacturing animal feeds, emerged in the period between the two World Wars rather by chance within the Milling business unit, which exists to this day. Its beginnings can be traced back to the search for the meaningful utilization of bran, a high-nutrient byproduct obtained in the flour milling process. The solution found constituted the basis of today’s feed milling activities: Supplemented with various ingredients, not only bran is processed into commercial formulated feed today, but also other basic cereal grain products. As licensee of a U.S. equipment manufacturer, the Buhler Feed Milling staff started working the European marketplace. Later on, they developed their own machinery and thereby entered the field of process technology. In the early fifties, an autonomous business unit was created, which was capable of satisfying the feed manufacturing industry’s demand for turnkey production plants, which was rising steadily. Soon, the Oilseed processing activities of Buhler were also integrated in the Feed business unit. In 1996, the range of products offered by the business unit was expanded by including systems for producing wood pellets and biodiesel.

Panta rhei II – from plant builder to process developer
Today, Buhler is a global industry leader in the supply of Feed manufacturing and Oilseed processing facilities, achieving sales (turnover) of 130 million Swiss francs. Buhler’s presence is particularly strong in the European market – including Russia – and in China. Its customers are typically large feed manufacturers that are leaders in their respective market segments. They operate either as integrated businesses covering the entire range of activities from feed manufacture to meat production, or as producers who specialize in high-quality feeds striving to strengthen their market position. “As markets went global, customer requirements also changed,” says Luis Hernandez, who has headed the Feed and Oil business unit since January 2006. “In addition to placing high demands on plant reliability, today’s feed industry also expects proactive partnerships in the fields of quality assurance, productivity increases, and development of innovative processes for making novel products.”

Panta rhei III – from process developer to service provider
For years now, the feed market has been undergoing profound and continuous changes. It expects the feed manufacturing industry to develop new products at an ever-faster clip. Legislation is becoming more and more stringent, which in turn has an impact on feed production processes. The changes in customer requirements dictate the direction in which the Feed and Oil business unit will head in the future. Luis Hernandez: “Our business unit started evolving into a provider of extensive services for the feed industry during the tenure of my predecessor. In addition to the design, construction, and start-up of complete feed manufacturing plants, our customers are increasingly demanding additional services that go far beyond those of a classical plant builder. As a result of the increasingly stringent legislation in the fields of sanitation, industrial safety, and environmental protection – in conjunction with the rise in the mobility of the labor force – our customers are facing new challenges. It is in this area that Buhler can offer solutions and support.”

Productivity is improved on the one hand by smart process solutions, which Buhler engineers and researchers develop in collaboration with customers for existing and new plants. This effort is made very much easier because the entire sales force is made up of feed experts who know customers’ needs. Beside this, product development also requires intensified laboratory work. The feed production specialists from Buhler set up the appropriate labs and conduct the associated tests in in-house pilot plants. The tests are designed to determine the characteristics of new products, formulations, and processes, the goal being to minimize risks and optimize capital investments. The continuous increase in the demand for training of customer personnel is met by the School for Feed Technology, SFT.

Panta rhei IV – nothing is permanent, everything changes
The evolution of the feed production industry is continuing unabated, and thus also that of the Buhler Feed and Oil business unit. “In individual process operations, the only improvements still possible are incremental,” says Luis Hernandez of the possibilities of further development. “But nonetheless, we have a number of promising projects on trial which have the potential of revolutionizing the entire industry. We are very eager to know the results of these tests.” Hernandez sees the future of research of new processes “in the gradual orientation of our development activities toward specific end products. The collaboration with our customers is evolving into a close partnership. This enables both customer needs and market trends to be identified more quickly.”

A trio in the Buhler Feed and Oil business unit ensures innovation: Viktor Borner, sales manager (left), Luis Hernandez, head of the business unit (right) and Stefan Vontobel (center), head of development. A trio in the Buhler Feed and Oil business unit ensures innovation: Viktor Borner, sales manager (left), Luis Hernandez, head of the business unit (right) and Stefan Vontobel (center), head of development.