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Objective: generate higher value

21.05.2009 The new flour mill of United Millers Ltd. in Kisumu in Kenya allows commercialscale production of flour blends for the company’s own bakery and for export to the countries surrounding Lake Victoria, thus enabling the company to expand ist business. “In the East African flour milling industry, the increase in the population is giving rise not only to a quantitative, but also a qualitative development of the flour market.” These are the words of Heiko Jopke, head of the Buhler office in Nairobi, describing the situation of the flour milling industry in East Africa in 2007. His assessment at that time was based on the development of a group of mill operators who a few years ago had started taking a modern, forward-looking approach in their businesses. The goal of this modernization effort was to generate higher value by producing better flour grades and to expand activities vertically to the downstream production stages such as making bread, fine baked products, or pasta. Mill operators were thus responding to changes in demand and to the opening of the borders with neighboring countries for export.

United Millers Ltd. in Kisumu
United Millers Limited was incorporated in 1974 and commenced its activities in Kisumu, Kenya. United Millers Ltd. was founded by the late N.P. Shah together with his two sons Sunil N. Shah and Kamal N. Shah, who have continued to operate, advance and grow the company. Both are directors and main shareholders of the company. The company’s principal industrial activities are maize (corn) milling, wheat milling, rice milling, grain handling & storage, animal feed manufacturing, large-scale bread bakeries, edible oil refining and laundry soap production, commodity trading and real estate. Even if Kisumu no longer has the same significance as a trading and transshipment center as in the middle of the twentieth century, this provincial capital is still an important hub in the economic area around Lake Victoria. Kisumu is the trading center for all agricultural produce grown in the greater region. In addition, it is the home of the food processing industry. Apart from the mills of the Shah’s brothers, fishing companies, sugar producers, and the textile industry are other important employers of the local population.

Products with higher value added
United Millers Ltd. used to produce its high-quality wheat and maize flours, bakery products, animal feeds, and oils and soaps solely for the Kenyan market. But planning for the future, Sunil and Kamal Shah started seeking ways and means to export their products. The geographical location of Kisumu and its good traffic links offer an excellent basis for expanding the company’s market territory to the neighboring East African countries of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. In addition, the Shahs set themselves the medium-term goal of producing not only conventional flours and feeds, but also of increasingly making grain-based products with higher value added to satisfy new customer needs, such as ready mixes, pasta, and snack foods.
The owners of United Millers Ltd. made an initial step in 2006 to put their progressive plans into practice when they ordered a state-of-the-art 240 t/24 h flour mill from Buhler. The contract with Buhler also included the supply of a premix plant for producing flour blends. United Millers Ltd. has been a Buhler customer since the seventies of the last century. At that time, the father of Sunil and Kamal Shah entrusted the design and construction of the wheat and maize mills as well as the feed manu- facturing plant to Buhler. Sunil Shah: “The track record of our Buhler mills has been good throughout. The engineering know-how, process technology, and mechanical equipment are top-notch, and collaboration with Buhler has always been a delight. The Buhler brand has consistently ensured that our quantitative and qualitative targets are fulfilled. It was therefore clear to us right from the outset that we would partner with Buhler to expand our group’s facilities.”

Overall complex in the industrial area
The new flour mill of United Millers was built adjacent to the United Millers commercial bakery in the industrial area of Kisumu. This allows flour blends of consistent quality to be supplied directly to the bread production facility. Plant engineering on the 240 t/24 h flour mill started in the autumn of 2006. Because of the location of the construction site near the airport, planning of the buildings had to comply with stringent regulations, especially in terms of the height of the production buildings and of the grain storage silo. Social unrest caused by political tensions around Lake Victoria caused delays during the installation phase. But in October 2008, the moment had at last come when United Millers could commission its new flour mill with its flour blending section. The plant has been up and running ever since to the owners’ entire satisfaction. Sunil Shah: “We are very happy about our new Buhler mill. Our expectations are exceeded daily. Now we have the facilities that we need to realize our plans in terms of consistent flour blends, higher value added, and the development of our export business.”
Concurrently with the construction of the new mill, the roller mills and the grain intake section of the existing mills in the city situated along Obote Road were updated to a state-of-the-art level in order to also improve the quality of the flours produced there.

Carefully thought-out plant
The new mill of United Millers Ltd. is made up of a series of carefully matched systems equipped with cutting-edge Buhler technology. In the large bulk storage system with its integrated intensive cleaning section, a total of 26,700 metric tons of grain can be cleaned and binned. The existing storage capacities allow tempering times to be matched to the requirements of the different wheat varieties, which has a positive effect on the quality of the end products.
In the flour mill proper, advanced four- and eight-roller mills and the latest purifiers and sifters ensure top flour quality and – thanks to their high sanitation standard – outstanding hygiene. This provides the basis for making products with higher added value. The finished flours made from a given grain variety are stored in flour bins. The storage capacity selected allows optimal ten-day aging of the bakery flours. In the premix system, Kamal N. production of the different new flour blends is automatically controlled on the basis of the specific formulas. The finished flour blends are pneumatically conveyed through stainless piping directly to the in-house bakery or to the bagging line for household flours, bakery flours, ready mixes, bran, and mill feed.

Unique for Kenya
With its high automation level, excellent sanitation, and its possibility of producing ready mixes on a commercial scale, the new facility of United Millers Ltd. is unique in Kenya. Thanks to its top-precision microfeeders and its high-speed mixing system, it is capable of making homogeneous finished products exactly according to the formula even when microingredients are included. Its computer-controlled, high-precision product feeding and blending system enables it to produce instant mixes of top quality on a commercial scale, thanks to the avoidance of human errors.
The new mill with its premix system allows the company to supply its own industrial bakery with top-quality flour blends and to market ready mixes to other bakeries and households both in Kenya and in the neighboring countries. Moreover, the mill is ready for allowing United Millers Ltd. to additionally expand into pasta and snack food production.

The new United Millers Ltd. mill in the center of the complex is linked directly with the company’s bakery (blue roof). On the right is the large grain storage facility. The new United Millers Ltd. mill in the center of the complex is linked directly with the company’s bakery (blue roof). On the right is the large grain storage facility.