November 19, 2014

19/11/2014: The Irish flour millers and the German connection

by Ruby Bircher and Tom Blacker

The resurrection of the Irish milling industry throughout the 1930s would not have been possible without the German company MIAG, acquired by Bühler in 1972. Delving back through the past, a clear connection emerges between Irish flour milling and German engineering.
A group of millers from the UK visiting Germany in October 2014

Although it seemed to catapult Britain into a new, advanced age, Ireland remained relatively untouched by the Industrial Revolution. By the early 20th century, Ireland had a population of 4,192,000 most of which had by then migrated abroad in search of employment due to the lack of manufacturing industries in towns.

Milling industries were rare as most of the flour was imported - around 3,000,000 sacks of flour were imported from various countries, mainly Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

However, by around 1934, the Irish government granted fewer licences for importing flour as their interest in restarting the mills grew. With that, the import of flour into Ireland ceased almost entirely.

Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, four major Irish cities, were prime places to begin reconstructing the Irish milling industry due to the available access that came with being close to water - this made it both easier and quicker for ships to load and unload their products.

The Merchants Warehousing Co Ltd of Dublin had MIAG build ‘extensive and modern grain discharging and storage plants’. Close to a quay that ships frequented, grain was unloaded safely and efficiently via conveyors that travelled from the quay to the plant’s silos and back. The unloading towers that transported the goods were built high up so as not to impede with the other products that were unloaded by cranes - this was where practically all of the imported grain for the Dublin mills arrived.

In 1933, the reconstruction of the Dublin North City Milling Co Ltd was ordered.
Once finished, the mill was considered a ‘testimonial of the German milling engineering art’ and, thanks to MIAG, had a daily capacity of 70,000 kg of wheat.
Messrs Byrne, Nahony & Co Ltd, previous flour importers, closed after the government restricted the number of people with a licence to partake in the trade. However, as the renewed Irish milling industry grew, they were forced to start manufacturing the flour themselves, resulting in them ordering milling equipment from MIAG in May 1934.

By 1935, the plant was in operation using the ‘most modern flour milling equipment’. This included ‘model H rollermills with Servo regulation’, producing the highest yields of flour with the lowest ash content. By 1936, MIAG had supplied Dublin with two mills and was in the process of building a third; the industry’s reputation was only getting more and more impressive.

As livestock export began to noticeably decline, less money was being spent on wheat and grain import. Resultantly, home-grown wheat was on the increase in order to support the milling industry. Originally, approximately 25 percent of wheat in Ireland was home-grown; due to the export reduction, it was the government’s intention to increase the production to at least 50 percent. Irish weather allowed a moist climate and fertile soil that made up good crop conditions. 

However, the frequent rains made ripening difficult and a dry harvest rare-on average Irish-grown wheat had a moisture content of around 18 per cent, sometimes even as high as 22 per cent.

Storage space was required as well as drying equipment to improve the quality of the wheat. MIAG supplied ‘10 drying plants with a capacity of 50 tonnes per hour, extracting 5 per cent of water’ as well as silos and new, dry containers for the wheat to be deposited in. The Dublin Port Milling Co Ltd was built housing three Special MIAG Dryers, which were made of ‘Duro-Aluminium’ to avoid rusting, the dryers were 19.35m tall with radiators found on top for ‘warming and sweating the wheat’.

The design of the MIAG Special Dryers enabled it to work automatically, allowing the wheat to dry at a secured, set temperature. This concluded in moisture content of around 14 percent, significantly lower than the previous figures. MIAG, as a result of such positive feedback, built each Mill a steel silo plant with a drying plant in 1936. The company’s esteemed reputation further encouraged the mill at Maryborough to extend the plant there by nine steel bins, increasing its capacity to around 300,000kg.

In 1939, World War Two began, altering the milling industries. Many factories had to begin the production of weaponry and warcraft to facilitate their country’s army. MIAG, Brunswick, was one of these factories that resulted in the manufacture of the Mark 3 Panzer armoured assault gun - a medium sized tank.

The RAF raided numerous German cities, including Brunswick in October 1944. The bombing of Brunswick resulted in the destruction of the MIAG factories. Buildings the size of ‘four football pitches’ were demolished resulting in the de-housing of its workers as well as the deaths of approximately 500 civilians. One year later, the war was over and the factory was still in ruins.

After recovering from the war, MIAG returned to the milling industry until it was taken over by Bühler in the 1970s. Information online states that:

MIAG produced electric vehicles from 1936 to 1938, including forklifts and cranes. In 1972 MIAG was taken over by Bühler of Switzerland; in 1983 MIAG Fahrzeugbau GmbH was founded with the aim of continuing the activities of the former Bühler - MIAG company’s industrial trucks division, but at a different site.

During the Second World War MIAG was involved in the program for the manufacture of assault guns and tank destroyers. Production of the Jagdpanther began in January 1944 at MIAG where it was produced until the war’s end. In November of 1944 production began at MNH, and in December 1944 at MBA; MIAG remained the biggest producer.

Following on, Bühler AG of Uzwil Switzerland took control and utilised the site for producing milling machinery. As outlined in Buhler: 150 Years of Innovation for a better world, 1972 marked the ‘Acquisition of MIAG, Mühlenbau and Industrie GmbH, Braunschweig, Germany, including 11 of its subsidiaries. MIAG was created in 1925 by the merger of the five largest German mill manufacturers and was one of the Bühler Company’s biggest competitors.’

Concluding this, it is clear that Bühler were savvy millers doing wonders for the future that stands well today and sustainably for the future.

Summertime experiencing premier German milling expertise
The London and South East Millers Society (LSEMS) hosted a great annual summer field trip to Muehle Rüningen at the end of June 2014. The purpose of visiting one of Germany’s oldest flour mills and a Bühler factory was to understand what added efficiency, skill, and consistency could produce. On arrival, all donned the white hats and coats and made the short walk up to a laboratory and test bakery. Here a short video documentary in German gave information about the mill’s beginnings, heritage and large service to the community. 

Our German tour leaders Ernst and Arnold from Bühler were not familiar with the mill, as Area Sales Managers of Great Britain and Ireland they were also learning about this mill.

The 702 year old mill near the city of Braunschweig takes its wheat from a surrounding radius of 200km to produce flour, and some animal feed. There are five separate mill lines running all from a central control station, milling 50 varieties of grain, with most crop being wheat, rye, semolina or durum. Their customers are large and made up of names such as Cargill. This mill was different from mills I have visited in the past with individual control stations for each of a mill’s section. I was able to witness the fully automated processes from a central bank of screens of CCTV cameras in one room. NIR in-line monitoring data and performance recordings in real-time were undoubtedly impressive.

To see the full journey of a grain around the mill from the full delivery-process was very impressive.  Technical advice was also given as each floor and section of the mill was explored in groups. The various millers and staff from manufacturers all gave different and varied observations about the mill as we toured. On the day, unfortunately there was no possibility of being able to ride the vertical paternoster-style lift! Beyond these were typical sewing and bagging lines and also more lines for loading into articulated trucks.

As we toured the mill and met the ‘master miller’ of Muehle Rüningen, the lines were operating smoothly and efficiently grinding the respective grades of flour milling.

Further on, the mill’s main colour sorting machines were the Bühler Sortex ‘A’ models and were fascinating to watch operate. The extrusion machine is rarely used by the millers, and only is required on demand as and when it is required for animal feed milling.

The LSEMS group was keen to ask relevant questions to the head miller, staff and assistants. Once we had made it all the way down from the eighth floor again, the tour was complete and we travelled on to the Bühler factory.

Bühler factory visit
Arriving through the gates at Bühler in Braunschweig, we were greeted outside by Alexander Schnelle, Christian Tietz and Peter-Kenneth Grenner. Alexander gave an introductory talk and welcomed us all. Christian and Peter-Kenneth then split the group into two and made sure we got a clear and thorough guided tour. We saw all staff areas, the pleasant green spaces and extensive site.

One constant feature of the factory generally is a ‘lean manufacturing’ principle. It drives everything in their work and products, and binds all staff in one central mission. For myself, it was surprisingly inspiring and gave a deep understanding of all the reasons why Bühler are just so successful. The total area of the site is 10km square.

We did enter different production facilities for all stages of the grain milling equipment. There were experienced old hands, young apprentices and all kinds of operators busy working away. The factory houses 650 staff in total. Automated plansifter sieve gluing and manufacturing was a notable part of the digitisation and robotic parts of the modern set-up in such a factory today. There were also areas not dedicated to grain milling – but other food production like sugar, beer and chocolate industries are all covered at this plant.

Later on during the tour, I was able to ask Christian about the steel used at the factory, and I received a very interesting answer; stainless steel is from all around the world but mostly from the domestic market of Germany. Four to five years ago, steel from India and China was found to be potentially radioactive. Due to the pursuit of quality and striving for serving their customers well, the purchasing decision was made to choose other stainless steels.

Overall, the tour was greatly interesting for all and all left with a greater understanding than before about Buhler and their respective success.

Read more HERE.
(Published in GFMT1405)

The Global Miller
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