Bühler is investing a double-digit million Swiss Franc amount in a new Grain Innovation Center (GIC) at its site in Uzwil. The GIC will replace the old technology center, which was built in the 1950s and no longer fulfils the requirements of a state-of-the art innovation hub. At the new GIC, Bühler and its customers and partners will develop, test, and scale sustainable and efficient solutions for grain and feed processing to improve food and feed solutions. The focus will be on yield, quality, energy efficiency, and the flexibility of the plants together with nutritious and great tasting recipes based on a broad variety of grains and pulses. Embedded in Bühler’s Application & Training Center ecosystem at Uzwil, which includes bakery, pasta, proteins, and chocolate, the GIC will enable the development of innovative solutions along complete value chains, from raw materials to finished products. The GIC is scheduled to start operations by the end of 2024.
Humans have been processing grain for around 10,000 years and yet milling has never been more innovative than it is today. Environmental regulations, food safety, customer needs, raw material sourcing – these ever-increasing demands require new processes and plant technology. Seventy years ago, Bühler built its first application center for milling at its site in Uzwil. However, it is now getting on in years and can no longer meet future demands.
When today's application center was built in 1951, the raw materials were still delivered in 100-kilogram sacks. Transport and distribution relied on a great deal of human muscle power alongside the most advanced technology of the time. This is no longer realistic today, when the raw materials are delivered in one-ton bags or in bulk in tank trucks. The building and its infrastructure are reaching their limits.
Constantly increasing requirements
The contents of the bags delivered are also very different from those of 1951. Today, more and more diverse raw materials are being processed, from the newly discovered old grain types to legumes and recycled plastic granulate PET. "Everything that can be ground, screened and sorted is in the right place here," says Rudolf Hofer, Head of Grain Innovation Center. On the other hand, there is a constant stream of end product innovation with start-ups, for example, developing products with a local connection to meet current customer tastes. All of this, in turn, places ever higher demands relating to sustainability, energy efficiency, food safety, and traceability. The circular economy is also becoming increasingly important, requiring new solutions and applications for by- and waste products such as hulls, husks, or bran.
The building, which is a place with a great tradition of innovation, will be partly demolished and rebuilt, and partly renovated. “Most of the machines developed in the milling sector over the past 70 years have been at least partially tested here in the application center,” says Stefan Birrer, head of Business Area Milling Solutions. “Among them are absolute success stories such as the Airtronic roller mill (MDDK), the first friction-locked roller package that made it possible to greatly reduce the number of roller mills in a mill, or the first double roller mill (MDDL) that had a decisive influence on mill design in terms of diagram layout and space requirements.”
Enormous boost for innovative milling
Today, the Application & Training Center no longer meets the requirements for a future-oriented and safe environment for Bühler’s customers or for the company’s own trials and developments. For this reason, Bühler is building a completely new infrastructure on the site of the present Application & Training Center, which will give an enormous boost to research and development in the field of milling. Here, work will also be done on how to merge the machines and process steps with the digital revolution. Like its predecessor, the building will be a haven of innovation. “All new developments will come from the new Grain Innovation Center. Bühler will continue to keep this important part of its research in Uzwil,” says Peter Striegl, head of Innovation Milling Solutions.
But what can customers expect here? The new application building offers, among other things, a fully integrated cleaning and milling process for all grain types, a complete feed milling process for all types of compound feeds, and a research and development department.
Learning environment of the future
The all-important training and education are also taken care of: the necessary machinery, processes, and state-of-the-art teaching infrastructure are an important part of the project. Visitors reach the new small laboratory and workshop via a walkway. The tour also leads through the Milling Academy, where large windows provide a fascinating glimpse into the work going on in the adjacent application centers.
In order to take advantage of synergies, the training center will be integrated into the existing ecosystem with all existing Application & Training centers, the CUBIC, the new Bühler Energy Center, and the Protein Application Center announced at the Networking Days. The training center naturally also offers customers new ways of learning, such as keyword hybrid learning, which combines on-site visits and online learning. Customers will be able to choose how many people they want to send to the center in person and how they want the learning and training to be delivered. The Milling Academy will also develop a new curriculum, explore innovative and new ways of learning, and work much more closely with the African Milling School and all other academies at Bühler.
All of this continues the tradition that has served Bühler well for decades - because from collaboration comes innovation that will drive the business for the next 70 years.