Milling with the Prima Technical Exchange

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Last week, Cigi played host to six representatives participating in the Prima Technical Exchange, a program that guided millers, chemists, and managers alike from Sri Lanka and Singapore through tours, demonstrations, and technology sessions. Prima Limited is one of the largest flour milling companies in the world. When it became operational in 1980, their Trincomalee mill in Sri Lanka was the largest in the world. Today, its milling capacity is 3,600 tonnes of wheat a day with a storage capacity of 200,000 tonnes. During Prima’s stay at Cigi, the topic of discussion was how Canadian wheat can meet the specific needs of Prima’s processors and consumers.

Canadian wheat represents the significant import for Prima Limited, in particular, CWRS. In 2013-14, Sri Lanka imported 526,600 tonnes of Canadian wheat. Prima Deputy Research and Development Manager Abdul Cader Abdul Careem notes that CWRS’s water absorption is lower (by approximately 2%) this year and last year than in previous years, but overall, he believes the quality of Canadian wheat to be good.

One of the main Sri Lankan end-products is noodles. As such, most of Prima’s flour milling processes are focused with this in mind. Here at Cigi, with a modern flour mill and a team of millers located on the 11th floor in downtown Winnipeg, we are able to address the requirements of Sri Lankan production.

The heat, the humidity, all the weather conditions are quite different in Sri Lanka from what they are here in Canada. A typical day there is roughly 37 degrees Celsius. (Not to say that it doesn’t get hot here, which it does, but it certainly can’t be denied that it’s a little cooler in Canada.) As such, the milling conditions will be different. The ambient temperature inside the milling facility will be different.

Cigi’s facilities and testing takes all this into account. We showed the participants from Sri Lanka how we test the precise processes for customers around the world who all have different specifications for their end-products. We are able to replicate the conditions used in the Prima mills here at Cigi to test their milling process.

However, it became immediately apparent that I was way out of my depth when it came to milling, and the Prima participants definitely knew their stuff. That much was evident. Technical terms and processes were thrown around, back and forth, between Cigi experts and Prima participants, and I was left dizzy from the exchange, struggling to keep up. Milling is a precise science, one where there is almost always something new to learn.

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Cigi Milling Technologist Norbert Cabral reviews Cigi’s process on how our mill operates.

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The group has a look at the wheat still in its whole kernel form before it’s actually milled. Frank Bergen, another Cigi Milling Technologist, shows the group the full process of our Pilot Mill, everything from how the wheat is stored, to how it’s cleaned, then tempered, and ultimately milled.

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Wheat!

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The mill is equipped with rollers that separate the husk of the kernel from the endosperm, the good stuff that ends up as flour. After that, it is put through sifters and is separated into the various components of the wheat kernel.

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Look at all these pipes! For the most part, I have no idea what any of them do, let alone where they go! Milling’s tough stuff! Am I right, or am I right?

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Cigi’s Pilot Mill spans over three floors and it’s located way up on the 11th floor of our downtown Winnipeg location. I see it almost every day, and yet it’s still impressive to me.

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Frank and the group inspect the disc separator.

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Ultimately, Cigi’s Pilot Mill has the capacity to control everything needed to match the specifications of customers around the world. We are equipped with the tools to simulate whatever conditions, whether it’s adjusting the humidity control, monitoring the temperature with a roll warmup system (taking into account the fact that other mills usually operate 24 hours where ours doesn’t), or using corrugated rolls, smooth rolls, nylon wiring, and anything else needed to simulate certain conditions.

Aside from milling, though, the Prima participants also had a hand in all the other areas of expertise that Cigi offers as well as meeting with experts from other areas of the grain industry:

  • Discussed wheat and flour quality testing methods with Analytical Services
  • Saw firsthand the CGC’s process with wheat inspection and grading and toured its Grain Research Laboratory
  • Worked the noodle line in the Noodle Technology session
  • Learned about pasta and semolina quality requirements for pasta processing
  • Baked potential end-products that could help enrich nutritional value in the Sri Lankan market
  • Toured the Grain Storage Facility at the University of Manitoba and discussed pest control within stored grain
  • Participated in discussions on the quality of Canadian wheat classes, wheat class modernization and weighing program, and GMO issues and challenges

On Thursday evening, Prima left for Vancouver to tour the Cargill terminal elevator and visit the Vancouver offices of the CGC.

Despite having proficient millers amongst them, the Prima group certainly learned lots on their trip to Cigi. This wasn’t their first time here, and I’m sure it won’t be their last.

Mike Kontzamanis is a Creative Communications student at Red River College in Winnipeg, working at Cigi for the summer.  Watch for more articles from Mike about Cigi’s programs and other activities over the next several weeks.