The two family-owned companies that joined forces to create Whitewater Mill L.L.C. have a combined history of more than 300 years in U.S. flour milling. Amid this distinguished heritage, the owners suggested the opening of the new technologically advanced mill in West Harrison, Ind., likely represents a new high water mark for each of the businesses and perhaps for the milling industry itself.
Whitewater Mill, located on the outskirts of metropolitan Cincinnati, is jointly owned by Siemer Milling Co., Teutopolis, Ill., and H. Nagel & Son, Cincinnati. Siemer Milling leases and operates the mill. While milling technology advances have been introduced only gradually over the past century, the Whitewater Mill features numerous notable innovations that stand out as significant steps forward in milling. From its precleaning system at the grain elevator, color sorting in the cleaning house and on-line quality monitoring system to a space age packing line, Whitewater features advances absent from most U.S. flour mills operating today. (Click for a slideshow of photos from Whitewater Mill).
Mill layout and flow design was overseen by Siemer Milling executives Vernon (Red) Tegeler, vice-president of production, and Sunil Maheshwari, vice-president of specialty ingredients and manager of the new mill.
Bühler, Inc., Plymouth, Minn., was engaged as the equipment supply partner and to assist with the mill design. Todd & Sargent of Ames, Iowa was contracted for slipform construction and equipment installation.
Siemer’s history with both companies made the decision to engage them an easy one, said Richard C. Siemer, president of Siemer Milling.
“We’ve installed Bühler equipment almost exclusively for the last 55 years,” Mr. Siemer said. “And we’ve had great success with Todd & Sargent on recent projects. When we built this mill, we invested for efficiency and for food safety. We didn’t cut corners. We have a lot of confidence in our project partners. We believe we will get the best performance over the long term with what we have done here.”
While it builds on well-developed relationships with Bühler and Todd & Sargent, Whitewater represents the first serious partnership between Siemer and Nagel. For Mr. Siemer, geography played a significant role — both sentimental and logical — in bringing the companies together.
“My great-grandfather, Joseph, who helped establish what eventually became Siemer Milling in Teutopolis, Ill., was born in Cincinnati,” he said. “Three of his sisters were nuns here.
“Based on discussions with several major customers, we saw an opportunity to put a facility in the area. Meanwhile, the Nagels are not strangers. We did a lot of business with them in the 1970s and knew Bill and Ted had taken a positive turn in their business and were doing very well with value-added products.”
While the Nagel family’s legacy in the industry spans three different centuries, flour milling was not part of Ted Nagel’s household when he was a small boy. His father William spent many years in Detroit as an automotive engineer for Eaton Corp., a major industrial products manufacturer. William was head of research with Eaton in 1970 when he moved back to Cincinnati to work with his father and brother (both named Henry Nagel) to run the business together.
In the years that followed, the Nagels considered selling the business and even leased the mill to another milling company for a period of time. Part of the business was sold to a local businessman, again, only for a period of time.
Meanwhile, Edward S. (Ted) Nagel graduated in 1990 from the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University and gained experience in milling working at Allen Brothers Milling Co. in Columbia, S.C. A small family-owned miller of wheat flour and corn meal, Allen Brothers may be the U.S. milling company most like his family’s, Mr. Nagel said.
When he moved back to Cincinnati in 1998 to rejoin the family business, Nagel was almost entirely a seller of bulk flour.
“We had entered the flour-based mix business in 1985, at first selling to a single restaurant chain — Duff’s Famous Smorgasbord,” Mr. Nagel, who now is president of the company, said.
In the years that followed, the Nagels painstakingly pursued broadening the customer base with customized mixes. The business has blossomed.
“We pride ourselves on being able to serve smaller customers like restaurant chains,” he said. “We make hundreds of different mixes. Special orders. There is a restaurant in Kansas City that buys special breading from us. That’s our niche. We make roll mix, corn bread mix (we buy in the corn meal).”
Today, the mill sells 70% of its flour bulk and 30% sacked. While the niche business is mostly with smaller customers, Nagel lists some of the largest food companies in the United States among his bulk flour customers. For nearly two decades, the company has been on solid footing, he said.
“After the leasing arrangement ended, the business grew every year except 2008 and has been steadily profitable,” he said.
The only Nagel currently involved with this business (his father has retired and his uncle Henry Nagel died in 2014), Ted Nagel’s principal challenge has been the company’s limited production capacity and the age of its mills. The company’s business had grown to the point that H. Nagel & Son was purchasing more and more flour from other millers to augment production from the two smaller mills the company operated in the Cincinnati area. Mr. Nagel said consolidating production in West Harrison was a better option than trying to expand capacity at the company’s existing mills.
“Both of the mills were landlocked, which constrained our growth,” he said.
The decision to build Whitewater jointly was not made quickly.
Mr. Siemer explained, “Building a mill isn’t something you just do on a summer afternoon, and I thought given the capital required maybe there was an opportunity for a joint venture that would benefit both of us — we as straightforward flour millers, selling flour to others, and Ted in a business that utilizes a lot of flour, potentially more than Nagel itself was producing. We began talks in 2011 and moved forward one step at a time. The more we talked about it, the more enthused we became about it. We began construction in October 2013 and commissioned the mill this spring.”
Mr. Nagel said he “thought it was brilliant.” From the perspective of Siemer Milling, having a major flour user like H. Nagel & Son involved, together with strong prospects for new business with existing customers made the decision to move forward easier, Mr. Siemer said.
He said capacity of Siemer’s existing mills was strained by demand before the opening of the Whitewater facility. The company’s second mill, in Hopkinsville, Ky., was built in 1995, expanded in 1998 and then expanded a second time in 2010.
While per capita demand for flour in the United States has held steady in recent years at 135 lbs, this lack of growth does not apply uniformly across all wheat classes, Mr. Siemer said.
“Based on our experience, soft wheat demand is increasing,” he said. “When you read Food Business News you get the impression all that’s happening is ‘health and wellness,’ ancient grains, gluten-free and legumes,” he said. “People eat what they’ve always eaten, and the population grows.”
Factoring into the amount of time between when the idea for the mill was conceived and when work began were discussions with the local government.
“The property was owned by the Dearborn County (Ind.) Redevelopment Commission,” Mr. Siemer said. “Development incentives were offered by Dearborn County and the City of Lawrenceburg, and the State of Indiana. They were all great to work with, but it takes some time to get terms settled with several units of government involved.”
The final location selection was driven principally by logistical advantages, Mr. Siemer said.
“Transportation as much as anything was the reason we settled on this site,” he said. “There is excellent access. A lot of the places we looked at were in industrial parks, but to get to those industrial parks you had to go through residential areas. This site is right on a highway, three-fourths of a mile from Interstate 74 and close to the Ohio River bridge on the beltway, I-275.”
This access, west of Cincinnati, is far more attractive than what lies to the east, Mr. Siemer said.
“Traffic on I-75, through downtown, made that area undesirable,” Mr. Nagel added. “The bridge there is the poster child for decaying infrastructure in the United States.”
Rail access to the mill is on the Brookville line of the Indiana & Ohio Railway, a short line that is part of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. The IORY serves the metropolitan areas of Cincinnati, Columbus, Lima and Springfield in Ohio.
“The G&W is a very successful and reputable company, but IORY Brookville line has not been heavily used,” he said. “So developing a relationship with them has taken some time.
“Right now we are starting up a flour mill and they are restarting a line, and it will be profitable for both of us if everything works as it should.”
The first rail cars of wheat did, in fact, arrive in mid-July.
The mill will grind 100% soft red winter wheat, Mr. Siemer said, describing Siemer Milling as “more familiar with the soft wheat side of the business (the company grinds limited quantities of hard winter at its Hopkinsville mill). The mill can make 10,000 cwts per day, and we hope to increase that in the future, as we have at our other mills. Maybe do some hard wheat, too.”
Grain intake at the mill accommodates wheat delivery by rail or truck. A precleaning system utilizes a Bühler TAS LAAB cleaning, grading and aspirating system. The device is made by Bühler’s integrated affiliate company — Schmidt-Seeger. The German business was acquired by Bühler in 2010.
The purpose of cleaning grain prior to putting it in silos is to optimize the storage life of the grain, enhancing the quality of the product to be milled and, ultimately, the end product.
“TAS is a high throughput system,” Mr. Maheshwari said. “Typically, you have just an aspirator. TAS separates better, helps remove sand, chaff, dirt and corn. It’s a big improvement from most precleaning set-ups.”
The Whitewater Mill has 960,000 bus of grain storage, equating to about six weeks of grind.
Utilizing a differential portioning Transflowtron scale system at the base of the grain bins, drag conveyors bring wheat from the elevator into the mill, passing over a drum magnet at the outset. The cleaning house features a Bühler Vega/Venta grain cleaner-classifier, Sortex color sorter, aspirators, and scourers. The sorter catches dark defects (such as discolored grain), light defects (partially broken grain) and infrared defects (fusarium).
Mr. Siemer observed, “The Vega Venta was developed to replace the conventional ‘workhorse’ separator. With the separator, the big stuff stayed on the top, the little stuff went out the bottom, and the grain stayed in the middle. The Venta/Vega can separate more finely. If the crop year is bad and grain has been damaged in different ways, you can take out different fractions.”
Mr. Maheshwari added, “The Vega Venta system is more efficient with greater throughput. You can have greater segregation. You can clean your grain with a different sizing.”
Ruedi Weiss, director of sales — grain milling, at Bühler, said a major point of difference for the Vega/Venta system is that it has four times the screen area of the traditional separator.
“That allows us to go very small in the screen size and remove much more foreign product,” he said. “The larger surface also makes it more effective.”
A new model Sortex color sorter is more effective in removing vomitoxin-damaged kernels, according to Bühler.
“We will always be compliant with F.D.A. advisory levels, but this system gives us greater confidence and therefore flexibility in our wheat buying, which ultimately helps growers without severe discounting,” Mr. Siemer said.
From the cleaning house, wheat is transferred to a tempering system for six to eight hours, followed by a second cleaning with scourer-aspirators.
Siemer’s Hopkinsville mill in 1995 was one of the first to utilize double high rollstands. Initially, the new technology was used to shorten the mill flow, which really isn’t the purpose now, Mr. Maheshwari said.
“Over the last 20 years, we built a second and third unit,” he said. “We learned there are applications for double high rollstands and others where greater flexibility is required, when multiple grades of flours are produced.”
Bühler offers a high end and a less-expensive Performance line of milling equipment; Whitewater Mill is high end from top to bottom. The Whitewater Mill has 23 Antares MDDT and MDDR rollstands, 2 Polaris MQRG purifiers, and 3 Sirius MPAK 10-section sifters.
An Allen Bradley programmable controller undergirds the mill’s electronics, which feature the Bühler WinCos 2 software. The controls cover the milling process from the wheat intake all the way to the packer and loadout functions.
Among the more noteworthy technological advances is the latest in on-line testing. Bühler calls the system NIR multi-online analyzer MYRG.
The MYRG measures wheat and flour quality through the system, beginning in the cleaning house and continuing through the milling process, to ensure flour specifications turn out as expected. The system measures moisture, protein and ash content of the wheat, the partially milled materials, and the final product. The near infrared analysis developed for laboratories in the 1970s is now conducted on-line continuously.
Bühler notes the system is suitable for retrofitting older mills, and Mr. Maheshwari pointed out that the older Teutopolis mill has the first MYRG installed in this hemisphere.
“If something isn’t right, you can stop and make a change,” Mr. Maheshwari. “In the past, you would check the specifications in the laboratory with half a load already made. Taking readings nearly continuously offers heightened assurances for customers.”
Mr. Siemer added, “By continuously testing, the results of the tests are truly representative of the load.”
With the system, a single spectrometer monitors up to six different measuring points, according to Bühler.
“It is integrated into the WinCos 2 Bühler plant control system seamlessly,” Mr. Weiss said. “We can measure flour quality parameters continuously and act in real time to assure accurate and consistent flour quality. That is a huge advantage for millers and their customers.
“It has a wheat sensor, so we begin getting readings on the wheat side, before moving into the mill. It saves money because we used to require six units, now we only have one unit with six sensors.”
The mill features bulk storage of 35,000 cwts in 13 storage bins and 4 loadout bins.
The loadout bins use individual filters, which reduce the risk of cross product contamination, Mr. Maheshwari said.
“From storage we can blend to the loadout bins,” Mr. Maheshwari said. “We produce many different grades of flour at various ash levels.”
The design of the Whitewater Mill fully considers another change in flour milling — the decline of general fumigation as a sanitation tool.
“We don’t do heat treatment or general fumigation at any of our mills,” Mr. Maheshwari said. “Spot fumigation and integrated pest management are the tools we utilize. Structural harbors are minimized and there are no inaccessible flat surfaces.”
Among the more visually striking parts of the Whitewater Mill is the Bühler Maia MWPG bagging station, which was still being installed at the time of the mill tour in early July. The system will be used as a high speed packer for flour in 25- or 50-lb bags. The system allows utilization of paper, woven polypropylene or plastic film and is highly accurate and efficient, Bühler said.
“We think it is very well suited for soft wheat flour, and it happens that it is the first one of its type in North America,” Mr. Siemer said. “That would be of little consequence except that we think Bühler has done a better job of designing a packer for soft wheat flour than anyone else has.”
The device’s unusual design, which at first glance looks more like a hospital MRI scanner than a flour packer, was conceived and engineered with sanitation in mind, according to Bühler.
“A feed screw providing dust-free filling and compaction, an enclosed casing and dust-tight bag spout with integrated aspiration ensure hygienic packing and ideal sanitation,” the company said.
The system will be operated by two employees and produce about 800 bags per hour. The company will use open-mouth paper bags with a pinch closing system.
“The MAIA has an integrated maintenance program, and manuals and spare part information are automatically downloaded,” Mr. Weiss said. “It also has two different scaling
systems for greater precision. While it is running, the function of the packer is shown on a 3-D screen visible to the operator. If there is an alarm or if the machine needs to be stopped, it will show on the screen by coloring that part. That helps the operator find the fault.”
At the rebolt sifter, flour quality is checked yet again with an MYRG probe. An ash loop system has been installed to allow mill operators to blend flour a final time to ensure specifications are precisely met.
The mill also features two air makeup units, one on the roof of the mill and another for wheat intake. The system keeps the air clean and balanced and the environment steady, Mr. Weiss said.
Staffing at the Whitewater Mill currently stands at 27, and will reach 35 when the facility is operating at peak capacity.
At present, more than half of the production of Whitewater Mill will be shipped to customers in the Cincinnati area. Generally speaking, the company is looking to sell products to destinations within 200-300 miles — typical of mills in the soft red states, Mr. Siemer said.
With the opening of the mill, Mr. Nagel closed the two mills his company was operating in the Cincinnati area, and is purchasing all the flour it needs from Whitewater. Nagel continues to operate mix plants in the buildings where the mills operated. Over time, a new Nagel mix plant may be built on the site of the Whitewater Mill, he said.
Mr. Siemer expressed pride both in the newly completed facility and partnership and how Whitewater fits in across the company’s growing number of flour mills.
“You have a company that dates back to the 1850s and another that dates back to 1882, and they own the newest flour mill in the United States,” he said. “More generally, if you look at the flour mills Siemer operates, and the improvements we’ve made, I believe we have on average the newest production capacity in the industry.