ISRAEL — The origins of the 2010 decision by Stybel Flour Mills to build a new flour mill at Ad Halom by the port city of Ashdod may be discovered in the pressing need to close Dagan, another Stybel mill 25 miles to the north.
Located in tightly congested Bnei Brak, just east of Tel Aviv, the Dagan older mill was an industrial vestige of a much different time in pre-Israel Palestine.
Bnei Brak was established in 1924 as an agricultural village by Polish Chasidic (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) settlers. When the flour mill was built in 1940, it was situated on an open field with houses and other structures dotting the landscape — the village encompasses 709 hectares (less than 3 square miles). Over time, Bnei Brak grew as an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and is among the most densely populated cities in Israel with a population of 182,000.
“The mill was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, which wasn’t the case originally,” said Hadar Golombek, whose family owned the Dagan mill there for many years. Now a partner in the Ad Halom mill, Mr. Golombek spent many years working at the Dagan mill.
“It became very difficult for the mill to operate logistically,” he said. “Regulations from the municipality, which is Orthodox and very crowded, were difficult.”
While logistical problems accompany attempts to operate a flour mill in any densely populated area around the world, Bnei Brak brings another layer of challenge. Observant Jews are not allowed to use or even own flour during the holiday of Passover, and they carefully clean their homes of any traces of flour in advance of the festival each year.
“A flour mill in an Orthodox community like Bnei Brak is not ideal around Passover,” said Boaz Turgeman, a managing director of Stybel.
Stybel leased the Dagan mill in 2005 with an agreement to move out in five years.
For Stybel, a need for additional milling capacity heightened in 2008. In addition to the impending closing of Dagan, a grain silo collapsed on a milling unit at the company’s Beer Sheva mill, necessitating a halt to production there.
To replace the capacity of Dagan and Beer Sheva mills, Stybel leased a mill in Ashdod in 2009 as a stopgap measure and decided to convert an old feed mill outside of Ashdod into a large flour mill. At the guidance of engineers from Bühler Group, which helped design and was the principal equipment supplier of the Ad Halom mill, Stybel jettisoned the feed mill conversion plan and instead built a new building on the property. Stybel’s new flour mill outside Ashdod is the largest in the State of Israel.
“We acquired the feed mill in 2004, mostly for wheat storage,” Mr. Turgeman said. “It is near the port of Ashdod, and it was an advantage to be able to store wheat — 80% of wheat consumed in Israel is imported.
“We called Bühler to evaluate and see how we could rebuild the mill there. We wanted to move quickly into a new mill for both Bnei Brak and Ashdod. At the time we didn’t know we were going to be able to buy the Ashdod mill (a transaction the company completed in 2013). Bühler was very thorough. They make you think about every point. Together with them, we developed a timetable. As I said, we had wanted to convert a 40- or 50-year-old feed mill. Bühler’s experts said, ‘No way. You need a new building.’ Then we decided to build here first of all, taking over capacity of Beer Sheva and Dagan. Luckily we had the mill in Ashdod rented. We moved production from Beer Sheva to Ashdod for the time we were building the new mill here.”
Any food or ingredient plant producing certified kosher products must be regularly inspected to ensure compliance with the ancient laws of Jewish dietary observance. These laws mostly pertain to keeping out prohibited ingredients (e.g., pork and shellfish) and making sure dairy and meat products do not mix. For wheat milling, an entirely new set of requirements must be met (see related story below).
Helping Bühler navigate rules and requirements associated with Jewish religious practice was Baruch Turgeman, the 84-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, his son Boaz said.
“My father brought the input of his many years of experience,” Boaz Turgeman said. “We had issues regarding the kosher restrictions. We needed special designs which affected some of the flow sheet. Bühler made these special adjustments.”
For example, certain customers seek fresh bran and fresh semolina (endosperm without bran particles) from soft wheat or semi-hard wheat directly from the mill without any intermediate storage.
“I’ve never seen such a feature in a mill design,” said Josef Pfister, a Bühler engineer involved with the Ad Halom project.
Complexity also would be an apt word to describe the construction process for the Ad Halom mill. Even after plans for the mill were drafted and work began in August 2010 on the project, more than four years passed before any wheat hit the first break. Numerous factors were cited by Boaz by way of explanation for the delays. While it has grown to become Israel’s largest flour milling company, Stybel did not have much experience building flour mills from the ground up, mostly having either acquired mills or added milling units. The company’s contractors also needed preparation for the unique nuances of the flour milling project.
From Stybel’s perspective, Bühler had designed a flour mill requiring precision when it came to construction and installation, including elements such as electrical wiring. Such an exacting project “was not very common in the local market,” Boaz Turgeman said.
“Our civil engineer and contractor underestimated the complexity of building a flour mill,” he said. “They looked at it initially as if it is an eight-story residential building or something else fairly standard. When you build it you realize that not only is every floor different but even within the same floor there are differences from one part to the next — different foundation, arrangement of columns.”
Similarly, parts of the electrical wiring system installation needed to be redone more than once to ensure placement on the wall perfectly parallel to the floor.
Other delays were attributed by Boaz Turgeman to factors unique to Israel.
“Here, we happily celebrate the holidays of all three major religions, in terms of working day,” he said. “So when it comes to the Jewish holidays we take vacations off. Arab — Christian or Muslim — workers also take time off for their holidays. So, net working days we had many delays because of labor and quality.
“Oh, and in between, we had two campaigns with Gaza.”
The reference was to two military conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in 2012 and 2014.
In November 2012, Israel launched an eight-day operation against Hamas in Gaza after a series of incidents culminating with the firing of numerous rockets from Gaza into Israel in a 24-hour period.
The July 2014 operation was a more protracted conflict, lasting seven weeks. The periods surrounding and especially during the wars were, of course, not conducive to the smooth conduct of a highly large-scale construction project. For the most part, though, work on the new mill continued through the wars, albeit at a slower pace.
“We were very fortunate that our team stayed with us and worked on the project,” Boaz Turgeman said. “The wars created difficulties throughout Israel, though Iron Dome, the anti-missile system, helped protect population centers.”
At one point, Bühler supervisors were evacuated from Israel and returned to Switzerland for about two months.
“It reached a point that it became too risky,” Mr. Pfister said. “There were times we had to go to the bunker every night. It was very bad for a certain period.”
The Turgemans expressed deep gratitude for the dedication of all those involved in the construction of the mill.
“Each Bühler engineer received a gift ‘In appreciation for acts of bravery in times of war,’” Boaz Turgeman said.
The mill has the capacity to grind 1,000 tonnes of wheat per day (two units, 500 tonnes apiece), producing about 16,500 cwts of flour per day.
The spacious mill has space to add between 20% to 25% more capacity.
Some parts of the Ad Halom building were constructed using a slip form system executed by an Austrian company Stybel hired. Attention to sanitation in the design and execution of the Ad Halom mill was extraordinary, Mr. Pfister said.
While most mills are built with a blend of reinforced concrete and steel beams, the Ad Halom mill was built completely with reinforced concrete, to reduce harborage areas.
The building features rounded corners throughout, and the mill is painted with special food grade epoxy for heightened sanitation.
“The walls and ceiling are very smooth, all with an eye toward sanitation,” Mr. Pfister said.
Other design features of the Ad Halom mill stand out from the norm of flour mills built today, Mr. Pfister said.
“In every way, this mill is built for today and for future generations,” he said. “In addition to the space for expansion, the building is 41 meters high. That shows the Turgemans were looking beyond measures such as maximizing return on investment. Each floor is 5 meters high, versus 4 to 4.5 meters, which is the norm in new mills today.”
Fully automated, Stybel’s new Ad Halom mill theoretically is a lights-out mill.
“During the night, government regulations require there must be at least two people on site, even if it means watching one another fall asleep,” Boaz Turgeman said.
All told the Ad Halom mill has about 50 employees, including drivers, packaging personnel, office and quality control staff.
Boaz Turgeman said the Ad Halom facility stands out versus other mills in Israel for its flexibility to make many different kinds of flour and special products.
“We have the ability to make enriched flour and mixes while maintaining very high sanitation and hygiene — as well as a very high level of kashruth,” he said.
The on-line quality control system also represents a step up in technology, and the mill features numerous packaging lines.
Each of the two milling units features 6 double high roll stands and 14 singles. The mill has the capacity to alternate between hard wheat and semi-hard wheat milling. Soft wheat may be milled too.
An unconventional feature of the Ad Halom mill is that a single motor drives two roll pairs on the double high rollerstands. A common motor pulley allows taking up two sets of v-belts, long ones for the upper roll pair and shorter ones for the lower roll pair.
The single-motor approach saves space beneath the rollstand and saves energy. While not the first time the single motor system has been installed at a mill, Mr. Pfister said the installation must be highly accurate.
The mill’s cleaning house features Sortex optical sorters, equipment that is becoming standard in new mills worldwide but that remains the exception in Israel.
Wheat storage factors particularly heavily in Israel’s milling economics because of the country’s dependence on imported wheat and other factors. The flexibility to divert wheat shipments from Haifa to Ashdod is among reasons having storage near the latter port is worthwhile, Boaz Turgeman said.
“Sometimes the queue at the port is so long that in order to avoid demurrage, you might consider diverting ships to Ashdod to unload it earlier, and vice versa,” he said. “Haifa and Ashdod are the only ports.”
The addition of rail service in Ashdod is anticipated in 2017, an enhancement expected to generate great efficiencies, Boaz Turgeman said. Labor costs associated with transferring wheat the short distance between the port and the mill represent an onerous expense, he said.
He described “semi-hard wheat, like U.S. hard red winter” as the principal grist for the Ad Halom mill.
“Most hard wheat is either European — from Germany, Hungary, Russia or Ukraine,” he said. “Soft wheat with low protein is imported from France and Russia. We had imported U.S. soft red wheat for many years but stopped because of vomitoxin.”
At one level, the decision to install the mill in a new building simplified the Ad Halom project for Stybel, but plenty of additional complications remained to be addressed.
The mill’s 36 bulk flour bins, each 470 cubic meters in size, provide 7,200 tonnes of bulk storage capacity (200 tonnes each).
The unusually large amount of bulk storage (equivalent to nine days of production capacity), together with a large warehouse for bagged flour, provide the mill the ability to store flour two to three weeks, aging naturally, enhancing baking characteristics, Mr. Pfister said. It also allows Stybel to create flour blends to ensure quality and consistency.
The fully automated control system engineered by Bühler is equipped with a unique bin management system that allows first-in-first-out flour management across all 36 flour storage bins. For food safety, the control system is equipped with systemwide traceability starting with the finished products all the way back to the wheat bins.
High-tech at Ad Halom extends to the mill’s two bulk truck outload lines. After the plant operator enters the customer orders into the order processing system, an auto-generated document with a barcode is handed to the truck drivers at the entrance gate of the mill, which enables the truck drivers to begin loading by simply scanning a barcode. After completion of the loading sequence, an export file is transmitted to a software where data are translated into Hebrew language to generate delivery papers that comply with Israeli law.
Israel has emerged as a leading global incubator of high-tech industry over the last 25 years, and the mill features a monitoring system developed by a company there.
”It’s a sonic system that can read flour bin levels, give on-line inventory and show a 3-dimensional image of what is in the bin,” Boaz Turgeman said. ”If flour is impeded you have the information instantly.”
Sanitation and efficiency concerns factor in elements of the bulk storage design.
“The bins are square with rounded corners,” he said. “With rounded bins you lose 25% of the space.”
The air control system of the Ad Halom mill also is unique. Six Bühler air filter units are installed on the roof.
“The building is constructed with an air makeup unit system that introduces fresh air and maintains positive pressure in the building relative to outside of a few millibars (a measure of atmospheric pressure) to supply the process air and keep dust under control,” Boaz Turgeman said. “If you open a door, you feel a rush of air. The air pressure drops. Sensors detect the change, and within seconds a special system speeds up the ventilators through a fine filter system and brings clean air into the building. It also happens in the conveying blower room. All the products are conveyed by air. We also treat the conveyed air.
“In a standard mill, conveying air is drawn in from the atmosphere through a normal filter. Here the air that goes into the blower room has already been cleaned by filters to make sure the air that meets the flour is clean.”
Also special is the design of motor suspension in the building at a reduced angle for diminished dust collection and easier motor access.
A baking laboratory has been installed by the Ad Halom mill and serves as a central laboratory for the entire Stybel system.
Special products include nitrogen packaged family flour to help protect flour from pests and to extend shelf life.
The product allows Stybel to avoid a labeling requirement for family flour in Israel.
“For flour sold to consumers, there is a requirement in Israel to write on the label ‘This flour must be sifted before use,’” Boaz Turgeman said. “There are three reasons — sanitation (to be sure there are no foreign particles), baking quality (sifting aerates the flour, which is helpful) and religious (to be sure there are no traces of insects). With our nitrogen packaged flour, we are able to eliminate the sifting requirement. It’s a great time saver for our customers.”
Another Stybel specialty is an 80% extraction rate flour with higher fiber content.
The addition of enrichment in wheat flour is voluntary in Israel. A move to introduce it universally across the country many years ago failed
to take hold, Boaz Turgeman said.
“More than 20 years ago, we voluntarily introduced it into the market,” he said. “We add the enrichment recommended by the F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration) standards. Vitamins deteriorate with the heat of baking. We microencapsulate our enrichment for a special segment of products, to make them very bioavailable.”
The enriched line includes a bread flour, all-purpose flour, pastry flour and cake flour. Rye flour, whole wheat flour and spelt flour also are produced and packed in different packages sizes or even supplied in bulk.
All told, the mill features six packaging lines, including two carousel packers that fill 25 kg, 30 kg, 50 kg, 60 kg and jumbo bags.
A few meters from the Ad Halom mill, Dagan is building a bread improver facility.
Dagan also is partnering in the Ashdod mill. Construction on this project began in 2012 and was set to be completed in March 2017. The mill will have capacity to grind 400 tonnes of wheat per day in addition to a specialty mill with capacity to grind 24 tonnes daily.
The Turgemans could not be more pleased with the outcome of the Ad Halom project.
“All this together came out in a way that, as my father, Baruch, would say, ‘If you do what you love and love what you do, that’s the outcome,’” Boaz Turgeman said.
Baruch Turgeman added of the spacious mill design, “It’s a luxury. Building a mill attractive to a new generation to come into the mill and for maintenance etc. Most flour mills are too crowded.”