SAINT-HILAIRE-DE-LOULAY, FRANCE — Just about everything is new at VMI, a global producer of industrial and craft mixers for more than 60 years. Take its 140,000-square-foot headquarters in Saint-Hilaire-de-Loulay, France. In June, VMI held its official grand opening, although the company has been putting on the final touches and phasing in 100,000 square feet of production since last summer.
Or scout out its new 7,500-square-foot Process Development Center. It houses a diversified range of mixing systems and a team of 10 multi-disciplinary experts, headed by Jose Cheio de Oliveria, R.&D. manager.
For VMI, however, it’s not just about “what’s new” but rather about going beyond the status quo to elevate mixing to a whole new level, said Terry Bartsch, president and chief executive officer of VMI North America Corp., Kansas City, Mo.
“We are not only providing equipment. We are also tailoring it to a process that fits our customers’ needs,” said Mr. Bartsch, who joined VMI in October 2017 and helped give Baking & Snack a tour of the French company’s new headquarters.
“The first thing we do is have a detailed discussion with our customers to understand the types of products they would like to make,” he continued. “Then we design our system to give them the best solution to meet their needs and desired production rates.”
Inside the R.&D. center, technicians and master bakers work with customers to develop products on vertical or planetary mixers that typically create test batches ranging from 50 to 600 lbs. Overall, VMI’s Kneadster vertical mixers can make up to 600-lb batches while its Ultimix planetary mixers’ capacity goes up to 900 lbs. The center also features a continuous mixer, which can run doughs at rates of up to 17,500 lbs an hour in an industrial setting.
On the opposite extreme, a battery of 10 lab mixers determines maximum dough quality based on various conditions including different ingredients, time, temperature and mixing speeds. An analytical graph then provides rheological and other test results to its customers. Products are baked off in deck or rack ovens to refine and validate end-product characteristics. VMI also provides further testing as products are scaled up to an industrial level.
“What sets VMI apart is our real commitment to R.&D.,” Mr. Bartsch said. He added that the company typically invests about $2 million annually in R.&D. activity.
“A lot of customers have known us for years and trusted us,” said Frederic Dangel, area sales manager, VMI North America. “Often their master bakers will come in and run a test alongside our technicians. In the end, we want to convince them that our mixers can run their doughs, and we’re willing to do extensive testing to prove it to them.”
Although its history is rooted in bread, that’s quickly shifting.
“We’re producing pastries, sweet goods and snacks,” said Claire Auffrédou, marketing manager, VMI. “Our focus is now on mixing and not just bread.”
VMI’s R.&D. department also collaborates with 23 engineers who develop systems not only for baked goods but also for the chemical and cosmetic industries. Together, they share their expertise on such technical features as best practices in sanitary design, which is critical to all industries. Another group of engineers provides software programming and other support.
To learn more about VMI’s continuous mixing capabilities, potential customers can get an inside look by taking a virtual reality tour that the company recently developed.
VMI also offers education courses and training programs at its R.&D. center or onsite in customers’ manufacturing facilities. Moreover, VMI North America supplies technical service and parts through its offices in Kansas City.
In many ways, Mr. Bartsch said, VMI is mixing it up for good by blending the latest in technology with its established core values. VMI is part of the Linxis Group, which also includes Shick Esteve and Diosna.