Panificadora Conquense

A state-of-the art mill next to Spain’s top wheat-producing region

To expand and reach new markets, Spanish wheat mill Panificadora Conquense has built a brand-new plant with state-of-the-art Bühler technology and solutions. Thanks to the package of automation and digitalization systems, it can achieve the best results in terms of efficiency, quality, safety, and sustainability – all prerequisites as it expands into new markets.

Panificadora Conquense is a family-run Spanish company specializing in making flour for churros, one of the country’s most popular breakfast foods. Recently it launched an ambitious growth plan with a brand-new mill and with new customers and markets in mind. To carry out this plan, it turned to Bühler, its partner of almost 70 years, for the latest technology and solutions.

With the new mill now up and running, the company has immediately seen its milling capacity rise from 300 metric tonnes of wheat a day to 500, producing 400 metric tonnes of flour. Panificadora Conquense is also set to reap a sustainability dividend as advanced automation and increased digitalization enable improved energy efficiency and resource optimization.    

Quality, safety, and sustainability 

The new 15,000-square-meter mill was completed in March 2023. The facility is designed to be kept clean easily and allow for quality control at all times. First, grain arriving in trucks must pass a check for basic quality via a random sample test before being unloaded into storage silos. From this point, the transformation of the wheat grain into flour is all performed on Bühler solutions.

When grain arrives at the plant, it can contain impurities, including stones, weeds, and metal fragments as well as damaged grains. Given that such impurities can adversely affect the final flour's quality, taste, and odor, and some can pose health risks, effective cleaning is essential. That need is taken care of at Panificadora Conquense by Bühler’s Vitaris modular cleaning system − four combinable machines that each perform a specific task in the grain cleaning cycle by removing and separating fine and course particles and impurities and saving up to 15% of energy.

Vitaris Combicleaner Vitaris Combicleaner The Vitaris Combicleaner
Sortex H Sortex H The Sortex H

The next cleaning step is carried out by the Sortex H SpectraVision optical sorter, which analyzes 35,000 grains per second, using light and cameras. It is driven by Bühler’s MerlinAi, the brain of the sorter, whose algorithms help detect unwanted grains by color and hunt out suspicious stains. The Sortex H detects up to 50% delivers up to 50% higher reject concentrations than other optical sorters

Collaboration and consultation at every step

The design and layout of the mill is the result of close collaboration between the two companies which continued throughout the installation process. “It was an extraordinary experience from the first contact right through to the end,” says Enrique Honrubia, technical director at Panificadora Conquense. “We were consulted on everything down to the exact position of each machine, and even able to visit the factory virtually in 3D before the layout was finalized.”

For example, the brothers selected the Akrivis batch scale from Bühler. It weighs precise amounts of ingredients and sets new benchmarks in food safety. All metal surfaces in contact with the product are made out of stainless steel and its seals are made out of food-use approved materials. Optimized efficiency in its design also leads to energy savings and can cut emissions by up to 11 metric tonnes of CO2e per year compared to other scales.  

The Rois flow balancer is tailored to effectively dose a wide range of granular products and, as with the entire Bühler range of milling solutions, it comes with high-tech innovation. The bUnify system connects the Rois to any plant control platform and an integrated web server allows for monitoring and operation from different devices such as tablets and PCs. 

Panificadora Conquense opted for Bühler’s Diorit roller mill, equipped with sensors to prevent rollers from engaging when there is no grain going through and monitoring the temperature at all times for safety. This also offers useful insights into the process so that action can be taken immediately if the flour is beginning to clog the system or is running too fine. Next comes the sifting of the product in the plansifters, Arenit Plus − sturdy machines, without wooden components, that are in perpetual motion.

It was an extraordinary experience from the first contact right through to the end.

Enrique Honrubia, Technical director at Panificadora Conquense

Transparency, traceability, peace of mind

The entire chain of production within the mill is connected to allow for complete monitoring and traceability. For example, more than 500 data points can be downloaded every second from the Sortex H sorter. Every stage of production in a Bühler Smart Mill is registered to allow for monitoring and crucial adjustments, with the automation solution Mercury MES (Manufacturing Execution System) gathering data from the whole plant.

“Mercury gives us the peace of mind that everything is under control and also real flexibility and the possibility to make adjustments. It gives us information that we would otherwise not see, and could not act on,” says Enrique Honrubia. “There is transparency and traceability all along the chain, and we can use the data to learn how to save energy, too. Thanks to the Mercury bar code system, we are able to identify precisely which flour has been produced from each kilo of wheat.” 

Enrique Honrubia says that the relationship between the business his grandfather started and Bühler has always been strong. That is why Bühler is featured on Panificadora Conquense’s company logo. But the future means more to any business than the past. "This mill offers us optimization of energy and resources, increased profitability, stability in terms of production quality and greater transparency and traceability,” he says.

Key to this is the digitalization of processes. For Esperanza Alonso, team manager for engineering automation at Bühler Madrid, the good personal relations between the team at Panificadora Conquense and the Bühler team were critical in driving this part of the project. “Throughout the project we sought to maintain the company’s traditional methods and combine them with the latest technology and functionalities Mercury MES can offer,” she says.

The vast quantities of data running through Mercury MES become truly transformative with the addition of digital services provided by Bühler Insights: This includes the yield management system (YMS), which shows plant performance and production KPIs in a digital and secure environment reducing administrative workloads, and the application Bühler Insights Replay, which replays the process visualization, identifying the precise cause of a problem. It means the team can find out where and why it happened, right down to the second. “It’s like having a spy camera network everywhere, on every surface,” says Alonso. 

Another digital service is Error & Downtime Analysis (EDA). “Downtime can be minimized by finding out what might go wrong before it happens or, when it does, ensuring people know why and learning the lessons. It helps the maintenance personnel to plan their work to reduce plant downtime,” Alonso says.

This is rounded off by the Quality Management System (QMS), which provides real-time data visibility and can automatically respond to deviations, enabling quick interventions to ensure consistent product quality.

Akrivis batch scale Akrivis batch scale The Akrivis batch scale

Boosting quality, saving energy

For Félix Honrubia, the new mill is the way to meet the company’s objectives of boosting quality and capacity through advanced automation and greater energy efficiency. Power use is already down 30% compared to Panificadora Conquense’s former premises. This achievement is one outcome of Bühler’s own sustainability commitment to have solutions ready to multiply by 2025 that reduce energy, waste, and water by 50% in the value chains of its customers.​ 

The two family-owned companies share a vision of the role of the milling sector in guaranteeing food safety while becoming more sustainable, as well as sharing fundamental values. For Félix Honrubia, even in an age of advanced technology and major global challenges, there are principles that remain unaltered.  

“Many things have changed for us on a technical level, but we have inherited our grandfather’s integrity, honesty, and devotion to serving customers,” he says. “These are things we don’t want to change under any circumstances.”

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