Left to right: Mohamed Hamza Khan - Chief Miller, Mark Healing - Chief Technical Officer and Manoj Ekanayak – Senior Miller
Serendib Flour Mills (Pvt) Ltd., was set up with the objective of providing an uninterrupted supply of wheat flour to Sri Lankan consumers, manufactured in a state-of-the-art mill, guaranteeing superior quality and hygiene. Led by a cutting-edge team with deep expertise in the art of milling, Serendib Flour Mills is backed by the Al-Ghurair investments in Dubai, UAE. The mill in Sri Lanka is described as one of the modern and the largest single line wheat flour mills of Buhler AG of Switzerland. The team at Serendib Flour Mills is committed to the values of purity, innovation, quality, freshness, trust, expertise and service. Here, the people behind the Sri Lankan Milling operation - MARK HEALING, Chief Technical Officer, MOHAMED HAMZA KHAN, Chief Miller and MANOJ EKANAYAKE, Senior Miller - speak at length about how Serendib Flour Mills was established and why its technology leads the industry and benefits consumers.
MARK HEALING, Chief Technical Officer - A fifth generation miller, he has been involved in the Serendib Flour Mills Sri Lanka project from the beginning and would visit Sri Lanka on a regular basis. He played a key role as part of the recruitment team in the initial stages of setting up the operations. Here, he recounts the initial journey of Serendib Flour Mills.
Q: Tell us about the SFML factory and its infrastructure?
A: The Serendib mills 1,000 tonnes per day of the finest wheat in the world. The factory is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery for discharging the wheat from the ship, storing raw material, cleaning and tempering wheat, milling and finished product storage, and packing and loading. The flour mill is magnificently located at the entrance to the Colombo Port and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. The wheat vessels moor right alongside the flour mill and we discharge the wheat pneumatically at 600 tonnes of wheat per hour.
The machinery is from the world-renowned flour milling engineering firm, Buhler’s of Switzerland, who produce the finest possible milling machines, which are crafted with precision. Buhler’s possesses years of experience in flour mills’ technology and engineering.
Q: How difficult was the initial setting up process?
A: The construction of the mill commenced in 2004 and it was commissioned in 2008. Initially, we put 2,040 piles at a depth of around 25 meters into the ground and then built the fine concrete 12-storey mill building and silos, which is 54 meters at its highest point. The machinery was installed and commissioned by Buhler’s of Switzerland.
We wanted to produce the complete range of flours - such as high volume bakers’ flour, Rotti flour, household flour, noodle flour, biscuit and cake flour and high fiber atta and wholemeal flours. A large wheat silo was constructed with the facility for maximum wheat blending. We mill the finest wheat in the world from Canada, US, Australia and Russia, and carry out wheat mixing as well as wheat blending. We incorporated the very latest flour blending plant for absolute consistency of our flour.
MOHAMED HAMZA KHAN, Chief Miller - Hailing from a milling family, he was part of the Al-Ghurair Group in Dubai. His roots are entrenched in the business, as his father had even started the milling institute in India decades ago. Here, he explains the behind-the-scenes process at the mill.
Q: What inspired Serendib to install such advanced and latest equipment and techniques?
A: When we were designing the mill, we kept in mind the core philosophy that places our customers at the heart of everything we do. This strong commitment to customer well-being spurred us to ensure maximum consistency and to supply a superior product, which could only be achieved by equipping our mill with the most advanced technology in the world.
We were also aware that we would need the best expertise as well. As a result, we recruited a highly experienced team of millers. The brightest university students were recruited and put through one-year training at the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) at Mysore, India, to learn the theory of flour milling, after which they spent two years studying practical flour milling at our sister flour mills in Dubai.
Q: What are the innovations and new technologies adopted by Serendib to ensure safety of employees and health of end consumers?
A: The machines at the mill are designed for maximum safety and we have regular health and safety meetings to inculcate safe workplace habits amongst employees. Quality control forms the core of our operations and demonstrates our commitment to consumers. Quality control is the responsibility of all departments from wheat buying to storage, milling, warehousing and transportation.
We have a very fine equipped laboratory where we test the wheat and flour and products for moisture, protein and gluten quality and quantity, dough rheology, water absorption, and stability and extensibility of the flour. The highly-experienced QC team is engaged in R&D and before any flour is released to the market, it is test baked in our bakery in the mill. We also have a test mill so we can mill and analyze our wheat before purchasing and milling.
The integrated management system of Serendib Flour Mills provides a framework to the international standards and we have achieved Quality Management System (QMS); Food safety management system ISO 22000; Environmental Management System ISO 14001; and Occupational health and safety assessment series BS OHAS 18001.
Q: How does the purpose-built factory function, from the arrival of the grain till the product ends up packaged at a retail outlet?
A: There is a structured process involved from the time the wheat is unloaded from the ship and arrives at the mill. Here, it is then unloaded into the Silo from where it is sent to a highly sophisticated machine that cleans the wheat with water and removes all other materials. After cleaning the wheat it is ‘damped’ in the silo in water for 24 to 36 hours. Next, it is re-damped for another 12 hours and later brought for milling. The mill has a 1,000 ton capacity. The opening of the grain and removal of the endosperm which has three layers all happens in the mill. The wheat is then ground and moved to the store silo. The flour passes through an entoleter which preserves the flour and from here the flour moves to the packing station and is arranged for loading.
MANOJ EKANAYAK, Senior Miller - One of the first employees recruited by Serendib in Sri Lanka, when he joined as Trainee Miller in 2003, fresh from his degree from the University of Peradeniya. He completed a Diploma in flour milling and baking technology from the CFTRI in Mysore, India. He went on to train at Buhler Manufactures training center in Switzerland. Subsequently he trained in Dubai for 2 years and then in India and Canada as well. He holds specialized technical knowledge and is responsible for training local staff on handing the latest machinery. Manoj is a tower of strength to the Serendib Milling team.