The latest in flour mill technology: robots.
Three robotic arms loading flour sacks onto pallets have a prominent place in the new, thoroughly modern flour packing operation at Horizon Milling in Newton.
They were shown off during an open house on Friday to mark the addition of a large new packing and shipping building south of the city's longtime mill.
Local residents were treated to speeches, tours and lunch in a tent set up outside the mill. They applauded and thanked the company for choosing to expand in Newton.
"We truly appreciate your presence," said Newton Mayor Willis Heck.
The reason: Newton gained 30 jobs — doubling the mill's work force — and a valuable new operation.
The Newton mill, the oldest parts of which were built in 1918, largely handles hard red winter wheat from the region. In 1974 it was bought by Cargill, which owns most of Horizon Milling.
The mill grinds 850,000 pounds of flour a day and had been shipping much of it in bulk to the company's Topeka mill to be put into the bags sold in grocery stores. That production would equal 1.5 million loaves of bread a day.
Last year, faced with significant costs to upgrade the 128-year-old Topeka mill, Cargill announced its decision to close that mill — laying off 56 workers — and to upgrade the one in Newton.
For that, the company received local tax incentives, according to local officials.
Horizon Milling gained a whole lot of efficiency with the move.
In the new operation, flour milled on the north side of Broadway is piped across the street to giant bins on an upper floor in the new building. The flour flows down to highly productive machines that pour flour into 2-, 5-, 10- and 25-pound bags. The bags are combined and stored for shipping by truck and rail. Everything is computer controlled.
Scores of pallets containing thousands of bags of flour bearing names such as Kroger, King Arthur and Heckers sit on the warehouse shelves.
In fact, the new shipping operation is so productive it can actually process more than the Newton mill produces and might, one day, pack bulk flour from elsewhere.
During the open house speeches, Horizon Milling's president, Dan Dye, said investment in the Newton plant was crucial for the future of the city and the company.
"To be able to grow in Newton when times are hard, to be growing and creating jobs, we feel fortunate to be able to do that," he said.