Factor 5

Phung Hoang, Vietnam

Bich Tuyen and Luong Trung Hieu are united in their vision of leading their country into a better future.


Things must happen very quickly now. It’s the end of 2014, and TET, the Vietnamese New Year’s Festival, is just around the corner. Bich Tuyen, a spirited 37-year-old business woman and owner of Phung Hoang Rice Mills, urges workers to speed up. Just a few days ago, she made a quick decision: She wanted to double her capacity to 400 tonnes a day. For this, she ordered new optical sorters, automatic bagging machines, and 30 new 100-tonne storage bins from Bühler. Half the factory has to be dismantled and installed again to accommodate the expansion. The clock is ticking. In less than three months, the plant is scheduled to be up and running at full capacity again. Why the urgency? TET is more than just a religious festival; it also marks a change in time in the business world. During three long days, so the custom says, everything must be shut down; after that, business restarts with full power. "The best business is done just after TET. If we fail to start up the plant by then, we will lag behind during the whole business year," says Bich Tuyen.

Entering the export business
That’s one thing she doesn’t want to risk, come what may. For three years now, she has partnered with Bühler on the fast lane, modernizing and expanding her rice business at turbo-charged speed. With the new plant and 

the higher processing capacity, she plans at last to enter the export business on a big scale. She feels that her chance is coming, and 2016 is to bring her the first breakthrough. This drive, this determination, this will to be successful: This is Bich Tuyen.
She is a woman from the Mekong Delta, and just like anyone else, she is the product of her home, of its landscape, climate, and culture. In her case, this means the endless terraced fields, the never-ending rich green colors, heat, fertile fields – and: rice. Rice everywhere. The region is the largest area in which this staple food is grown in Vietnam; it is the southern breadbasket of the country with 25 million tonnes harvested here every year. More than 1.6 million rice farmers cultivate Vietnam’s fields, 70 % of the country’s population work in agriculture. This is where Bich Tuyen grew up. Rice creates jobs. Rice cre-ates life. And, rice was to become her life.

Bich Tuyen’s family, who live in the village of An Giang near the Cambodian border, operate a small-scale rice mill of the traditional type. "I grew up with rice," she says. As she grew older, she gradually became a part of the family business she joined in 2005. The more she immersed herself in this discipline and became increasingly professional in it, the more the certainty she felt that this was her vocation: "I want Vietnam to produce the best rice in the world."

«I want Vietnam to produce the best rice in the world»

— Bich Tuyen, owner of Phung Hoang Rice Mills

This is her vision. Vietnam today ranks third among the world’s rice exporters, just behind Thailand. But the image of the produce exported is not what it should be, mainly because of outdated technology which doesn’t take food safety needs into account and doesn’t allow rice producers to control their mills to achieve the highest efficiency and the best and consistent rice quality.

Quality brand for Vietnam
Bich Tuyen is painfully aware of this all – and she is determined to break the cycle. The opportunity she always waited for presented itself a mere two years into business. She decided on August 28, 2007, to set up her Phung Hoang company with the aim of building a quality brand for Vietnam and Southeast Asia. A brand that not only stands for top products, but also for ecological and social sustainability. "What is important to me is to ensure that we harmonize our business success with social needs and that we make a positive contribution to the development of our society," says Bich Tuyen. As she sees it, rice is not only business, rice means life. And she wants a good life, not just for herself, but for her employees.

In this, she is not alone. She has fellow fighters. One of them is Luong Trung Hieu, 40. He, too, is dreaming of lead-ing his country into a better future with rice. "Prime rice quality is not possible without prime rice processing technology," he says. That is precisely what he intends to develop and build. After graduating in mechanical engineering from Ho Chi Minh University, he too entered the rice business. He familiarized himself with the import and export business, installing rice mills in Indonesia, the Philippines, and 

Cambodia. In 2009, he joined forces with a few colleagues to set up his own company, Farmila Vietnam Ltd., which he incorporated in 2013 in a joint venture with Bühler. Together, the partners plan to align the rice solutions offered by Bühler with the needs of the local market.

It was just a matter of time before Bich Tuyen and Luong Trung Hieu met, which happened in 2013. They understood each other right away. "We noticed from the start that we share the same vision," they say in unison. In Luong Trung Hieu, the rice lady finds her technical alter ego. And with the whole global Bühler organization backing him, Luong Trung Hieu can offer her something that no one else in the market can: a top-level integral solution ranging from reception and handling of the still moist, unhulled, and often dirty paddy rice, to cleaning, drying, hulling, polishing, sorting, and packing. Bühler is serious about customer proximity: In January 2013, the Group opened its own location for rice technology and processing solutions in Vietnam.

It’s much harder to process rice than it is to process corn or wheat, requiring regional roots that match the existing regional peculiarities. Whereas all the other grain varieties are similar in the way they are grown, harvested, and ground into flour, the cultivation of rice has myriad facets. In particular, the rice kernel is not allowed to break despite the tough and efficient mechanical process it undergoes. Broken rice is of inferior quality and around 35 % less valuable. Bühler knows how to develop gentle processes and equipment that generate up to 5 % less broken kernels with its complete solution. That is pure money, and it does not take long to convince Bich Tuyen of this.


The Sortex S optical sorter scans 20 million kernels a minute.

The self-made woman has confidence, ordering the first hullers in 2013 which remove the silver husk from the rice
after threshing. Bich Tuyen enthuses: "From the very first day of our collaboration, Bühler always delivered what they had promised." If issues occasionally cropped up in the projects, the partners spoke openly with one another to clear away the problems. "We are honest in dealing with each other," emphasizes Luong Trung Hieu.
Thus, the hullers paved the way for the first large-scale project: a completely new rice reprocessing system equipped with state-of-the-art process technologies and machinery. It all began on April 2014. Then, within record time, the partners set up the most advanced plant in Vietnam with an input capacity of 500 tonnes per day, 20% better energy efficiency, maximum uptime, and top automation. Due to the two successful projects, Bich Tuyen started to think in bigger terms coming up with an order for another new rice mill plant which again uses the complete solution from Bühler to process from wet paddy to rice to complete bagged rice for export with a input capacity of 400 tonnes per day.

Optical sorting ensures prime quality
The equipment that stands out in this facility are the six Sortex S sorting lines. Each single rice kernel is optically assessed in the process, with the discolored or damaged ones removed. The Sortex S is by far the most advanced optical sorter in the marketplace, the Rolls-Royce among competitors. The machine scans 20 million kernels a minute with 250 data points and an outstanding hit rate. "This has enabled us to reach a quality level unknown up to now in

Vietnam," says a beaming Bich Tuyen. Because contaminated kernels are systematically removed from the food chain, Phung Hoang can now guarantee a top food safety standard − a first in the Vietnamese market.

It’s early February 2016, and the pressure is on to move fast as TET, the New Year’s festival, is swiftly approaching. "Right from the beginning, we were aware of the fact that we were facing a ‘mission impossible,’" remembers Luong Trung Hieu. But he, too, shows determination and makes an unusual decision: Every able-bodied individual in the office able to carry, bolt, cut, weld, and join things, is called on to lend a hand over the next few days at the construction site. Sales staff, designers, engineers, research and development people, and accountants worked hand in hand with the construction site specialists. "That impressed us tremendously," says Bich Tuyen.

Together, the partners accomplish what seemed impossible: Before Tân Niên, the first day of TET, all the work was completed. Just after the New Year’s festival, Bich Tuyen goes into the export offensive, delivering 1,000 tonnes of top-quality rice to Dubai. What’s next for this enterprising business woman?

With the combination of highest quality, food safety and production efficiency, Phung Hoang has gained a leading market position in Vietnam. Inspired by this success, Bich Tuyen gets ready for making the next big step forward planning to increase the plant’s capacity by the factor of five! "Our joint journey has just started," smiles Bich Tuyen.


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