IAOM First Break Podcast: Dave Renner

A durum milling veteran shares his perspective on the effects of automation.

Dave Renner is a milling industry veteran who specializes in durum milling as manufacturing manager for Miller Milling Company in Winchester, VA.

Renner got his start in flour milling when he was still in high school in Boonsboro, MD, working in the mill of a classmate’s father. When he lost his football scholarship at Westminster College, Wilmington, PA, he decided to switch majors from forestry to milling science and finished his bachelor’s degree at Kansas State University (KSU), Manhattan.

Over the course of his 51-year career, he worked for several smaller millers before landing at Miller Milling, where he as been for the past 15 years.

From Forestry to Flour

“I grew up on a farm in Rohrersville, MD, and we would do business from time to time with a flour mill nearby in Boonsboro that was owned by the father of a high school classmate of mine. I wanted a part-time job, and they needed help, so they hired me at 17. It was a small, wood-frame, 300-cwt. mill.

“I started working on the Fourth of July in 1970. My first task was cleaning up after they had fumigated the mill with cyanide. I walked around picking up all the dead rats and snakes.

“I went to college on a football scholarship to Westminster College. I didn’t think I was going to end up a miller – I was majoring in forestry. But I broke my ankle, so I ended up losing my scholarship and needed to make a change. My boss at the mill back home talked me into considering going to KSU for milling. I fell in love with the whole process and finished up the last two years of my milling science degree in Manhattan, graduating in 1975.

“I moved on to Wilkins-Rogers in Ellicot City, MD, where I spent four years. I had worked out a plan with a co-worker to actually buy the Boonsboro mill, so I went back to work there for another four years. The plan didn’t work out and I wound up back at Wilkins-Rogers for 20 years.”

Automation’s Place in Milling

“I ended up joining Miller Milling in Winchester in 2006. I had always wanted to work at a mill that was technologically advanced so that I could put in to practice the things I had learned. The places I had worked previously were very low-tech.

“Automation has been absolutely game-changing for the milling industry. You can produce so much more with fewwer people in comparison to the places I worked previously.

“However, I really value my previous experiences, because I believe working in a mill without automation is how you really learn how to become a miller. Most people coming into the industry don’t have that luxury. If you’re not careful, you’ll become an automation expert, not a milling expert.

“I’ve always said that milling is not an occupation, it’s a profession. It’s not for those who want to do the bare minimum to get by. Those who are committed to the profession ought to do all they can to develop their technical milling skills and really hone their craft. These skills can land you jobs for the rest of your life, anywhere in the world.

“When I was in college, Professor Arlin Ward said, ‘You’ll never have trouble pushing machinery to the limit; you’ll have trouble pushing people to the limit.’” The best millers need dedication. You have to get out of the office and into the mill. I can tell by scent and sound if things are balanced and running correctly. You’re not going to gain these tools without commitment.”

This article consists of paraphrased remarks from an interview with Dave Renner, manufacturing manager, Miller Milling Company, Winchester, Virginia, from an episode of the IAOM First Break podcast. To listen to the podcast, go to iaom.org/firstbreak.