Our very own Mark Spindler was recently interviewed by Feedstuffs Magazine to discuss the importance of implementing wireless solutions like Extron’s Ground Pile Management System in order to adequately time the sale and storage of grain. This system utilizes temperature monitoring, fan control and ongoing carbon dioxide readings to dramatically improve ground pile storage for grain. Read the whole article below or visit Feedstuffs Magazine for the full article.
Improving Ground Pile Management
By Krissa Welshans
The use of ground pile storage systems for grain in the U.S. has increased due to the record crop harvests in recent years. There are two reasons why someone might consider using a ground pile grain management system: speed and cost, Mark Spindler, chief technology ofﬁcer at The Lakeland Companies, recently told Feedstuffs. The cost to put in a ground pile is signiﬁcantly less than constructing concrete storage bins, steel tanks or ﬂat storage buildings, he said. However, properly managing the grain in storage remains a crucial part of the process. Spindler said one of the big drivers of the rise in ground pile activity recently has been the increase in planted acres and improvement in yields.
“There is just more grain to handle in the U.S., so it’s a matter of where do you put it? Where do you store it? Then, you have a year like this year, where there’s been a record crop but prices are low. The merchants want to hold onto that grain with the expectation that they’re going to get better prices as they go into the summer,” he said. The ground pile system requires only the ground and a bunker, Spindler said. The bunker usually consists of concrete or steel walls. While sizing can vary, he said, on average, a ground pile is probably 750,000 to 1 million bu. in size. The ﬂ oor may be dirt, asphalt or concrete, and it’s important to have a slope so water runs towards the outside, he explained. “It’s fast to put them up, and they are far more economical than tanks or bins,” Spindler added. There are generally two different kinds of ground piles: bunker style and center ﬁll style.
The center ﬁll is more of a permanent ground pile, tends to be circular and has conveyors that ﬁ ll the pile from the top, Spindler explained. Additionally, the center ﬁll requires a little bit more capital investment. One of the advantages of the bunker style is that it can be moved pretty easily, Spindler said. Whether you want to move it or change the conﬁ guration of your operation, he said the process is fairly straightforward. Moving a center ﬁll isn’t as easy, however, because there are permanent overhead conveyors in place, he said. Prior to putting in the corn, a tubing conﬁ guration is placed in the bunker. Once full, smaller tubing is placed over the top of the piles. The piles are then tarped, Spindler explained, adding that a center ﬁ ll system sometimes has the ability to tarp as it is ﬁ lled. Air ﬂ ows through the smaller tubing and exits through the larger tubes, which are hooked up to exhaust fans. This holds down the tarp. When the fans are turned on, Spindler said they are typically left on until grain is initially pulled from the pile.
Once established, monitoring the grain for spoilage becomes extremely important. Moisture is the biggest issue, he explained. An indication of carbon dioxide is one of the ﬁ rst signs of spoilage, and rising temperatures also indicate a change. Spindler noted that in the past, a temperature probe was placed down into the pile to periodically check for increased temperatures. Additionally, a handheld carbon dioxide analyzer was used to take readings at the exhaust fans. Now, solutions are available, such as Lakeland’s system, that drive grain temperature monitoring cables down approximately 20 ft. into the pile through the center. Temperature sensors are placed along the top approximately every 4-5 ft. The system provides about four different temperature levels in the pile itself, plus one ambient temperature, Spindler explained. “Each ground pile would contain approximately six grain cables about 75 ft. apart,” he said. Data from the cables are transferred to a data server, where they can be monitored by facility management on a website, he said.
The system also provides the option of setting thresholds that will send an email alert if the threshold is reached. Managers “literally don’t have to worry about it until perhaps they get an email,” Spindler said. Since the earliest version of its system, Lakeland has added fan control that monitors wind speed and slows the fan speed if the fans aren’t needed. Lakeland uses an anemometer to measure wind speed at the site, but it also ties in with the closest National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration weather station for a backup. The fan control reduces grain shrinkage, Spindler explained, which can have a large economic impact on an operation. For example, on a 1 million bu. pile, 1% shrink equals 10,000 bu., so if corn prices are $4/bu., “you’re looking at $40,000,” he said. The fan control also reduces energy costs. In fact, Spindler said data from an operation that uses four fans showed that, in a year-over-year comparison, using the fan control saved the operation about $1,000 per month. “That’s pretty signiﬁcant energy savings,” he said.
The fan control option also enabled Lakeland to add carbon dioxide sensors to the fans. Now, the information can be pulled for trends and graphs, Spindler said. Last, the fan control can also be used to regulate the negative impact of the outside air temperature, depending on the season. According to Spindler, Lakeland’s system has helped ease tension between merchants and ground pile operations managers. He explained that merchants want to carry their grain inventory into July or August, but this has created tension with the operations people due to concerns of spoilage. “There is this dynamic tension that occurs. We believe with improved information, we’re going to give them the ability to accomplish both people’s objectives,” Spindler said, adding that the operations people will start to feel comfortable about leaving that grain on the ground. The system allows operators to not only know that there is a problem but also where the problem is located. We want to be able to detect any kind of spoilage, reduce shrink and reduce energy costs, Spindler said. ■