It’s the beginning of a new decade, and everyone — in every industry — is wondering what lies ahead. After facing the unique challenges posed by 2009’s later-than-usual, wetter-than-average — and overall record — harvest, elevator operators and feed manufacturers have been forced to take a critical look at their operations.
Given their insider perspective on the needs of the industry, FEED & GRAIN spoke with leaders in the millwright community to gain insight into the issues critical to its continued success and growth. Participating in this discussion: Glenn Andler, general manager with Vita Builders, Fall River, WI; Rod Blackford, president of Iowa Elevator Systems, Carlisle, IA; Walter Paxson, vice president of Elevator Services & Storage, Inc., Beaverdam, OH; Gary Sondgeroth, president of PMI, LLC, Ames, IA; and Dick Thompson, president of Agri-Equipment Services, Allegan, MI.
The state of the industry
As yields continue to improve and customers expect faster turnaround times, elevators will need to be able to handle loads quickly and efficiently to stay competitive.
“It’s a fact, come harvest, you need to be ready to handle product for the producer or they will take their business elsewhere,” Paxson says.
Blackford agrees: “Farmers know what a facility can receive in a day. They are trying to get faster throughput so they split their load in more than one location so they don’t bottle all their grain up in one elevator. They want to keep their trucks moving. The fall is the best opportunity you have to get a customer and grain in the bin.”
In order to keep up with these demands, most elevators are looking for “bigger and faster” equipment to increase processing capacity; however, as elevators look to upgrade, a number of factors must be taken into consideration.
More often than not, millwrights are commissioned to take on older terminals and country elevators built at a time when grain did not come in as rapidly as it does today. Consequently, these facilities are not built to accommodate the industry’s powerful new handling equipment.
“If you increase the bushel power intake of your equipment, realize this addition will ripple through the entire facility,” Andler says. “If they can receive 100,000 bushels/day — but can only dry 100 bushels/hour and they’re full in five hours — they’re not going to be able to get it through the system. It isn’t any good for them unless it all works together.”
According to Paxson, with more grain to handle in a shorter time period and with the expectation to achieve better throughput, elevator operators should approach upgrades as part of a long-term plan and focus on putting themselves in a better position in the marketplace.
“You need to approach renovations and new additions with the future in mind,” Paxson says. “Ask yourself where you want to be today — and where you might be 20 years from now. If you plan for it, what you put in today isn’t going to bottleneck 10 years down the road.”
Using technology to reduce labor costs
Many grain elevators are looking toward capital improvements and new technology to improve efficiency and add to their bottom line.
“People are a huge expense so if they can put in equipment that will eliminate a position, they’ll do it,” Paxson says. He points to an increased interest in controls, safeties and other things that “eliminate a person from running a broom all day and having to pay him and his benefits.”
Paxson also suggests operators look at the big picture before hiring a new employee to see if adding new technology would be more efficient.
Belt alignment, bearing monitoring, motion sensing — the addition of these safeties allow the modern grain elevator to be operated with fewer people.