Thompson cited one example where storage upgrades saved a company labor costs: “We put in 800 tons of overhead storage at one facility. Originally, it had a warehouse on the floor, conveyed with a pneumatic system or brought over from the dry storage to the mill, receiving hopper, and then went into the leg and into the bins. Before the project, it was a lot more labor intensive, with hauling stuff with a front end-loader or feeding a pneumatic system with a front end-loader. Now it’s all overhead, or all gravity into the machines, through crank conveyors. The new system conveys grain into the mill with a direct conveyor; or goes into a distributor and into their bins; or it can be loaded out of the facility and into semi-trucks for the farmers that buy in bulk.”
In a move to create a streamlined workflow and limit labor costs, Sondgeroth has observed more companies leaning toward enclosed storage, and away from covered piles.
“I think we’ve reached a saturation point, and there are people looking for more permanent storage where they can better control the quality of the grain better,” Sondgeroth says. “The added benefit is that it’s less labor intensive to reclaim grain since the outside pile requires an end-loader application.”
According to Blackford, drying and receiving capacity is directly related to the amount of labor required, noting that such upgrades add to the bottom line in other ways.
“Many clients run dryers 24/7 during harvest to keep up — and this may last 30 to 45 days,” Blackford says. “If you do the same amount in less time, the equipment will pay out over time.”
Sondgeroth agrees: “New tower dryers are just that much more efficient. When we compare the costs associated with the old drier — gas costs, electric costs, and throughput per bushel, what it costs to dry it down — versus a new one, it’s easy to show a client how much they’ll save per year.”
Strategies to limit downtime
Prior to and during business season, when equipment runs from mid-October nonstop until the middle of November, it is wise to have methodology — or a preventative maintenance program — in place to ensure your equipment will be up and running through peak time.
Andler suggests elevators keep records on replaced and repaired equipment and parts to possibly identify a pattern.
“By doing these periodic checks, breakdowns are prevented and minimized,” Andler says. “This will save you money in the long run. Breakdowns happen at inconvenient times — it’s not going to breakdown if you’re not using it so they usually happen when you’re busy and trying to run facilities.”
Andler contacts his clients immediately after the harvest to do an inventory of wear and tear. “If we don’t ask early, they’ll forget about it and by the time the next harvest comes, they try to start up the equipment and remember, ‘Oh, that’s right, I forgot to fix that.’ In August we contact our customers to ask what needs to be checked.”
Understandably, engulfment prevention remains a high priority. OSHA compliance and internal risk management teams have driven grain elevators to explore zero-entry systems.
“I think one of the biggest scares that has affected every major co-op in our trade area is some type of near miss or incident of engulfment — and that’s what really has driven the zero-entry situation,” Sondgeroth says. “There does seem to be more safety focus with large diameter bins and zero-entry sweep systems.”
Vita Builders takes a unique approach in stressing the importance of safety. The company regularly sponsors an education seminar about engulfment for its customers.
“The more you keep people aware of the safety policies, the more it becomes a habit,” Andler explains. “That’s what you’re trying to do. You don’t just have one safety meeting, and say, ‘Guess we’re done for another 10 years’… We do this on a regular basis and bring safety to the forefront to make people understand and keep it top of mind. It has to become the norm.”
The millwrights also noted the increased interest in interlocking safety switches on equipment.
Rail fall safety systems — with additions like custom harnesses — have come a long way, but fall protection remains a major consideration in renovations beyond rail applications.
“Maybe in the past if there wasn’t access to a bearing or a drive that was 10 feet off the ground, the attitude was ‘They can get that with a ladder,’ but now I think the attitude has really shifted to, ‘If we need a ladder for it, we really require a platform’,” Sondgeroth notes.