Faced with the fact that their feed mill is landlocked, they began scouting land for the unloading facility in the mill’s surrounding area of Rockingham County. Co-op members settled upon a location in Linville, VA, about 10 miles south of their feed mill. Once the location had been determined, VPGC worked with Norfolk Southern and local firm Blackwell Engineering to lay two miles of track.
Next, Mason sought out the expertise of Sunfield Engineering Inc. to complete the process and structural engineering for the project. Dick Kobetz, president of Sunfield Engineering, Inc., was initially contacted in the summer of 2005 and drafted roughly half a dozen conceptual plans before the board firmly decided what the new facility would look like and what structures it would use to achieve their goals.
Kobetz commended Mason and other decision makers for taking their time analyzing every aspect before finalizing any plans. They focused on choosing structures and equipment that would save the co-op money in the longrun, rather than saving on capital costs in the shortrun.
“Good planning not only keeps cost down but adds value to each dollar you spend,” explains Kobetz. “There’s nothing that some company can’t build cheaper and those people who purchase on price only are fair prey. In order to get the best value, we look at things not just on a first cost basis, but on a life cycle cost basis.”
Storage and handling
One of the most important building decisions centered on the silos. Kobetz presented VPGC with different layouts in one-, two-, three- and four-bin configurations. They also had to choose between steel bins or concrete slip-form bins. The co-op chose to build two concrete silos although it cost slightly more to build than steel bins. Life cycle and maintenance costs were factors in making their decision.
“We could’ve gone cheaper and used those lower, wide-diameter corrugated steel bins, but the downside is that they take a lot more equipment to load, distribute and reclaim,” says Kobetz. “With all that equipment you not only have capital costs but maintenance costs. Phil conducted a detailed analysis and decided the concrete bins would give them a better value. over the life of the equipment.”
Each concrete silo, constructed by Bismark, ND company, J-Sons Inc., stands148 feet tall, 60 feet in diameter and can hold 300,000 bushels each, for a combined capacity of 600,000 bushels. For their conveyors, bucket elevators and legs, the company chose equipment from Hayes & Stolz and The Esmueller Company.
The facility cut costs by using only as much equipment as is needed to get the job done. VPGC has only two receiving conveyors, one shipping conveyor and two bucket elevators. The bins unload almost completely by gravity and there are no tunnels underneath them. They also use an Airlanco AirAuger system to empty the portion of the tanks that does not flow out by gravity. The system utilizes high-pressure fans to blow the heel of the grain out of each silo.
Storage plays a huge role in the operation of the facility, but the key to VPGC’s success lies in their ability to quickly unload and load out. The unloading facility is equipped with two 17,500-bushel/hour elevators. The co-op considered installing one 35,000-bushel/hour elevator, but decided to install dual elevators instead.
This was a wise planning decision, according Kobetz. “They could’ve gone with a single 35,000-bushel/hour leg, but one downside of that is if it malfunctions they’re out of business. This involved some initial extra capital costs, but the insurance value is being able to operate at half speed if there’s ever a problem with a bucket elevator,” says Kobetz.
With both elevators running, a combined speed of 35,000 bushels/hour, VPGC’s small staff can unload an entire unit train, or 300,000 bushels, in around 18 hours.
And unloading the cars is only the beginning. VPGC runs one elevator to load out 17,500 bushels/hour from the silos to the railcar. Each day VPGC loads out about six cars and shuttles the grain 10 miles to the mill where they’re unloaded again and then brought back that evening.
Using what you’ve got
VPGC did an excellent job of using the resources they already had in order to keep costs down. The facility is situated near a rock quarry, enabling them to inexpensively source stone for the railroad tracks and also cut down the amount of foundation necessary.