Ever try driving a car that hasn’t had an oil change, a tire rotation or its fluids checked in a year? Chances are you haven’t, and if you did, you were blinded by the check engine light the whole way to your destination. All those maintenance issues, when not properly tended to, can cause a major breakdown. Handling each tiny maintenance procedure at its scheduled time is simple and will save the driver from a serious headache.
Fortunately, cars come equipped with manuals that contain maintenance schedules and procedure instructions to help their user keep the vehicle in top condition. For those who aren’t inclined to carry out their own maintenance duties, they can simply pay a mechanic to periodically perform routine maintenance.
Ethanol plants, like any other agricultural facility, need routine maintenance as well. But ethanol plants don’t come with owner’s manuals, and there aren’t several “ethanol plant mechanics” in town who can fix all your needs in an afternoon for under a hundred bucks.
Vita Builders, a millwright services firm located in Fall River, WI, is the equivalent of a car mechanic in the ethanol plant world. Vita Builders has long been doing repairs on feed mills and grain operations, but some of its newest customers now include ethanol plants.
John Biel, sales and customer service representative, has an ample degree of knowledge and experience to offer when it comes to the upkeep of an ethanol plant. Biel shares some of his insights on how to keep key areas of the plant in optimum-running condition, from receiving to material handling to energy.
It’s important to ensure that the grain receiving system runs smoothly because receiving occurs only five days a week, while productions runs 24/7.
United Wisconsin Grain Producers, LLC. (UWGP), one of Vita Builders’ regular customers, is a 50-million-gallon-a-year ethanol facility located in Friesland, WI that understands the value of an effectively run receiving area. “We’re taking in roughly 60,000 to 70,000 bushels of corn a day One of our biggest concerns is that we want to be friendly for those who come to unload,” says Dan Groh, maintenance manager at UWGP.
Some ethanol plants take in corn by rail, but UWGP receives all their shipment by truck. Being friendly to unload translates to how fast the trucks can get in, empty their loads and leave — the faster the better. UWGP has learned to make sure that the entrance is free and clear of debris and maintain enough staff to handle any unexpected issues, such as a clog in the grain unloading equipment.
The plant uses a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) called Mapcon to help it handle receiving location maintenance. The specialized program handles preventive and predictive maintenance, such as keeping records of maintenance activities and creating maintenance schedules.
But using Mapcon is only part of the equation; nothing replaces good old fashioned man power. Maintenance personnel at UWGP conduct daily walk-throughs of the receiving area to lubricate the equipment and to ensure everything is running properly.
CHOREOGRAPHING THE &LDQUO;DANCE&RDQUO;
In addition to managing the grain that comes into the plant, UWGP oversees the flow of the distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) that leaves the facility by truck or rail. The flow of traffic and grain is a carefully choreographed dance that requires monitoring and close attention to detail.
“We try to balance the amount of trucks coming and going, to avoid long wait times for drivers, but our biggest goal is to manage the grain in the elevators. We estimate how much corn is coming in and going out, and we can hold off on things to balance the grain levels. All those things have to be choreographed,” says Groh.