Feed mills and grain elevators are no strangers to material handling issues, but ethanol plants often run into an entirely different set of problems. Knowing the characteristics of your product can assist the maintenance aspect of material handling.
DDGS are somewhat difficult to handle. The product is wet, hot, abrasive and capable of causing serious damage to augers.
“We’ve seen the surface of the connector shafts between augers get eaten away at by the DDGS. Even when the shafts are stainless steel, problems can arise when handling the abrasive DDGS,” says Biel.
Using the proper equipment for the job can make it easier to maintain. The maintenance team at UWGP looked to Vita Builders for help when it started noticing that rubber elevator belts were defective, or so the team thought.
“The DDGS are warm and we had a problem with the rubber belt blistering from the heat,” Groh notes. “We thought it was a defective belt, but John suggested to switching to PVC belts rather than rubber.”
Monitoring systems that alert you when something is wrong are essential to proper maintenance. Electronic monitoring systems are especially useful in cases where problems can go undetected to the naked eye.
“In an ethanol plant there are a lot of invisible things like leaking valves,” Groh says. “We can’t notice an internally leaking valve until it’s too late, unless we have very good detection and use the proper calibration and instrumentation.”
ALL IN GOOD TIME
By scheduling shutdowns for maintenance, it’s easier to can identifying hidden problems. UWGP uses Vita Builders’ 10-person crew to help it effectively get through scheduled maintenance shutdowns. Experience has shown scheduling one in the spring and one in the fall is an effective approach, and up to three shutdowns per year are common.
Many customers are on this schedule, which can create some very busy months for Vita Builders.
“We’re getting into a groove of having most of our work in April and October,” Biel points out. “We’re likely to be busy those months, and we always hope that they don’t all schedule things in the same week.”
The outdoor temperature plays a big role in what maintenance can be done at what times of year. Ethanol facilities that handle large amounts of liquid may not be able to shut down during certain months, or freezing will occur.
UWGP scheduled Vita Builders to complete some upgrade maintenance projects during late fall of 2007. When the weather turned cold, it had to delay the project because of the potential for major damage caused by turning off the boilers.
Although Groh prefers to schedule a shutdown every four to five months to ensure that everything is running smoothly, that doesn’t mean UWGP does all the maintenance in one day. It’s an ongoing process that his trained maintenance personnel take seriously. “Our uptime is above 99%. In an operation like this, that’s almost unheard of,” says Groh.
The plant is able to achieve this incredibly low rate of downtime by giving each of its five maintenance staff members a different area of ownership. Groh’s staff receives specialized training in each individual’s sector of the plant and can quickly identify and address problems.
Biofuels in the News
FEW registration open
BBI International’s 24th annual Fuel Ethanol Workshop (FEW) registration is now open. Attending the FEW provides business development opportunities and educational workshops. Early bird pricing for registration expires on March 31. Go to www. fuelethanolworkshop.com.
USGC ships DDGS to Algeria
The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) successfully shipped two containers totaling 44 metric tons of distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) to Algeria.
The shipment is part of USGC’s Quality Sample Program and represent the first- ever imports of U.S. DDGS by Algeria. The DDGS will be used in feeding trials scheduled to begin in February or March.
ECI Boudiab, the largest feed grain importing company in Algeria, received the DDGS. For more than a year, the Council has been in discussions with ECI Boudiab regarding the set up of DDGS feeding trials in Algeria.