Emptied, trucks continue south, cross the outbound scale, are weighed and ticketed, and head to the highway. By design, then proven with the 300,000-plus bushels moved so far, a truck can go from initial card swipe to rolling off the outbound scale in four minutes. “We did get one through in three minutes and 20 seconds,” Diehl adds, smiling.
Not that anyone is counting.
Inside the rail loop, stretching west from the control rooms, sit the 7,500-bushel/hour dryer, the 1.25-million-bushel 8-pack slip-form concrete elevators and a 750-bushel steel storage structure. Though snug against the rail on the east, there’s a long stretch to the west for expansion. While the space is there, their goal now is to hit their business plan objective of moving 15 to 20 million bushels annually. Their target is to have throughput of about 12 times the capacity — 25 million bushels/year.
“We have speed and space,” is how Olson puts it. Fifield provides a different analogy. “Churches are built for Easter Sunday [crowds],” he says. “We built with that same idea — our ‘Easter Sunday’ will be the two weeks at harvest and those two weeks in the spring when we’re at our busiest.”
Designing and building for the heaviest workloads, he maintains, provides a competitive edge that keeps customers happy, proves the value and supports the ROI demanded of a new facility. Having the projected daily capacity to handle, as Diehl says, “400 trucks and 110 railcars without skipping a beat” can do that for you.
State-of-the-art is standard
While smart traffic design and fast receiving and load-out keeps customers and railcar owners happy, the facility’s internal design should keep operations staff grinning from ear-to-ear. In fact, that seems to be what Diehl does quite often. With 32 years of experience, working in South and North Dakota and Kansas, what intrigued him enough to move again? First, he says, he really likes the management team — forward-thinking and energetic. Breaking into that grin, he adds, “Plus it’s not too often you get a chance to open up a new facility like this!”
His new workplace is automated from front to back. “I think a 5-year-old could unload a truck,” he says. With one touch on the screen, dust collectors start up, then the legs, to move grain from the pit. Operators can track the system as each conveyor starts up to move grain to its targeted storage area or to the dryer, and from storage to load-out.
Safety is paramount, with hazard-monitoring systems integrated into the one-look-shows-all control panel. The display shows how many amps each motor is drawing so operators can keep a watchful eye for problems. Should they miss something and a sensor gets triggered, the system is programmed to shut the elevator down.
For example, a belt starts rubbing and sets off a motion sensor. The sensor triggers shutdown, starting at the receiving pit to stop grain flow, then continues downstream through the elevator. Operators cannot ignore or override an alarm.
Asked about historical information on systems operations, Diehl touches the screen and a list pops up. The program allows operators to quickly review history of a belt or bearing issue. It shows what happened so the crew can determine why it happened and fix it.
When repair or replacement is required, you won’t see maintenance staff trying to wedge themselves into narrow, hard-to-work-in spaces. Wide tunnels provide plenty of room on either side of conveying equipment in the receiving area. The same theme holds at the top of the facility. About 140 feet up, you walk onto the concrete structure platform and find that a stepladder is all that’s needed to work on the two top-fill drags running like a spine down the 8-pack and across to the steel bin. An expanded metal bridge runs to the end of the steel structure, allowing workers to walk and work along the length of the system. The bridge currently includes one fill conveyor but has space to add another.
A clean work environment is a safe work environment. Olson says several aspects of the facility were designed so that the “dusty and dirty” connotation tied to grain elevator work is a thing of the past. “A clean working environment is an important human element that was part of our whole design process. It’s a good environment to work in — safe, comfortable and functional.”