July 30, 2012 | By Billy Folkerts, agricultural product manager, Avery Weigh-Tronix

Beyond a Simple Display

Using Indicator Technology to Improve Production in Agriculture Applications

Beyond a Simple Display

The agricultural industry provides products and services that are vital to everyday life, and in order to continue delivering quality goods and maintain profit margins, these applications require the highest level of precision in all aspects of production. The ability to record data and provide real-time reports is arguably as important as precision in these times of volatile commodity/input prices. To ensure these operations achieve the necessary accuracy and data management, indicator technology has evolved to offer enhanced performance functionalities, enterprise connectivity and custom features that can be tailored to meet specific process needs.

With each agricultural application, operators are required to keep track of a wide variety of variables, such as using Dry Matter percentage in ingredients to figure rations instead of As Fed pounds. Managing large quantities of data increases the likelihood that human error and miscalculations can occur — costing companies additional expenses in lost production, inventory and revenue.

As a direct response to growing industry demands, indicator technology has been designed to meet the unique challenges associated with agricultural applications. By understanding the performance and integration capabilities offered by today’s indicator solutions, users can experience improved production, product quality and profitability.  

Indicator Technology

Scale indicators are typically defined as compact alphanumeric terminals designed to identify load measurements for diverse weighing applications. Originally, indicators were simply used as a means to display readings in a way that allowed operators to view load and material weights easily and quickly. However, to accommodate changes in weighing technology and growing industry demands, indicators have adapted, becoming sophisticated data management devices that ensure user-friendly configuration and operation.

Designed to accommodate virtually any process requirement, from simple to complex, indicators range from entry-level units for weighing to multi-function weight transmitters that support a wide range of standard interfaces. Today, indicators more closely resemble PCs as they have become more software driven, enabling them to adapt to evolving requirements. By integrating into existing networks and with scale equipment, indicators can save valuable time and expense on costly system upgrades by offering the scalability to accommodate future process changes. 

Additionally, with the increased automation of agricultural applications, improving productivity to maintain/improve profit margins has become a primary concern in most industries. This requires data to be instantly visible, reliable and accessible across facility networks in order to streamline production and gain maximum process efficiency. Implementing indicators equipped with universal connectivity features, such as web browsers, file download options, wireless, Bluetooth and bi-directional communications, makes it significantly easier for processors to receive and transfer critical data. This provides operators with the necessary data management to meet today’s fast-paced agricultural environments.

Simplifying Agriculture Applications with Indicators

With the range of features and capabilities that are inherent in today’s indicator solutions, operators can tailor these devices to meet distinct performance needs. By understanding their vast functionality and their potential for process management, operators can use indicators as a control tool that improves efficiency and directly impacts productivity and profitability.

Features driving productivity

Indicators are constructed to provide reliable, consistent performance in a variety of indoor and outdoor environments — ideal for farming and other agricultural applications. Easy-to-read color displays provide a clear view of weights and process information, allowing operators to quickly identify load weights in virtually any lighting condition, from dense fog to bright sunlight. Indicators surrounded by rugged enclosures ensure that the electronics within will not be compromised by dust or moisture, preventing unnecessary downtime and equipment repairs. Plus, advanced indicators with intuitive touchscreens ensure users can edit field, animal or feeding data by simply tapping the screen—pairing unprecedented programmability with superior, user-friendly features to solve diverse agriculture weighing challenges.

For additional safeguarding against unwanted downtime, components are well protected from surges and automatically shut down if power falls or rises beyond desired levels. To minimize disruption, all settings and the weight reading are recalled during a power interruption and re-displayed when power is restored. Additional features could include thermo fuses that break the circuit at a set temperature and within ten minutes reconnect the circuit to provide protection while avoiding costly downtown to change a fuse.

To accommodate applications with tight spaces, indicators are available in miniature models, delivering accurate and reliable readings when indicators are placed in the cab of the tractor or truck instead of outside on the mixers, grain carts (grain chasers) and manure or fertilizer spreaders. These small, compact, but powerful and robust, indicators provide a wide variety of functions, including gross/net and tare functions, split axle weighing and motion filtering to steady displays during applications with excess motion. Indicators also feature memory accumulators that can identify fields, seed type, livestock groups or amounts of recipes batched and/or fed. This level of memory/functionality allows visibility in places like truck and tractor cabs where space is limited.

Providing superior connectivity, indicators can integrate directly with automated controls and equipment, improving efficiency and accuracy while enhancing communication throughout the entire enterprise. This enables process management and allows constant access to weighing data through company networks, providing rapid, real-time status updates and the continuous ability to change or modify production. Further, for communication versatility, collected data can be shared through multiple methods, including USB ports, Ethernet port and other options that facilitate Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications.

Benefits of software integration

In order to deliver a weighing solution that is able to provide the highest levels of functionality and transparency, indicators can now fully integrate with intelligent, application-specific software. This combination provides a new standard of performance by improving automation, enhancing inventory management and increasing process monitoring. This provides the platform to maintain profitability in environments with great input/commodity volatility.

By integrating software designed for grain cart, animal weighing/heard management seed tender, manure and fertilizer spreading, feed batching and feed management, indicators become a fully-programmable tool for process efficiency. Combining indicator technology with custom software programming simplifies data management and control through features such as audit tracking, which keeps track of system changes and stores them in a log—allowing users to easily monitor past and current modifications.

For enhanced data management, indicator/software interfacing allows operators to effortlessly manage data from multiple indicators on one PC, eliminating time-consuming redundant data entry and management. Through this integration, data and process information can quickly be transferred wirelessly for real-time status updates or to a USB thumb drive to create a mobile method of memory transfer. Additionally, some software translates data into custom reports, with the option to export data to Excel or XML formats for use in other PC applications. For more reporting features, some indicators have the ability to track every step/function of production, which provides the data to create an infinite number of custom reports that reflect the operator’s preferences.

Pairing sophisticated indicators with industry-specific software enhances performance capabilities with a low degree of complexity. For instance, in the grain and feed industry, users can enter data regarding the field, grain type, hybrid, delivery truck and location of a particular load. By storing this information, users can analyze yield performance per hybrid/test plot through customized detailed field reports, track grain delivers and verify and calibrate equipment.

In the Field

Indicators are versatile production tools used in many feed and grain applications, providing everything from data management and inventory supervision to process control. For example, utilizing indicator and software solutions for a grain cart weighing system can prevent overloading of delivery trucks, which, in turn, eliminates the risk of overload fines. With road limit regulation enforcement getting stricter, it is important for operators to track a truck’s contents and gross weight. Prior to harvest, operators can enter tare and target gross weights of each delivery truck to ensure the truck’s weight remains within the legal gross weight. The custom software then indicates when the truck has reached capacity. Truck tickets can also be quickly printed for on-hand proof of loads. This combination allows operators to automate their system to send an output signal that can control any electric equipment, such as auger wagon gate. 

Another example where indicators can improve overall process efficiency is supplying quality feed on a dairy farm or feeder operation. This is one of the largest expenses associated with operating a dairy farm, and many operators do not have a sufficient system in place to monitor inventory. When inventory is not carefully accounted for, these farms can experience thousands of dollars in excess expenses each year. Therefore, implementing an indicator solution that manages and stores precise, reliable inventory data can aid in pinpointing areas where these additional costs arise, allowing operators to adjust operation processes to minimize loss.

Looking Ahead

Finding methods for maintaining product quality without impacting productivity remains a crucial concern for the agricultural industry. Further, these applications will only continue to move faster as automation expands. Therefore, selecting the proper indicator solution that promotes efficiency and productivity can quickly become a cornerstone for operation improvement. Plus, by providing awareness of production costs, indicators can aid operators in making profitable production decision in times of volatile commodity prices.

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