Photo courtesy of BinMaster

Feb 02, 2023

Grain inventory management tech trends

High-tech bin level sensors with cloud servers can provide real-time grain inventory levels and lot tracking

How do you currently manage your grain inventory? If you keep tabs on a white board or use notes on a spreadsheet, you could be leaving the door open for mistakes.

“The problem with manual inventory systems is they are constantly out of date, inaccurate, incomplete and require constant work to maintain,” says Alex Oleynikov, vice president of engineering with CompuWeigh.

“At best, they provide rudimentary data about the bins with no information about how to best manage inventory to maximize profits or provide any insight on inventory that is about to arrive at the facility and where it should be placed.”

Add in the challenge of keeping separate Identity Preserve (IP) grains, like high oleic soy or a specific variety/grade of corn or wheat, and an automated solution for grain inventory management is critical to your operation.

“An automated grain inventory management system helps you see the big picture for your agribusiness in near-real-time,” says Nathan Harman, binSight product manager with Greenstone Systems.

“Across all your locations, a centralized electronic bin board allows you to see every bin, including inventory, quality and variety from anywhere. With this intelligence, you can model blends and make blend predictions between locations in minutes instead of hours.”

Merchandisers and facility managers can make informed decisions for scheduling during peak loading and unloading times by having the visibility of inventory and quality across multiple locations.

More than inventory control

Nathan Grube, regional vice president of sales for BinMaster, says at their most basic, sensors in grain operations monitor how much bulk inventory is in one, or all bins, in real time or at scheduled intervals.

“For bulk material, sensors can measure levels of grain in a bin, then send the measurement to a cloud-based app on a phone or PC,” he says.

But grain bin sensors can go beyond that by providing an immediate return-on-investment by eliminating risky ladder climbs to measure levels. And with the current labor shortage, sensors can reduce extra steps.

Level sensors also boost communication and collaboration, says Grube.

“Imagine having one bulk inventory report for hundreds of bins and silos thousands of miles apart,” he says. “Just-in-time replenishment practices can improve inventory valuation and financial reporting as it is simple to generate current and historical reports, charts and graphs.”

A bin management system will allow you to run detailed reports not only for your elevator storage but also large bins, flats, bunkers and ground piles, notes Harman.

“Within the report, you can filter by discounts, defects, damage, protein or any other grade factor,” says Harman. “In addition, it provides the total defects based on the discounts or premiums in each bin per bushel, which gives you the intelligence to confidently make decisions based on the data from your entire organization if you need to blend to not lose an extra penny or offend an already tight margin.”

Challenges of identity-preserved grains

Identity preservation is the practice of segregating crops to maintain their specific traits from the planting and production process through the processing, packaging and ultimately the delivery of the crop to the end market.

“Growers, storage facilities, shippers and buyers want traceability, consistency, and quality of product,” says Grube.

With brand reputations relaying on the security and traceability of food ingredients keeping track of IP grains is crucial in today’s grain processing facilities.

Automated systems can record the commodity’s unique identity – including quality grade factors, weights, dates and farm field information – being loaded into the bin.

“Using sensors and software to continuously measure stored products can report grain movement at the time and day it enters and exits a vessel,” says Grube. “This traceability provides certainty, consistency and safety of grain quality.”

When you have multiple facilities, commodities, and bins, your agribusiness can macro model the quality and the amount occupied by those that have been selected and target labor at locations.

“An automated bin management system can denote if they have sweep augers or bottoms that manually need addressed,” says Harman. “Reports can capture what is in each bin and the intervention needed or what the manual amount is. Systems can lock and unlock bins and interface with the PLC to prevent cross contamination by validating commodity, path and bin.”

It’s also important to preserve the transaction information in historical order and tie it to the product currently residing in the bin, says Oleynikov.

“There are complex mathematical models and FIFO/LIFO methods developed to be able to pinpoint the source of grain coming out of the bin at a given moment,” he says.

New farmer-oriented mobile apps are also putting those tools into the hands of the grain producers, which allows the industry to improve the IP tracing process to extend its reach back to the true source of the grain – from the field where it was grown, down to the plot of land from where that truck load may have been harvested.

Future advancements in grain inventory management

Sensor technology for grain inventory management continues to improve.

“Non-contact technologies like radar, laser, acoustics, are here,” says Grube. “Lidar (light detection and ranging) for surface mapping is coming on fast. Things like Bluetooth and wireless communications that simplify setup and installation are becoming part of more systems. Sustainability is a big issue, so sensors that use solar or minimal power will be important.”

Even faster advances are underway in the way sensor information is strategically used to make decisions.

Continuous improvements in computing power and the introduction of Machine Learning and AI technologies will bring new opportunities for grain inventory management, says Oleynikov.

“These types of technologies will allow more precise predictive management of bin inventory by performing millions of complex mathematical computations to create real-time models of the product stored in the bins,” he says. “How to best use that storage and maximize the quality of the grain by timing its movement around the supply/demand of the market will also improve.”

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and mobile apps are beginning to proliferate at all levels of the grain industry, even on-farm.

“Technical teams of the future will include mechanical and electrical engineers, IT and a host of programmers,” says Grube.

“Users keep asking for new ways to look at data,” he continued. “Grain operations set up alerts for low or high levels to maximize storage during harvest. They organize storage bins by location or grain type. New features even welcome sensor data from other manufacturers to accommodate a desire to see all readings on one app.”

Grain facilities can see immediate benefits today by adopting a grain inventory management system.

“Adoption is simple with minimal workflow interruption,” says Harman. “In fact, users can assign commodities to bins in just two simple mouse clicks.”

Examples of today’s grain inventory management tech

BinMaster’s 3D Scanner – This sensor measures multiple points to map irregular material surfaces, cone up/down conditions or sidewall buildup. The 3D scanner is designed for bins with multiple filling and emptying points and delivers 1% to 3% total stored volume accuracy. Designed for 105-foot and larger diameter bins, the unit uses multiple scanners to record and combine data for a single graphical representation of the bin’s contents.

CompuWeigh’s inventory management offers three products that work jointly to produce an accurate picture of grain bin inventory.

  • iGMS scale automation system uses RFID technology to capture the origin information
  • PLC/HMI ensures that grain is placed into the correct bin and continuously monitors current levels and quality
  • ELS Inventory integrates with the iGMS and PLC automation to provide a single solution for effectively storing and moving grain through the facility

Greenstone’s binSight powered by oneWeigh, is an automated bin inventory management system, allowing you to have full transparency of your entire grain inventory.

For more bin level inventory management technology, click here.

Lisa Cleaver

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