GEAPS Exchange '96 Review

by Teresa Acklin
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Looking into the future

      Grain handlers and processors group to focus on expanded international activities, joint ventures and a move into cyberspace.

   Nearly 1,850 grain operations professionals and suppliers gathered in March at the 67th annual meeting of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. The international technical conference offered four days of seminars and workshops, and the trade show featured more than 200 exhibits of equipment, products and services for the grain storage and handling industry.

   In addition to education and operational activities, GEAPS members also used the meeting to take care of business. Outgoing President Harold Reese of the Bunge Corp. highlighted several areas of change, including an increased international focus, joint ventures with other grain industry groups and plans to put the organization “on line” with a new computer system.

   Mr. Reese noted the 1995 formation of the newest GEAPS chapter in Veracruz, Mexico, as an indicator of the organ-ization's new emphasis on international networking. He also said continued joint ventures, such as various educational video projects completed in conjunction with other U.S. grain groups, would enhance GEAPS' ability to maximize services to its members.

   The GEAPS office is installing a new computer system that will “revolutionize” the group's role as an information forum, he said, adding that GEAPS would begin an on-line service when funding became available, probably within a year.

   Also at the meeting, GEAPS members elected 1996-97 officers. The new president is Terry Mohl, Agri Northwest, Plymouth, Washington, U.S. Vice presidents elected were Steve Mechling, Bement Grain, Bement, Illinois, U.S.; and Doug Jensen, Cargill, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

   The trade show provided an opportunity for participants to see the latest products and systems and discuss them in detail with suppliers. As usual, visitors could collect an array of exhibitor-provided souvenirs, such as insulated cups, pocket knives and pens.

   One exhibitor conducted a special “Guess the number of bolts” contest at its booth; 4B Elevator Components, East Peoria, Illinois, set up a 50-by-20-centimeter “j-style” elevator bucket filled with Easifit bolts. The contest winner, who pocketed U.S.$250, was Craig Splittstoesser, ADM Growmark, Winona, Minnesota, U.S., for his guess of 2,385 bolts, an amazingly close estimate; the exact number was 2,387.

   Another highlight of the conference for some GEAPS participants was a field trip to Continental Grain Co.'s export elevator in nearby Westwego, Louisiana. The elevator is one of the world's largest export facilities, with a throughput capacity of up to 12.7 million tonnes of maize.

Building cooperation

      In an era of active grain trade, operations and trading personnel need to work together, grain company executive says.

   Despite adverse weather, historically low international grain stocks and wheat and maize prices at or near all-time highs, the grain industry “is the healthiest that I've seen it in many years,” according to Richard Kerwin, senior vice-president of Bunge Corp., St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.

   Mr. Kerwin, the keynote speaker at the GEAPS '96 annual conference, also noted the extraordinary nature of the U.S. farm bill enacted into law in early April.

   “(The farm bill) removes most of the acreage restrictions under which farmers had to operate for decades,” he said. “At last, (the U.S.) will be able to compete effectively in the world marketplace.”

   The vigor in today's international grain trade adds special urgency to the need for communications and understanding between a company's grain handling operators and its commercial merchandisers, Mr. Kerwin said.

   “I had not been at Bunge very long when I discovered that most of the operations and elevator management personnel... thought the majority of commercial people in our export trading office had been transported from another planet,” he said. “On the other hand, commercial people thought of the operational personnel as an uncooperative group given to frequent complaint.”

   Mr. Kerwin, who is responsible for Bunge's Grain Division, attributed these conflicts to the “relatively sleepy” international grain trading climate of 25 years ago. But the first large U.S. grain sale to the Soviet Union in 1972 changed the environment completely, requiring cooperation between the two sides of the business. That cooperation is just as important today, he said.

   To bridge the gap, all parties should learn the essentials of those parts of the business in which they are not involved directly, he said. This means merchandisers should visit elevators and learn about grain flows and elevator capacity, while operators should learn about contractual terms and commercial considerations, such as load guarantees and carrying charges.

   Mr. Kerwin said Bunge tried “to practice what we preach,” with senior operational, commercial and administrative managers meeting monthly to discuss results, strategies, capital projects and personnel issues. The company also urges its merchandisers to visit the grain handling facilities with which they are involved.

   Mr. Kerwin urged meeting participants to adopt similar approaches in their companies to assure all sides knew and understood each other. With a base of knowledge, communications become much easier, leading to cooperation and business efficiencies that benefit all, he said.

What's New program features three distinctive systems

   Grain dust control and automation took center stage at the annual What's New session of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society's annual meeting in March with presentations on the “Dustmaster,” the “ADM” and the “Data Highway.”

   ABC Industries, Mendota, Illinois, U.S., presented its system of controlling receiving pit dust. The system, called the Dustmaster, keeps dust with the grain, reducing shrinkage and maintaining mass. The product can control up to 96% of receiving pit grain dust emissions efficiently and economically.

   The Dustmaster consists of rows of heavy steel louvers, installed 15 to 20 centimeters below the pit grate, that cover and seal the entire pit. When a wagon or truck is unloaded, pneumatically operated cylinders open only the louvers directly beneath the unloading area; the remaining louvers over the pit remain in the closed position. The louvers blanket the pit during unloading, physically keeping grain dust in the pit.

   Dustmaster-fitted pits will not slow down unloading operations. Grain is handled at the same capacity rate as pits without the Dustmaster. While louvers cover the entire pit, automatic sensors open the appropriate number of louvers to handle grain flow during unloading. Pit capacity is not negatively affected.

   Open and close functions, which allow grain to flow into the pit, are controlled by a small air compressor, triggered by sensor switches installed on the louvers. The Dustmaster automatically senses how many louvers to open to control dust and allow grain to flow.

   The system works with all size pits because it is custom built and installed.

   Invented by a Russian scientist in 1991, the ADM, which stands for the Aerodynamic Module, is a dust collection system that can attain efficiency of more than 95% while using less energy and space. Already in use commercially in Russia, the ADM is being commercialized elsewhere by EPR Inc., West Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.

   Based on the principles of aerodynamic particle separation, the ADM consists of a tubular casing enclosing a conical ring and dust removal assembly. Dry gas containing dust enters the wide opening; as the cone structure narrows, the pressure inside the cone becomes higher than outside, forcing the gas to flow between the rings toward the casing.

   This flow enhances the collection of dust in the center of the cone, while minimizing pressure losses and erosion. The concentrated dust is removed from the gas stream through a diverter assembly to a dust hopper for return to the process or for disposal.

   The ADM has no moving parts and can withstand temperatures of nearly 900° Celsius. It can be configured horizontally, vertically or on an incline, so it requires little space and is easily installed.

   The ADM's commercial applications cover any industry that generates dust or particulates. For the grain industry, applications can include conveyors, dryers, mills and transfer points.

   The What's New program's third presentation was the “Data Highway,” designed by The Rolfes Co., Earth City, Missouri, U.S., on a building block approach that enables gradual expansion. The Data Highway is a system that automates, monitors and controls individual grain handling functions as well as complete facilities.

   Individual modules are available for such functions as automation of scales, bin boards and distributors; for interface with accounting systems, grading equipment and level monitors; and for monitoring grain temperature, bearing/belt misalignment and motion and speed. Additional modules integrate the equipment and automate the plant.

   The Data Highway does not depend on a central control point, but uses a variety of hardware and software products and assigns tasks to each. If any module fails, only that feature is disabled, and if a problem surfaces, the information is put on the “Data Highway” and is distributed to the appropriate stations.