ONIDA, SOUTH DAKOTA, U.S. — Sukup recently completed a project for Ringneck Energy’s ethanol plant in Onida, South Dakota, U.S., that was the largest single-site deployment of Sukup equipment in number of pieces and dollar value. 

“As a company we’ve been expanding our commercial-scale material handling equipment offerings for the past several years,” said Steve Sukup, vice-president and chief financial officer of Sukup and a member of the Ringneck Energy board of directors. “This project really pulls it all together in a way that shows we can equip big commercial projects with the grain storage and handling equipment they need.”

Sukup equipment at Ringneck includes two 105-foot diameter, 25-ring grain storage bins and a 21-foot diameter, 17-ring hopper bin; several bucket elevators and conveyors; several catwalks and support towers, including an 18-foot x 18-foot x 160-foot tower; two zero-entry bin sweeps, each with a 12-inch diameter. auger; two buildings, including a 125-foot x 250-foot x 40-foot warehouse for dried distillers grains and a 65-foot x 100-foot x 40-foot unloading and loading building.

“We wanted to be a Sukup showplace, and hopefully we’ve accomplished that,” said Walt Wendland, chief executive officer of Ringneck Energy.

Construction of the $130 million Ringneck project began in 2017 and ended near the end of 2018. Production began in April. The plant was designed to produce 80 million to 100 million gallons a year of ethanol. It can load a 96-car train of tanker cars in about one week.

“This plant is awesome,” Danci Baker, chief financial officer, told Ringneck shareholders at their first annual meeting prior to the grand opening of the plant. “It can do really great things.”

Sukup Manufacturing Co. has provided equipment for about 40 ethanol plants since 2004, with the vast majority since 2010, said Matt Koch, senior electrical engineer at Sukup Manufacturing.

“In the past 10 years we’ve been the name of the game in ethanol plant grain storage,” he said.

Sukup’s 156-foot diameter clear-span bins are the largest in the industry. Its commercial bin sweeps, mixed-flow grain dryer and advanced control systems are among 14 products that have won ag engineering innovation awards since 2012 from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

Sukup began offering commercial bucket elevators in 2013 and now has the capability to lift 60,000 bushels per hour, said Randy Marcks, director of material handling equipment sales. The company’s commercial drag conveyors debuted in 2015. While the largest to date conveys 40,000 bph, there is capacity for 60,000 bph, Marcks said.

Expanding into commercial grain handling and storage markets was a natural progression for Sukup Manufacturing. Since its founding by Eugene Sukup in 1963 with his invention of a grain stirring machine, the company’s focus for nearly three decades was on making farm-level grain handling and storage more safe, profitable and efficient.

The company developed a reputation for having top-notch stirring machines, fans, unload systems and other equipment. Its launch of automatic continuous-flow grain dryers in 1998 and a line of grain bins in 2000 helped position the company for larger markets.

Sales of commercial equipment have grown steadily, said Charles Sukup, president.

“Some people look at grain bins as tin cans — all the same,” he said. “But that’s not the case when you look closely at Sukup bins.”

He cited two innovations in grain bin design that have set Sukup bins apart from those of other manufacturers — sidewall splice plates and double-ended stud bolts. The splice plates allow laminated sidewall sheets to be connected end-to-end instead of overlapped. The plates simplify construction and provide for a more watertight bin than using the traditional method of overlapping sheets.

The double-ended stud bolts provide a tight seal between bin stiffeners and sidewall sheets, solving the issue of moisture leaking into the bin through gaps between stiffeners and laps of laminated sidewall sheets.

“Our people are always looking at issues and developing solutions,” Charles Sukup said, for both on-farm and commercial equipment. “We’re definitely a continuous-improvement company.”

Providing equipment that allows ethanol producers to build bigger and more efficient plants is gratifying work, he said. Ethanol has “been a tremendous benefit to the country, especially in the Midwest,” he noted.