Accurate Inventory Monitoring in Real Time

Introduction

              As the world demand for cement increases, the industry must expand to meet the needs of a growing infrastructure. This means larger, more efficient facilities and an increased number of storage silos. However, if not done properly, monitoring the contents of multiple silos can create safety issues associated with climbing the vessels and production issues related to having the right amount of material on hand when needed.

                Level measurement within an enclosed structure is a challenging aspect of material processing in almost every work industry, but it becomes especially difficult when working with cement. The cement-making process is inherently dusty. Fine powder materials are difficult to measure accurately because they shift, condense and settle into irregular surfaces inside the silo. Dust can accumulate in the silo, creating false readings and buildup. The minuscule powder can also enter the operation mechanisms and cause damage to a level sensor. Reports from a damaged sensor will have unreliable data and could negatively impact the production process.

                In order for cement companies to be efficient, a plant-wide monitoring system is necessary. When multiple silos are present, systems that provide options for networking are the best fit. These systems can send data to a control console or to a networked computer program. Cloud-based data systems that connect through the Internet and display inventory data on a computer, tablet or smartphone are another option when remote data access is needed. This network of information will improve efficiency by allowing plant operators to monitor multiple silos from one or more locations.

                With remote monitoring as a resource, manually checking the levels of each vessel is no longer necessary. This saves time and improves safety on the work site by eliminating the risk involved with climbing silos. In addition to these benefits, companies do not have to waste material caused by silos being overfilled or stop production because of an empty vessel. The software can be programmed to send alerts when the contents reach a certain level.

Ready-mix and cement needs

                Real-time level measurement systems have been influential in increasing efficiency in ready-mix concrete plants. These smaller plants have large storage silos for finished cement, but these are not always located next to each other, which creates connection problems. Wireless communications systems are installed to not only network the silos together, but connect them to a central office where the overall plant inventory can be managed remotely.

                Ready-mix cement plant managers have learned the importance of regularly monitoring the inventory levels of their silos. Refill orders require a day or more advance notice. If the inventory is not properly managed and orders are not planned accordingly, the plant will run out of materials and operation will shut down. Automated level measurement systems are programmed to measure inventory at regular intervals. This data can be monitored from a remote office location and used to schedule timely deliveries and optimize manufacturing schedules.

                One solution to meet the time-sensitive level measurement requirements of the ready-mix industry is a SmartBob cable-based sensor. BinMaster’s SmartBob2 is an inventory management system that has proven rugged and dependable in this challenging environment. It manages level data periodically at programmed intervals or on-demand for up to 128 silos. The principle of operation is simple- it works like an automated tape measure. It is easy to install, does not require field calibration and needs minimal maintenance over a long lifetime of service.

              Through digital signal processing and advanced electronics, SmartBob2 offers a variety of communication options. eBob software is installed in a central office so plant and production managers can monitor the network of silos and the overall process. Such software provides a graphical representation of data, including information such as the vessel contents, the distance to product (headroom), vessel percent full and the date/ time of the last measurement. To view individual vessel measurements, C-100 control consoles are assigned to each group of silos.

            High temperature materials can also affect sensor performance. The SmartBob2 can be mounted on a standpipe to distance the electronic components away from the heat source. This ensures that the sensor performs reliably in temperatures up to 500˚F.

            A ready-mix concreate facility installed BinMaster’s SmartBob2 to meet its inventory monitoring challenges. This small operation had limited budget and personnel resources, so when they were researching the different solutions, the price and amount of maintenance needed by the sensor were key factors. The Smartbob2’s economical price and self-cleaning cable are tow features that made the SmartBob stand out among similar sensor options. Its dual-compartment design shields the electrical systems from dust and other damaging contaminants, which is ideal for cement industry applications. These design features, among others, ensure minimal maintenance and a long service life for the SmartBob2.

           This ready-mix concreate facility also appreciated the reliable measurements taken at programmable intervals. The ability to take on-demand readings is also a valuable tool that the operation managers utilize on days that are especially busy. With multiple silos on site, the customer also installed a C-100 console at ground level, so that inventory data could be accessed for all silos from a single console. The console was convenient for drivers, who were also able to take an on-demand reading before filling or emptying silos. BinMaster’s SmartBob2 was the right choice to meet the inventory management needs of this ready-mix concrete operation.

          3DLevelScanners are a second option to manage inventory and are more commonly used in cement manufacturing production. Large, dome-shaped storage facilities and conditions such as cone up, cone down are easily detected and mapped by these dust-penetrating sensors. Humidity and high temperatures create sidewall buildup that is difficult to detect and can damage storage silos. To prevent this costly hindrance, a 3DLevelSensor can be mounted to silos of any size that hold a wide variety of contents. Maintenance managers can access the 3D images and view the buildup inside a vessel.

Summary

                Inventory management that is both reliable and repeatable is possible, even in the harsh conditions of a cement silo. There are sensors designed to perform in environments of extreme dust. With networking capabilities it is possible to monitor and receive alerts about the levels of multiple silos simultaneously and from remote locations. These advancements will ensure that there are accurate level measurement systems to continue to improve efficiency in the cement industry.