Truck driver shortages have been in the international spotlight for decades. The costs and societal and supply impact have been widely publicized with examples including the United Kingdom’s food and fuel shortfalls, as well as the bottleneck of containers at ports in the United States, now requiring freight unloading operations to run 24/7.
Quarries, cement plants, construction suppliers, and building contractors who rely on trucks to move goods have not been immune to the supply chain chaos.
Shortages hindering plant productivity
Tight supply chains and driver shortages are making real-time inventory management at cement plants critical to prevent material shortages and downtime. Labor shortages are impacting staffing in most positions in the plant; there is no one with time available to climb silos and take manual measurements.
Instead, both level sensors and CementView® Cloud-based software, designed for the cement industry with a specialized ‘truckloads’ feature, are helping cement plants manage dispatch, drivers, orders, and deliveries. Truckload information is critical to dispatchers and drivers. Dispatchers are overwhelmed managing the inventory contained in cement powder, sand, and fly ash silos and are often coordinating deliveries between locations. Dispatchers scheduling deliveries need truckload information to prevent delays and to ensure drivers are properly routed. They need to know current silo levels, so they can schedule truckload deliveries where the need for material is greatest.
If a plant is not automated, dispatchers are working with data transcribed from handwritten manual measurements from plant workers climbing silos and taking measurements using tape measures. Dispatchers often rely on silo-level information reported remotely from plants and are unsure if the measurement data provided is current or accurate. Drivers need to be sure that an entire load fits in the silo when they arrive at each plant. If there is inadequate space, they risk overfilling a silo. This can create a hazardous situation that could impact employee health due to breathing in cement or fly ash dust. Plus, a spill can create a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and plants are already short-staffed.
Truckload management and software
The ‘Truckloads’ feature in CementView removes the need for complex volumetric calculations and takes the guesswork out of estimating how many trucks are needed to maintain production levels.
Truckload management begins with assigning a unique number to each truck in the fleet. Most fleets already have truck numbers assigned, so it is simply a matter of entering each truck’s unique identifier or number.
Users can create trucks as a calculation of mass per compartment or volume per compartment. For trucks with multiple compartments, the mass or volume for each compartment is entered separately. CementView will then calculate the truck’s total capacity.
If a fleet has more than one of the same type of truck, once the first truck of a particular model is entered, setting up additional trucks of the same model is as easy as duplicating the first truck and changing the truck identifier or number.
Users assign primary and secondary trucks for each silo. CementView uses the primary truck when calculating ‘Truckspace’ and ‘Trucks Until Empty’ on the main dashboard and in QuickView. Secondary trucks are only displayed on the dashboard when viewing the master details for a silo. f Trucks are displayed in two ways on the dashboard and in QuickView. The software shows ‘Truckspace’, which is the number of trucks it would take to fill a silo. It also shows ‘Trucks Until Empty’, which is the volume of material currently in the silo calculated for the primary truck assigned to it.
Automating silo level measurement and ensuring accuracy with sensors
As speed and accuracy of inventory are imperative for cement operations, 80 GHz non-contact radar level sensors using the Modbus protocol are often recommended for silo-level measurement. The technology is proven to work in dust and measurements are updated in seconds. Pre-wiring of the silos for sensor installation is easily carried out by a plant’s maintenance staff. Commissioning is performed using a BinDisc device that can be moved from sensor to sensor for setup. Alternatively, sensor setup can be done using a Bluetooth application on a phone. Each silo receives a unique name or number and is assigned a location. The dimensions of the silo are entered to enable the calculation of silo mass or volume. The type of material contained in the silo is also recorded. This enables dispatchers and managers to review inventory by material type or silo location.
It is also recommended that silos have rotary-level indicators installed as redundant high-level alerts, which is a best practice for any active silo that gets filled rapidly and frequently. The rotary serves as an extra layer of protection from overfilling the silo or having the material rise to the level of the continuously operating radar level sensor and potentially damaging it.
A BinCloud® gateway can be used to push data to the Cloud through an ethernet connection, to access via the CementView program. Other devices such as analog expansion hubs for connecting analog sensors and HART consolidator modules can help connect existing sensors to the Cloud at a minimal cost. At large plants, wireless devices such as 900 MHz or LoRa long-range transceivers help to save substantially on wiring costs, ensuring material and labor savings versus running wires or the expense of paying licensed electricians. With construction booming, concrete companies cannot afford to run out of material or risk messy overfills, as time is limited and there are a limited number of workers to clean up. Many construction contracts provide incentives for meeting deadlines and the company could face fines if deadlines are missed.
Real-time inventory management
Keeping watch over inventory levels at multiple plants is essential for dispatchers to maintain adequate material levels during times of high demand. Access to CementView software is provided to dispatchers at corporate headquarters, plant managers, purchasing, and other production personnel at any plant location.
There is no limit to the number of users for the software, which is charged per silo at a flat annual subscription rate. Using CementView allows authorized personnel to monitor, order, and distribute cement, sand, fly ash, or other materials for all locations. Users may be restricted to viewing only certain data for limited locations as desired by the administrator. Users can view and sort silos by material, monitor trends and generate usage reports by selecting report criteria such as date range, location, or material. Each user can create and save a custom view in the software that only includes the information they need. Reports are available as an Excel export or as a PDF.
Plants and central dispatch can receive inventory updates every 10 minutes, which is a benefit since plants are so active. Using the CementView software ensures that everyone has access to the same inventory data at the same time, including dispatchers, drivers, and plant managers. Out-of-stocks and emergency deliveries can therefore be reduced. Better scheduling results in better profits. Embracing new technology During the pandemic, many people chose to retire, leaving the labor market for plant workers and truck drivers very tight.
Many new employees have never worked in the industry. Younger people recognize the value of technology and appreciate that there is an easier way to get things done. With labor currently so short, plants are faced with trying to do more work with fewer people, and this is aided by CementView. Customers have added that the visualization of what is going on inside silos is helpful. Dispatchers can look at inventory levels for all locations, just one location, or just silos that are desperate for a refill.
Local displays supplement drivers’ needs for immediate data
Local displays for each silo may be installed at a central location at each plant. When they arrive, delivery drivers can confirm how much headspace is available in each silo, so they can unload their truck, confident that the entire load will fit. A Modbus-compatible control console or a DPM digital panel meter with Modbus-sensor compatibility can provide headroom readouts for every silo at each batch plant. Using hardwired local displays saves time and prevents messy spills caused by overfilling.