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Storing grain goes high tech

By Matt Reese

Mark Drewes, who farms in four counties in northwest Ohio, wanted to start from scratch to add a new storage facility with the most modern technology.

Tractors guided by satellite can place a seed within an inch of accuracy. That seed can be treated to resist disease problems and genetically engineered to thwart insects, tolerate herbicides or provide nutritional value to consumers. Agriculture is in the midst of countless technological advances to improve efficiency and production, yet many farms still rely on grain handling systems that served their forefathers.

Mark Drewes, who farms in four counties in northwest Ohio, wanted to start from scratch to add a new storage facility with the most modern technology.

“I wanted to streamline my operation to make things as easy as possible. I started from the ground up,” Drewes said. “My goal was to have about a quarter million bushels of storage with a dryer. It had to be high volume, fast and efficient. I wanted it to be as technologically advanced as possible with a completely automated setup.”

First, Drewes had to find the best location for the new facility and make sure he had the necessary infrastructure.

“I decided to put this bin site at the epicenter of where I farm. It sits at the corner of two state highways and has natural gas, but it did not have three-phase electric,” he said. “I looked into it, and it was going to cost $100,000 to get it out here.”

Three-phase power is used for most electrical loads greater than 10 or 15 horsepower, is better for motor life and it can put three times the electricity through the wires without increasing their thickness. Plus, it costs significantly less.

With a grain setup of this size, three-phase was important, but that steep price tag prompted Drewes to start looking around at other options. His search led him to Control Design Solutions (CDS), based in Bowling Green. The company works with technology to accomplish goals in industry, mostly the food industry, but has recently been expanding into agricultural applications.

“Industry has been using automated technology for years and now that farms are getting larger, and the costs are coming down, it makes more sense for them to look at this kind of technology,” said Roger Bostdorff, with CDS. “Farmers are now starting to take advantage of this technology from industry.”

Ultimately, the available technology streamlines the system, protects the investment and equipment and allows for more efficient use of hired help and time.

“The system is really like having another hired hand,” Bostdorff said.

The variable speed drives that convert single-phase to three-phase power initially appealed to Drewes. The variable speed drives also offer soft start capability to reduce the power surge from equipment start-up, extends motor life, uses less electricity and offers more precise control of electricity use and equipment.

“This was a learning process for all of us,” Drewes said. “The drive takes single-phase in and puts three-phase out to drive the engine of my grain facility. It automatically soft starts to improve my electric rates when compared hard starting everything at once. When I got my first electric bill with this set up running, I was shocked at how low it was.”

The variable speed drive was a great asset for the grain handling facility and then some of the other technology CDS works with also seemed applicable to what Drewes was trying to accomplish.

Human Machine Interface (HMI) technology provides convenient and easy controls for very complex systems with single button controls that automate multi-step tasks. HMI also features system alarms, which quickly alert users of any problems.

“Everything is controllable. I can control the speeds of all of the drives with the push of a few buttons,” Drewes said. “It is centralized system that lets me tell it what to do.”

Another important feature for Drewes’ set up is the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), which is a central computer that streamlines and coordinates the entire system to reduce installation and maintenance time and allows for automatic sequential start-up of the proper equipment. PLC also allows for an unattended automatic refill of the load out bins to save time.

“I can walk away from that setup because I do not have to be there for it to run,” Drewes said. “I do not have to baby-sit the system. It goes on its own. That is a huge labor saver.”

The system has also proven to be very user friendly.

“My 19-year-old son came home from college for Christmas break and within a couple of hours he was running the whole thing,” Drewes said. “I have multiple people running this setup at different times. This system takes out some of the potential for man-made error. There are also potential applications for elderly farmers. They can operate the system with ease.”

The system has proven to be convenient and efficient, but it also offers Drewes peace of mind.

“It’s protecting the investment here. You don’t burn motors up, overfill the bins, or run conflicting things at the same time. It stops when something breaks or goes wrong so it protects the system from further damage,” he said. “I wish I would’ve known all of this before I got started on this project. I would’ve had these guys on board from day one. It would have been a little more efficient that way and the process would have been a lot easier.”

For more information about the grain handling system go to www.cdsl.biz under “Grain Handling.”

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