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Using Sensors and Software to Support the Supply Chain

Image courtesy of BinMaster CementView_BINMASTER.png
CementView shows detailed level history and truckloads for each silo.
How a ready mix company improved inventory and made dispatchers and drivers happy

A Midwest-based ready-mix company has 10 busy facilities in a major metropolitan area. Two central dispatchers were completely frustrated and fatigued juggling cement powder and fly ash deliveries between the locations. The only data they had to work with were hand-taken manual measurements from plant workers tasked with risky, time-consuming, non-stop silo climbing and dropping tape measures.

Dispatchers had to rely on silo level information reported in from the plants, and they were not sure how long ago the measurements were taken.

Centralized Monitoring Needed

The dispatchers needed up-to-date and accurate level readings to keep all the batch plants up and running efficiently to prevent delays. They had to schedule and route trucks throughout the bustling metropolitan area. Pickup of the fly ash needed to be carefully coordinated with a power plant more than 50 miles away.

With construction booming, the concrete company “couldn’t afford to run out of material or risk messy overfills as there is no time and no one to clean up.” Many construction contracts provide incentives for meeting deadlines and the company could face fines if deadlines are missed.

Radars to the Rescue

Since speed and accuracy of inventory were imperative, 80 GHz non-contact radar level sensors with Modbus were recommended for silo level measurement by Nathan Grube, the project commissioner. The technology is proven to work in dust and measurements are updated in just seconds. Each plant’s maintenance staff did the pre-wiring of the silos and had them ready-to-go for the sensor installation. BinMaster technical services was able to get commissioning done in one or two days per location. Over time, radars were installed on 58 silos.

Image courtesy of BinMasterRadar_Level_Sensors_BINMASTER.jpg

Non-contact 80 GHz radar level sensors

The silos also had rotary level indicators installed as a redundant high-level alert, which is a great practice for any active silo that gets filled rapidly and frequently.

Real-Time Inventory on a Phone, Tablet, or PC

Keeping tabs on inventory levels at every batch plant was essential for the dispatches to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of production. Access to CementView software was provided to the dispatchers at corporate headquarters and users were also assigned at each plant location.

Using CementView allows dispatchers to monitor, order, and distribute cement and fly ash for all the locations, while the plant managers can only see inventory levels for their location. Users can view and sort silos by material, look at trends, and generate usage reports with the push of a button. Reports are available as an excel export or as a PDF. Plants and central dispatch get updates every 10 minutes, which is important since the plant are so active.

Using the CementView puts everyone on the same page when it comes to inventory. Dispatchers, drivers, and plant managers have full visibility of inventory levels. They can more easily set priorities that can reduce out-of-stocks and emergency deliveries. Plus, with a driver shortage, there’s no room to waste time. At the end of the day, better scheduling results in better profits.

Tracking Truckloads Improves Efficiency

One of the most valuable features of CementView is truckloads. Dispatch puts each truck’s capacity into the program and assigns trucks to each silo. Then the software calculates how many truckloads a silo will hold and how many trucks of it will take to empty the silo. Truckloads eliminates doing the math and the guesswork of how many trucks are needed to get the job done.

Embracing New Technology

During the pandemic, a lot of boomers chose to retire, leaving the labor market for construction workers and truck drivers very tight,” said Nathan Grube, project commissioner. “Many of the new hires are brand new to the industry. “Younger people recognize the value of technology and appreciate that there is an easier way to get things done. With labor so short these days, plants are faced with trying to do more work with fewer people and CementView helps them out.

“They really like the visualization of what’s going on. Dispatchers can look at inventory levels for all locations, just one location, or just silos that are desperate for a refill.”

Local Displays Make Drivers Happy

Local displays for each silo were installed at a central location at each plant. When they arrive, delivery drivers can confirm how much head space is available in each silo, so they can unload with confidence. A panel with a DPM digital panel meter with Modbus-sensor compatibility provides headroom readouts for every silo at each batch plant.

Image courtesy of BinMasterDigital_Panel_Meters_BINMASTER.jpg

Digital panel meters provide drivers and plant workers push-button access to silo levels.

One of the most important things to delivery drivers is knowing there is room in the silo for the entire delivery. No driver wants to risk an overfill and be stuck cleaning up a mess and wasting time in the process, especially since cement and fly ash are nasty to handle and dangerous to breathe.

The Cost of Transforming Inventory

The 80 GHz Modbus radar sensors are a one-time capital expense costing about $2,500 per silo. With a long service life of more than 10 years, the cost of ownership is less than 70 cents a day. The CementView software is an annual subscription that costs just over 10 cents per silo per day. The software is available to as many users as the plants need at one flat cost. Plus, as new features are added to the software and upgrades are made, the is no additional cost for the life of the subscription.

A BinCloud gateway is used to push the data to the Cloud through an ethernet connection, so it can be accessed via the CementView program. A gateway runs about $600 and easily pays for itself in the material and labor savings versus running wires and paying electricians. At large plants, wireless devices such as 900 MHz or LoRa long-range transceivers can be used to save on wiring costs. The hardwired digital panel meter local displays are in the $750 range but can pay for themselves quickly in time savings and preventing messy spills caused by overfilling.

CementView is built on the BinMaster BinCloud platform and is just one of the solutions offered for specialized inventory applications. BinView, ResinView, and AgriView are similar solutions customized for processing, plastics, and food/agricultural applications. For more information, call 402-434-9102 or visit www.binmaster.com.

 

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