When it Comes to Silos, Inspect, Prevent, and Maintain

April 20, 2016

6 Min Read
When it Comes to Silos, Inspect, Prevent, and Maintain
A confined space entry at a food processing plant

A silo, in many ways, is like the human body. Life is good when the silo is working effectively. When the silo gets clogged, production slows down and an army of problems marches onto the scene. Despite the problems that can arise from a poorly maintained silo, companies often put off maintenance and inspection visits until it’s too late. This mirrors how many people take care of themselves. We don’t want to get a check-up because as long as we are functioning well enough, we don’t want to know that any trouble is brewing. We feel fine and don’t need to be inconvenienced by preventative medicine or the expense of additional follow-up appointments.
The problem, of course, is that if you don’t invest in those check-ups, really serious problems can arise seemingly without warning. The human body can begin to fail because of a heart attack, a stroke, or other issues. Similarly, a silo can begin to fail and your entire production line will need to be held in limbo till the emergency is successfully alleviated.

With every passing day, silo inspection becomes more important. Across the country and around the world, silos are aging, and not many people are taking notice. Silos, after all, are built out of super strong material, and they carry the appearance of being built to last. Structures that date back to the 1940s still seem ok, so in many cases they just continue to function without any check-up on what the true health of the silo may be.
The problem is that silos are not always as sturdy as they seem to the naked eye. Many problems can begin as invisible irritants that evolve over time into more serious problems. For example, a cement plant experienced a complete silo collapse in 2012 because the roof had not been securely connected to the beams, and the beams had been weakened by other updates. A life was tragically lost as a result of that collapse.
If you haven’t had your silos inspected for a while, there is no time like the present. Be sure to employ a professional engineer who has experience in evaluating the health of silo structures. The engineer will begin by looking at the outside of the structure with both the naked eye and binoculars. The process will then proceed to the inside of the silo, where he or she will bang on different spots on the walls. This audio part of the inspection is meant to identify any spots that have a “dead” or muted sound, because that kind of feedback means there is possibly a problem.
If there are particularly troubling areas, the engineer may take a core sample from the problem spot so that the layers can be evaluated in more detail. That data, along with other information the engineer gathers during the inspection, will all be studied in detail, and a report will be issued summarizing the health of the silo.
Silo inspections can be a big investment, and they can also be time-consuming. You may need to hire a contractor to help create safe channels for the engineer to use inside the silo, and you may need to have a professional silo cleaning company clean out the silo before the inspection process on the interior can progress.

The bad news is that a silo inspection may present you with problems that need to be solved as soon as possible. The inspection may reveal that there is extended damage within the structure’s walls. You might even find out that the silo is simply not stable and needs to be taken down. From a business perspective, it seems like few things could possibly be worse. Consider, however, that identifying these problems before true tragedy strikes is certainly worth the investment. Not only will your company’s reputation remain secure in the absence of a horrible accident, but most importantly, no one will be put in danger on the site.
Silo inspections don’t have to be bad news, of course. A silo inspection may show that your silo is in good health and that it can stay that way so long as it is maintained well. This is not just good financial news but it also will give everyone in your company a very real peace of mind.

Once any problems are solved and production returns to normal, the most important thing is silo maintenance. Just like with inspection, maintenance should be executed inside and outside of the structure. The following are some of the steps you can take, with a professional, to help maintain the health of your silo.

Silo/Bin Cleaning
It does not take long for material to build up inside of a silo, especially if moisture gets added into the mix. Scheduling a regular cleaning of your storage vessel helps ensure that material will continue to flow through and your production levels will remain uninterrupted.

Media Blasting
Abrasive blasting or dry ice blasting may be needed if you want to smooth a surface, clean a surface, or prepare a surface for a new coat of paint. Formerly referred to as sand blasting, there are now several safer materials that can be used that also reduce the need for clean-up after the project is complete.

Fire Suppression
Especially if a vessel is storing dry material, the risk for fire is very real. Make sure that oxygen is vacuumed out of your storage vessel to help make sure that there is no risk of fire being started due to static electricity or some other type of spark.
The better care you take of your health, the less severe and less numerous your problems will be. It is no different for your silo, bin, or any other type of storage vessel. Schedule regular check-ups to make sure no big problems are brewing. Make sure you catch any small problems before they start. Regularly maintain the unit so that you can help prevent any issues in the future. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. An ounce of prevention can even help save the lives of your workers. It’s definitely worth your time.

Dave Laing is General Manager, Mole•Master Services Corp., Marietta, OH. Mole•Master designs, manufactures, and tests equipment in the silo and bin cleaning industry. For more information, visit www.molemaster.com

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