Automation: Solutions for operational ease

For years the bulk-storage industry was dominated by options requiring manpower and near-constant attention, but today’s trend leans more and more towards fully automated systems. To get the best systems, a turnkey solution has become more common, where companies select one provider for all the storage and handling systems necessary—plus operation made possible by pushing a few buttons.

“Lately there’s really been a shift to a complete automated system,” said Casey Bame, engineer and automation designer for Dome Technology projects. “In the long run (companies) can save a whole lot of manpower from not having someone out there turning things on and off.”

One of the greatest benefits of automation is that potential problems can be detected early enough that the site manager can be alerted before the system has to shut down. That way, material handling can continue without interruption as issues are resolved.

In pursuit of a well-automated facility, companies ought to consider selecting one provider for construction, where the mechanical, structural, electrical, and automation engineering are all done by a single company; this ensures better coordination since coworkers manage their portions of the project together, crafting systems that run smoothly with one another, Bame said.

Dome Technology engineers can design a variety of control systems with the most common being systems that run on a programmable logic controller, a complex computer-and-sensor system collecting data, analyzing it, and dictating that operations function properly and run in the correct sequence—Conveyor A before Conveyor B, for instance. Utilizing sensors on the conveying system, the PLC can inform the operator if the belt is getting out of alignment, not running properly, or if the bearings are getting too hot; advance notice can prevent costly repairs and unnecessary downtime.

With the importance placed on safety, the PLC along with pull cords and push buttons can be valuable tools to keep people safe and machinery undamaged. The use of variable frequency drives to dictate the speed of the conveyors can help a plant run more efficient and prevent expenses such as the high in-rush current of large motors.

The design and engineering of the automation is completed during the same time as the mechanical system, and they work together to provide a proper system that meets the customer’s needs. Upon installation, an on-site operator—someone from the customer’s company—is trained on how the systems work.

This kind of engineering eliminates much of the potential for human error and relieves the burden on site operators.

Check back next week for a list of automated systems now engineered into domes.