5 Ways to Improve Feedlot Efficiency Through Automation

improve feedlot efficiency

There are many factors affecting feedlot efficiency that operators cannot control. This makes the factors that operators can control even more important. Automation technology is one way that feedlot operators are finding ways to improve efficiency. With the right strategy and the right equipment, you can save time, reduce expenses and reduce losses.

5 Ways to Improve Feedlot Efficiency Through Automation

1. Saving Time with Automatic Mixing  

Manual processes take time, especially when they have to be repeated daily or multiple times a day. Automating these processes as much as possible can save hours, and free workers to take on more important tasks.  

When deciding which processes to automate and where the most significant benefits exist, consider the processes on either side of the task. Are workers idle while a task is being completed? If so, automating this task can improve efficiency. If the other processes require similar amounts of time, automating this process probably won’t significantly improve the overall system.

Common opportunities for feedlot automation are during feed mixing, formulating, distribution, and the cattle induction process. Consider adding a micro machine for formulating and mixing additives into feed, or using cloud-connected devices to increase efficiency and safety in induction stage.

Learn more about micro machines for cattle feed mixing »  

2. Improving Accuracy With Programmatic Solutions

Additives, including vitamins, minerals, ionophores, and antibiotics, can quickly add to expenses, especially if they’re inefficiently measured or improperly mixed. Getting the precise amount of these micro ingredients and reducing waste as much as possible can help to significantly reduce expenses in the long run.

The right micro machine can solve this problem with consistent mixing and accurate, pre-programmed weighing. Scales weigh ingredients quickly and exactly to get the right amount, and each ingredient is distributed automatically according to a pre-programmed recipe.

3. Reducing Costs with Buyer Flexibility

When investing in feedlot automation equipment, it’s tempting to reduce upfront costs using ingredient  supplier contracts. However, exclusive contracts for expensive micro ingredients can quickly eat into feedlot efficiency gains. When considering equipment contracts for dairy and cattle micro ingredient systems, compare the supplier’s ingredient prices as well, and weigh it against the cost of a machine. Are prices significantly different? How much would you save with the option to shop around for vitamins, minerals and other additives?

Before entering a contract with an micro ingredient supplier, consider all your options, as well as your goals for the machine. Get a clear picture of the machine’s long-run benefits, and the supplier’s performance. If the extra cost of additives outweighs the value of the machine and process improvements, consider a cattle feed micro machine without a contract.

4. Reducing Errors With Lot Tracking

More information allows you to make better decisions, and more visibility allows you to solve problems. Lot tracking technology makes it easy to see the consistency, origin and destination of all feed in the lot. When making adjustments to feed or assessing problems like infection or low feed intake, complete visibility over the feed schedule allows you to make informed decisions. Cattle feed micro machines with lot tracking capabilities allow you to access this information in one place, and more easily make adjustments. This information also makes it easier to compare results year over year, and track expenses, yield, and growth more accurately.

5. Reducing Downtime and Maintenance

When considering system automation to increase feedlot efficiency, downtime and maintenance are also important factors. All systems will require a degree of regular maintenance and cleaning to stay operational. This process should not be overly complex, or it may eat into the speed and efficiency gained from introducing the machine in the first place.

To assess the maintenance schedule of automation systems before installing them, consider what the machine is made of, how it is constructed, and whether or not it uses proprietary parts. If certain parts of the machine can only be accessed by a repair technician, or some components can only be replaced by the supplier, downtime may be problematic, especially during weekends or holidays. A modular construction makes it easy to assess and repair problems, and off-the-shelf components allow you to take maintenance and repairs into your own hands.  

Investing in automation requires consideration, but the right machines can significantly improve feedlot efficiency. Automating dangerous processes or processes introducing error can also help to eliminate other problems. Consider your options carefully and make an automation strategy before diving in, choosing the slowest, more inaccurate, or most dangerous tasks to automate first.

Cattle Pro: The Cattle Feed Micro Machine Saving Time and Money

cattle pro

Finding the right cattle feed micro machine for your dry and liquid micro ingredient additives can save you time and money. However, it’s important to find a balance between price, ROI, maintenance costs, ease of use, and functionality. Understanding the challenges facing feedlots, APEC developed the Cattle Pro with flexibility, durability, and cost-savings in mind. The Cattle Pro enables feedlot owners to precisely add  the best combination of antibiotics and nutrients for optimal quality.

8 Benefits of the Cattle Pro Micro Ingredient Scale

cattle micro machine mixer 1. No Commitment, Better Prices

Many liquid and dry weighing machines for cattle come with an unspoken agreement; a long-term ingredient supplier’s  contract. The Cattle Pro does not have fine print. The Cattle Pro micro machine is suitable for any of the typical micro ingredients used in a feedlot, and is programmable for any amounts you specify. You can continue to purchase from any suppliers, so you are free to shop around for the best price.

Our Cattle Pro Micro Ingredient System means you no longer need to sign a contract with your micro ingredient distributor. It allows you to reduce costs by shopping for the micro ingredients without being locked into a contract. The Cattle Pro Microingredient System is fully accepted and compliant with government regulations.

Learn more about the Cattle Pro micro machine for dry and liquid micro ingredients »

2. Fewer Processes

The Cattle Pro allows you to add dry and wet micro ingredients in exact amounts.  The system delivers the ingredients as a slurry that is pumped directly to your feed mixer.  This means no more time-consuming separate weighing and adding of nutrients and antibiotics. The Cattle Pro also weighs ingredients in a fraction of the time compared to manual weighing. You and your staff can save time, energy, and manpower.

3. Faster, Easier, Safer

Weighing and adding micro ingredients by hand not only takes time, energy and extra staff, but it also introduces error. A moment’s distraction means feed is not properly formulated and cattle are exposed to nutrient deficiencies and the possibility of disease. The Cattle Pro eliminates this uncertainty with a pre-programmed, precise weighing system and automatic delivery into the feed mix. Liquid and dry ingredients are weighed and added exactly, every time, in a few quick minutes.

4. Lot and Ingredient Tracking

For organization and quality assurance, it’s important to know where your ingredients come from and where they go. The Cattle Pro can conduct barcode tracking on ingredients automatically, so you can see exactly what nutrients, antibiotics and other additives went into the feed. Lot tracking takes this visibility a step further, showing you where the feed went, and when it was used.  Every transaction is stamped with the exact time and date, so there is no guesswork involved.

5. Accurate Measurements Support ROI

Adding too many minerals or antibiotics means paying for extra you don’t need. Not adding enough means cattle don’t get the nutrients they need for optimal production or disease resistance. Exact feed measurements and mixing allow you to pinpoint the optimal amounts, and perfectly balance inputs and outputs.

6. Low Maintenance

Investing in an automated micro machine for cattle feed additives means weighing the costs against the benefits. Maintenance plays an important part here. The Cattle Pro is easy to clean and maintain, giving it a long life and minimal down-time. The flush hopper and conveyor can be separated from the machine, so it is easy to completely clean. The modular construction makes it easy to access any areas that require maintenance. Made from industrial-grade stainless steel with off-the-shelf components, it can easily be maintained.

7. Reduce Waste

The Cattle Pro automated cattle feed micro machine is completely enclosed.  This keeps the additives contained and eliminates housekeeping problems from water mist escaping from the machine.  The heavy duty construction and precision load sensors mean that you will have accurate results time after time. This also makes it more durable and less susceptible to jamming or environmental damage. Finally, the ingredient conveyor and water pump combination is designed for optimal efficiency, requiring less water than comparable models.

8. Start Right Away

Set-up is also an important consideration when investing in an automated cattle feed micro machine. It shouldn’t take a team of experts to get it up and running. The Cattle Pro is pre-wired and pre-plumbed, so the startup takes less time.  

The Cattle Pro simply makes cattle feed mixing easier. When you save time, money, and benefit from consistent feed quality, you can focus on growing your business. Learn more about the Cattle Pro micro machine  online or contact us for more information.

11 Super Sack Handling Precautions to Prevent Injuries

The increased use of super sacks in feed and pet food processing has saved operators hours in time, reduce costs, and helped to dramatically improve efficiency. A one-ton bulk bag (AKA super sack, flexible intermediate bulk container or FIBC) can take the place of forty fifty-pound bags. However, the growing popularity of super sack unloaders also introduces workplace hazards. If you are considering switching to bulk bags, make sure you have the right bulk bag unloader design, and the right super sack handling precautions in place.

Super Sack Handling Precautions in Receiving  

Super sacks are highly durable, and built and tested to carry up to 1 or 2 tons of material, however they can be damaged by improper handling or misuse. A few precautions and clear handling instructions at the receiving and loading stage can prevent many injuries later on.

1. Inspect the bag

When you receive the super sack or bulk bag of materials, do a brief inspection to ensure the bag is not damaged. In particular, look at the seams and the handles. This not only helps to prevent injuries that could occur from falling or breaking bags, but will also help to prevent product loss and expenses.

Get the secrets to feed mill and pet food automation systems design. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. Careful forklift operation

Bulk bags should only be handled by a qualified forklift operator. To prevent the bag from tearing during loading and unloading, use a forklift with rounded or square tines, not sharp tines. Since most bulk bag injuries result from breaking handles, the operator should also take care during loading.

This procedure should be clear, and safety at this stage should be a priority. Instead of driving the forklift tines into the handles, the operator should manually place the handles onto the tines, drive forward, and then place the next set. Though this will take more time, it is an important measure to prevent damage to the handles and thereby also prevent injuries.

3. Alternative lifting mechanisms

Bulk bags are often shipped on a wooden pallet, so they can be lifted from the bottom. A lifting frame on the fork truck or attached to a hoist can then be used to attach the four bulk bag straps to the four hooks under the frame. Then the lifting frame can life the bag into position, or the fork truck can lift and set the bag by positioning it on top of the bulk bag unloading frame.

Super Sack Handling Precautions in Loading

4. Clear the area

Loading the bulk bag onto the discharge station is also a careful process, as this is where most injuries occur. When loading the bulk bag, no one should ever be underneath the bag at any time. This is especially important if you are using a hoist to lift the bag into position. The most common injuries occur when either the handles or the frame fails and the bag falls on a worker. This can kill or seriously injure personnel. To prevent this, the hoist should function without the need for a worker to guide or adjust the bag, and the area underneath the bag should be clearly marked.

5. Use a tried and tested frame

The frame supporting the bulk bag as it is loaded and discharged should also be strong and stable enough to support the system in the long-term. If the bulk bag often loads improperly and it is crooked or not properly supported, the weight will distribute unevenly on the frame, causing it to bend and eventually break.

Super Sack Handling Precautions in Discharge

6. Untie the bag, don’t cut it

When discharging the bulk bag into the system, there should be minimal contact between the bag and the operator. In some cases, a worker may cut the bulk bag spout with a knife to discharge it, however this introduces unnecessary risk. Instead, the bag and the spout should be untied and pulled into place.

7. Control dust

If the super sack materials are dry or they pose a dust fire risk, it is especially important to control fugitive dust during discharge. There are a number of ways to do this, and which is best will depend on your materials, facility, and the bulk bag frame design. You might use a spout seal, iris valve, or a ventilation system to control dust.

8. Control static

If dust does become a problem around your bulk bag unloader, a dust fire can occur even without an obvious trigger like a spark or arc. As the materials, especially powders, flow out of the bag, they create static charge. If a static spark reaches a dust cloud under the right conditions, it can explode. While mitigating dust, it is also important to ground the super sack unloader frame to prevent static buildup. By reducing the risks of both powder and static charge, you dramatically reduce the chances of dangerous powder explosions.

9. Eliminate pinch points

Finally, where the bulk bag spout and the valve or seal meet, make sure that workers are not exposed to pinch points or crushing. The care that you used to prevent dust fires can quickly be undone if workers can reach into spout-sealing systems or bag-elongating systems and injure themselves.

Super Sack Handling Precautions During Disposal

10. Don’t reuse the bag

In some cases, super sacks may be reused in other processes. While this is more environmentally friendly and can cut down on packaging costs, this method should be used with care. Reusing bulk bags can introduce cross-contamination, and it can damage the bag. Only reuse bags that are tested for this purpose, and only when cross-contamination isn’t an issue. Many suppliers offer recycling programs for bulk bags to make your operation more environmentally friendly without the risk from reusing the bags.   

Super Sack Handling Precautions in Storage

11. Store bags securely

If you receive multiple bulk bags at one time, you should also exercise caution about storage. Improper storage, can damage the bag and cause it to fail, or the bag could be punctured and material can be lost. If bulk bags are stored on top of each other to save space, use a racking system designed for this purpose. Never stack super sacks on top of each other.

Considering workplace hazards when you install your bulk back system will prevent injuries from happening later on. With proper super sack handling precautions from the start, you can take advantage of reduced costs and increased efficiency, while maintaining a safe workplace.

Part 2: Ingredient System Planning Pitfalls For Micro-Ingredient Scales, Conveyance and Controls

In the previous post, we discussed common problems that can occur with the start of a micro-ingredient system, including ingredient bins and feeders. The latter half of the system is generally more complex, and more issues usually arise here. In this blog post we’ll cover micro-ingredient scales, conveyance and controls, and what you can do to design the most effective system.

7 Ingredient System Planning Pitfalls for Micro-Ingredient Scales, Conveyance and Controls

1. Miscalculated Scale Error

To find the right scale for your formula, you’ll need to to add all of the possible ingredients and the quantity of each. This will tell you the size of the scale that you need, but you also need to consider the margin of error. If the scale can accurately measure within +/-5 grams and the required accuracy of the formula is 1%, you won’t be able to measure 10 grams of a micro-ingredient, because the possible error will be 50%.

Reduce error and improve efficiency. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. Miscalculated Resolution and Accuracy

The scale resolution is also important to consider. The minimum increment a scale will display is generally one 10,000th (1/10,000) of the total scale capacity. So, a 100 kg scale would display in increments of .01 kg. If this isn’t suitable for your accuracy measurements or your feeder output, you may have to reconsider your scale capacity. Using the 100 kg scale example, if your feeder puts out more than .01 kg of material a second, and the control system can only time shut-off to within a second, the system will be inaccurate by this amount.

3. Incorrect Scale Hopper Design

The type of materials, the available height in the facility, and the downstream conveyance must all be considered to design the right scale hopper. Limited vertical space in some facilities can prevent the use of some types of scale hoppers, like a conical scale. Use of a roll-over tub with a slide gate may be a better choice then for facilities with lower ceilings. However, since a roll-over tub discharges material all at once, this will only work if the downstream conveyance or next process can accommodate all materials. If your materials are better suited to pneumatic conveying, like fine powders, then a conical scale hopper will transition into the pneumatic system easier. If you prefer to skip conveyance and discharge into the mixer, a conic scale hopper or roll-over tub will work.  

4. Cycle Time Doesn’t Match Mixer Time

For the micro ingredient system to reach maximum efficiency, the cycle time of each ingredient—including the time it takes for the materials to fill, settle, and discharge—must align with the batch mixing time of all ingredients. If, for example, it takes 30 seconds to fill, measure and discharge each ingredient in a 10 ingredient mix, it will take 300 seconds total to weigh the material in the scale so the mixer could be waiting for the weighing process to complete. If the mixing time only takes 150 seconds, it will be idle half the time. To solve this problem and reach maximum efficiency, you might use two scales, each with 5 ingredients.

This will require some careful calculations, as the fastest cycle time time, average time, and slowest time will vary. The times for each ingredient will also vary by density and amount. Be sure to allow some room for timing variation.

5. Vibration Interference

Vibration can be used  i in a micro ingredient system to prevent bridging, ratholing, and other no-flow conditions in bins and hoppers. It’s also desirable to keep the different parts of your system close together to prevent the need for extraneous conveyance. However, if scales are placed too close to vibrating equipment, it can cause fluctuation of the scale reading. If the scale readings are dampened to eliminate the fluctuating readout, the scales may appear to be working normally and showing normal readouts, but the process duct may be weighing  incorrectly. In this case, interference through vibration may be to blame.

6. Conveyance Contamination

The most efficient type of conveyance is through gravity, however this is not always an option, especially for facilities with low vertical clearance. In these cases, you might use pneumatic, belt or drag conveyors. When using belt or drag conveyors, it’s important to prevent contamination from one batch to the next. Materials, powder or coatings that become stuck on the belt can not only damage the belt and cause it to stick or slide, but can also contaminate new material. Use scrapers or brushes to prevent material build-up on the conveyor. It may also be advisable to run a flush material through the conveyor to clean off the residual material.

7. Slow or Damaged Controls

The micro ingredient system cannot function properly without direction from the right controls. The control system, whether you are using a PLC or PC, should be able to sample each scale quickly and stop feeders without a long delay, otherwise overfilling will ruin the batch. The system should also be powerful enough to control all scales, feeders, mixers, metered liquids, and other functions with accuracy. Finally, the control system should be enclosed if dust, moisture, heat, vibration or other hazards are a concern. Often, a PC will be used outside the factory floor for extra processing and data storage power, and communicate with a more durable PLC directly controlling equipment.  

With different ingredients and recipes there are different challenges for each part of the micro ingredient system. If you have questions about the needs and capabilities of your micro ingredient system or ingredient automation system, take a look at the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching. This guide addresses the issues from this and the previous blog post in more detail, as well as many others not discussed here.

7 Ways Feed Mill Automation Drives ROI

feed mill automation ROI

In any industry, automation is based on goals: solving problems, minimizing risks, and reducing costs. The same is true for feed mill automation. There are a number of ways that feed mill automation can improve the end product and solve or reduce problems throughout the operation. Though some facilities may automate all processes at once, step-by-step automation is also a viable option. Feed mill automation can drive ROI in the following ways, and many of these benefits may occur simultaneously, depending on which process or processes you choose to automate.

7 Ways Feed Mill Automation Drives ROI

1. Reducing Labor Costs

Automation not only ensures that tasks are completed consistently, but also eliminates the need for manual operation. Repetitive tasks no longer require physical labor, and free up manpower for more sophisticated and important jobs. Automation can also protect workers from safety risks, either by removing them from dirty or dangerous environments, or by putting reliable safety controls in place.

Reduce error and improve efficiency. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. Enhanced Production

Enhanced production is one of the most common factors driving ROI in feed mill automation. With the right design and maintenance, automation can streamline processes and remove the need for breaks and pauses. The right machines can also work at a faster rate.

3. Measureable Regulatory Compliance

Feed mill automation can simplify regulatory compliance for rules like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), among others. Track and trace is an important part of FSMA compliance, but can be difficult to accurately implement without systematic controls. Tracking lot numbers manually not only introduces error, but takes up workers’ time and energy. Lot tracing can easily be automated, and it will greatly improve accuracy. With a reliable, automatic system in place tracking where your ingredients came from, what they went into, and where the product ultimately went, you can reduce liability and meet compliance requirements with minimal costs.

4. Consistent Testing

To prevent moisture, toxins and other substances from ruining ingredients and the finished product, proper sampling and testing is essential. With automated sampling and testing, you can gather uniform, accurate information about ingredients and products. Detecting excessive moisture in ingredients from the start will prevent product from being contaminated, and allow you to hold suppliers accountable for defects. Detecting aflatoxins and other harmful substances in ingredients also reduces liability, as well as product loss. With feed mill automation for testing and sampling combined with automated track and tracing, any problems with ingredients or products can be accurately recorded.

5. Reducing Batching Errors

Batching is one of the most common areas for feed mill automation, and often offers the highest initial ROI. By automating your batching and mixing processes, you can substantially reduce error and variation. When your recipe is programmatically controlled, corn, soy, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other additives are each exactly measured. With an easily re-programmable controller, you can even change the recipe without significant downtime.

6. Automatic Routing

Automation of the batching process is usually the first section of the feed mill to be automated, but the addition of downstream routing of material can enhance the payback of the system. If the system has to wait for the operator to setup the routing of material to the downstream packaging or load-out, then valuable production time can elapse while waiting for a route to be selected.

7. HACCP

Through most zones, feed mill automation makes hazard analysis and critical control points easier to regulate and monitor. By gathering more data, more often, with less manpower required, you can get holistic, up-to-date information about your production line. You can also eliminate risks altogether by automating repetitive tasks with a high risk of human error. Automated regulation ensures that critical control points are monitored at the same time, in the same way, with no exceptions.

Before starting or continuing feed mill automation, plan and design your system carefully. Conduct ingredient testing to ensure that the system is suitable for your recipe, and be sure to factor any maintenance costs into your ROI calculations. With the right system automating the right process, you can realize a return quickly and eliminate risks at the same time.

How to Optimize Your Ribbon Mixer

Ribbon mixers in many industries are designed similarly from facility to facility with few variations. However, some design considerations can minimize the up front investment and maintenance, and maximize production and quality. The best way to get optimal efficiency from your ribbon mixer is to get the right design from the start. Depending on your materials, environment and overall mixing system, there may be more to consider than you think.

How to Optimize Your Ribbon Mixer

Compile Ingredients List

Your ingredient characteristics will play a role in several ribbon mixer design elements, and starting with this information will help your equipment manufacturer optimize the design. This way, you will have the size and features you need, without expensive extras. What characteristics you include will depend on whether your ingredients are solid, powder, liquid, or paste. For solids, it’s helpful to know any of the following that apply:

  • Number of ingredients
  • Names
  • Bulk density
  • Weight
  • Particle size variation
  • Adhesion
  • Friability
  • Shear sensitivity

Design the ideal system for your ingredients. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

Record Facility Requirements

In some facilities, space may be a concern. This will impact the footprint and profile of your mixer, which in turn affects volume and production. If you require a large 8 or 10 ton ribbon mixer to meet production, be sure that this will not crowd out other equipment or create workplace hazards.

Calculate Total Production

How much you need to mix will help you determine the size and profile of the ribbon mixer design, or how many mixers you may need. This way, you aren’t investing in a larger mixer than you need, or one that doesn’t make sense with your total cycle time.

Determine Mixing Time

Your ingredients generally must move through the mixer completely three times to be adequately mixed. How long this takes depends on the ribbon mixer dimensions, as well as the ingredient characteristics. To be considered adequately mixed, you’ll need a coefficient of variation of 10 or less. Testing the mixer and the system with your ingredients beforehand will prevent excessive variation, while providing the ideal cycle time.

Record Weighing Time

Minimizing mixing time can yield efficiency gains, but not if the mixer sits idle while ingredients are measured. How long it takes to weigh and discharge ingredients will give you a guideline for the ideal mixing time. If your weighing time and mixing times are close to the same, you can minimize idle time for each process.

Accurate Agitator Profile Design

To get a good mix, you’ll need to fill the ribbon mixer to its swept volume. This means the agitator profile determines, in part, how much the machine can mix in one cycle. The mixer profile should not exceed 2.5 times the diameter of the agitator. The design of the agitator itself, including the ribbon thickness and shaft, may also be a factor, as a heavier agitator will require more energy to move and will have more shear. A simpler agitator design can reduce the initial investment if it’s suitable for the ingredients and facility.

Determine Ribbon Mixer Profile

With the previous information, you can determine the optimal ribbon mixer profile. Longer mixers will be able to mix more volume, but it will take longer, though this won’t be a problem if the cycle times aligns with the weighing time. For lower mixing time and more volume, you’ll need to scale up the ribbon mixer profile proportionately.

Number of Ribbon Mixers

In some cases, it may be more economical to use two ribbon mixers instead of one that is double the size. This way, a problem with one mixer will only reduce production instead of stopping it.

Liquid Coating Considerations

If your ingredients require a liquid coating, you may wish to apply it during the mixing stage. Keep in mind that some liquid coatings may not be evenly applied at this stage, or they liquid may not be suitable for spray nozzles. If the liquid coating can be applied during mixer, be sure to factor in any additional adhesion that may occur. If material stick to each other or to the mixer, extra maintenance may be required, which can eat into ROI.

Determine Shear

Ribbon mixers are generally gentle and impose little shear on ingredients, however it can be an important consideration with some shear sensitive materials. Consider any solid ingredients as well as liquid coatings; are they likely to break apart or separate? Do the ingredients require more shear to break up clumps? Most mixer manufacturers are happy to do testing in order to determine the best configuration for your product.

Accurate Horsepower

Most ribbon mixers operate at around 20 RPMs, though the horsepower it requires will depend on the size of the mixer and the characteristics of the ingredients. Make sure you don’t overestimate your motor and overspend, or underestimate your motor and reduce power to your ribbon mixer.

Install Proper Discharge Gate

The discharge gate on your ribbon mixer(s) will depend on your cycle time, downstream process and your materials. Drop bottom discharge gates will discharge quickly, but they can be harder to seal and allow powders to escape. This can be a challenge for very fine ingredients. Slide gates will discharge more slowly, but will seal more tightly. Multiple slide gates can provide a tight seal with faster discharge.

Reduce Maintenance

The type of gear reducer used in your ribbon mixer motor can impose unnecessary maintenance costs. A shaft reducer in lieu of a jack shaft or foot mount eliminates the need for an oil bath on the sprocket.

Some ribbon mixers are straightforward, and the mixer design varies little over time and throughout the industry. Others are more complex, and considering all the elements can help you improve the design. With the right ribbon mixer design from the start, your mixer will continue to work quietly in the background, with optimal efficiency and no problems.

Solving 5 Common Super Sack Unloader Problems

The right super sack unloader system allows you to measure and process materials quickly and cost-effectively, with very little waste, error or manpower required. Unloading materials may seem like a straightforward process, however the wrong bulk bag discharge system can cause product defects, ingredient loss, and pose workplace safety hazards. The ingredients you’re using as well as the design of your system and the volume processed will all play a role in choosing a safe, effective, durable super sack unloader.

5 Super Sack Unloader Problems and Solutions

1. Design for Space

The first thing to consider with your super sack unloader is the design, which will depend on how you transport the bulk bags, and the design of your facility. Your bulk bag unloader design may be any of the following:

  • Forklift: If you are transporting the bag from the top using a forklift, this will most likely be the easiest and simplest option. This allows a forklift operator to easily load the bag into the frame from the top, with no other steps required.
  • Dedicated Hoist: In some cases a clear path may not be available for a forklift. A dedicated hoist design allows you to secure the bag to support arms and lift, then push it into place. With this design, it is important to motorize the lifting and pushing mechanism to put the bag in place.
  • Bottom Lift: Facilities with low clearance, such as those retrofitting from individual bag unloading, may use a bottom lift mechanism. With this design, a forklift operator can move the super sack and support frame from the bottom and lift it into place with only about half the height needed.

Keep in mind that staff should never be below the bags at any point while loading the bag, as this presents a serious workplace hazard. Though bulk bag failures are uncommon, they do occur.

2. Preventing Bag Deformation

As the ingredients flow out of the bulk bag, it will begin to lose its shape and ingredients will flow slowly, or even stop. There are several ways to stop flow problems, and which you choose will depend on the ingredients you are using and the design of the super sack unloader.

  • Raise the Bag: With vertical clearance available, you can lift the bulk bag support arms as the bag unloads, increasing the flow angle.
  • Retractable Arms: If the arms supporting the super sack are spring-loaded, they will retract as the bag loses tension. This maintains the flow angle.
  • Paddles: Pneumatic paddles at the bottom of the bag can push the ingredients up as the bag discharges. For ingredients with low flow, or for sticky materials prone to clumping, paddles and other flow aid devices are useful.

3. Accounting for Material Characteristics

The characteristics of your materials are also important to consider when choosing your super sack unloader. Some materials are more susceptible to flow problems or segregation, which can cause other problems in the process. How the material flows, its moisture content, whether it is prone to static charge, clumping or flushing, and other characteristics will decide what type of special features your bag unloader may need to be effective.

  • Flushing: Dry, light, free-flowing materials may have a tendency to flush, continuing to flow after shut-off. Pay special attention to the valve or gate below the bag to prevent flushing.
  • Dust: Dry, light materials also tend to produce dust. A ventilation or vacuum system may be required around the bulk bag unloader to prevent dust build-up and workplace safety hazards. When the bag is empty, dust can be trapped inside, so it is also important to tie the empty bag before removing it.
  • Clumping: Adhesive materials may form clumps within the bag, or the bag may become solid if it is compressed. In some cases, a bag liner preventing moisture can stop clumping. Pneumatic rams can break up solid blocks, or paddles can break apart clumps.
  • Static: Very fine materials as well as some plastic resins can become statically charged as they flow, especially in dry conditions. This can cause materials to stick to the sides of the bag or feeder and decrease the feeder capacity. The static charge can also pose a risk to scales, load cells or system controls. Make sure the super sack unloader frame is grounded to prevent static build-up.
  • Moisture: Some materials may need protection against moisture to prevent spoiling or clumping. A bag liner can prevent this, but the bulk bag unloader frame should also secure the bag liner to prevent it from becoming lodged in the feeder.

4. The Right Discharge System

To accurately discharge ingredients, you’ll need to choose the right discharge system using either loss-in-weight or volumetric measurement. Which method you choose will depend on the level of accuracy you require.

  • Loss-in-weight: With load cells mounted underneath the bulk bag base or frame you can measure discharge through the weight of the bag. This is suitable for ingredients in large amounts, but more accurate scales will be required for ingredients discharged at 40 lbs or less with 1% accuracy, based on a one-ton bulk bag.
  • Gain-in-Weight: For more accurate measurements, gain-in-weight measurement may be preferred. In this case, the scale be sized for the actual amount being weighed, so the accuracy can be adjusted to your needs.

5. Meeting Sanitation Requirements

If your materials must meet food grade or other USDA or FDA standards, you’ll need to make sure the super sack unloader and the bag itself are suitable. A bag liner is useful here to protect the materials inside from moisture, damage or contamination. In this case, the frame around the bag should secure both the bag and the liner, or the liner may collapse and enter the feeder. The frame, as well as any surface the materials come into contact with should be made from stainless steel to allow for easy sanitation.

 

With the right bulk bag unloader system, you can process materials quickly, safely, and efficiently. The best way to make sure your system works effectively with your materials, as well as your downstream and upstream processes, is to design and test it properly. Your equipment supplier can help you address these issues and make each part of your system efficient.

18 Batch Mixing System Design Considerations for the Best Dry Solids Mix

batch mixing system ribbon mixer

Producing high-quality finished products from dry solids starts with getting the right mix. Mixers are not one-size-fits-all, and your batch mixing system must be designed with your ingredients, facility, capacity, and other considerations in mind. Without the right mixer, segregation problems, dead zones, an low mixing activity can cause harm to your product. Go through this list of batch mixing system design considerations when working with horizontal ribbon mixers or other dry solids mixers and make sure your mixer works at optimal efficiency.

18 Batch Mixing System Design Considerations for the Best Dry Solids Mix

Individual Batch Mixer Design Considerations

1. Capacity: One of the most important batch mixing system considerations for dry goods is capacity. When working with a ribbon or paddle mixer, the total capacity cannot exceed swept volume (space occupied by the ribbon mixer). Over and under filling can increase the variation in the mix and may also increase the mix time.

2. Time: Many batch mixing systems for dry solids use horizontal ribbon mixers because of their ability to fully mix ingredients in one to two minutes. However, the ideal cycle time for your batch mixing system will depend on the upstream and downstream processes, and the output you wish to achieve. Changing the capacity, profile, or number of mixers in your batch mixing system can help you coordinate timing between processes so all the systems can run simultaneously, maximizing utilization.

3. Mixing Cycles: A rule of thumb for horizontal batch mixers is that the ingredients should move from end to end at least three times. The actual required mix time can vary depending on the ingredients. Not enough circulation will give you an incomplete mix, too much circulation can cause unnecessary breakage or fines generation. Your particular mix should be checked to make sure that you have a complete mix.

4. Mixer Profile: Since ingredients in a horizontal ribbon mixer or paddle mixer move horizontally through the mixer, a longer mixer will lengthen the cycle time. In general, the diameter to length ratio should be between two and two and a half. You’ll need to consider the available footprint and desired production rates to determine the size of the mixer.

5. Motor Horsepower: Ingredient density and capacity will affect the horsepower required for the mixer to run. If the weight is the same, the horsepower requirements will also be the same. However, a low-density mixture might completely fill the mixer but impose only half the weight, while a high-density mixture at full capacity will weigh much more. Choose your motor in your batch mixing system carefully so your mixer has enough power, but isn’t pulling unnecessary energy.

Material Considerations

6. Friability: Horizontal ribbon mixers generally impose a low degree of force on ingredients, but especially friable ingredients can still break apart during mixing. When working with especially friable ingredients in your batch mixing system, paddle mixers may be preferred for a gentler mixing action. The angle of the paddles will also lessen the force of the mixer.

7. Heat and Shear: Ingredients with high shear sensitivity will be subject to heat from the friction of the mixer. If these ingredients have high fat or sugar content, as well as high shear sensitivity, they may melt and stick to the mixer. Sticking ingredients will not only affect the quality of the mix and efficiency of the batch mixing system, but it will also damage the mixer over time. A non-stick coating or stainless steel polish can prevent sticking due to shear sensitivity.

8. Material Bulk Density: To properly calculate capacity, you will need to know the bulk density of all ingredients you’re currently using or expect to use in the future. Keep in mind that low-density ingredients like wheat middlings will take up more space than the same weight of another, denser ingredient like soybean meal.

Maintenance and Safety

9. Ribbon Maintenance: Mixer ribbons can last the lifetime of the mixer, but materials that are abrasive will cause a ribbon to wear down faster. Check the mixer ribbon clearance and thickness at regular intervals. Replace a ribbon before it becomes thin enough to break or the clearances between the ribbon and trough become too large. This will avoid unexpected downtime in your batch mixing system.

10. Motor Maintenance: If you are using a chain and sprocket mechanism to reduce RPMs, you will need to regularly adjust the tension and check the oil bath lubrication system. Using a shaft mount reducer can eliminate the need for this extra maintenance.

11. Safety: If adding ingredients manually to the batch mixing system, the input should be blocked with a bolted grate. Unblocked inputs or removable grates put workers at risk and expose businesses to unnecessary liability. Cultivate a culture of safety and encourage workers to report any maintenance issues or hazards.

Overall Batch Mixing System Considerations

12. Discharge Gate: Several discharge gate options are available depending on your ingredients and downstream processes. A drop bottom gate will release the entire mixture at one time, which is ideal for moving the ingredients fast. However, drop bottom gates must be tightly sealed and seals must be regularly checked to prevent leaks. Slide gates require less stringent seals and hold adjustment better, but they won’t discharge as quickly. Butterfly valves can move product quickly and will require less maintenance, but they can create dead zones over the valve.

batch mixing system drop bottom
A 4 ton ribbon mixer with a drop bottom discharge gate

13. Downstream Processes: Even if your horizontal ribbon mixer or another batch mixer is completely effective, material segregation can occur at any point in the process. Place your mixer as close to extrusion, pelleting, packaging, or another finishing process as possible to limit the opportunities for material segregation to occur. When working with very fine ingredients, make sure powder flow control problems upstream around a hopper or feeder aren’t affecting the batch mixing system.

14. Number of Mixers: Two small mixers may be a better option than one big one. This depends on physical space available and whether a surge hopper is possible in the system. If two mixers are used, then a mixer problem will decrease the output by fifty percent instead of shutting you down
Testing and Verification

15. Testing:  Ask your manufacturer about an on-site ingredient test with your mixer to make sure there are no problems and address any concerns. Test the ingredients at the end to verify the entire process, and immediately after mixing to verify the mixer itself. You may wish to use chemical analysis to test for particular ingredient distribution or micro tracers to test without a lab.

16. Dead Zones: dead zones can form if the mixer is improperly filled (too much or not enough), and can sometimes form in the upper corner of the mixer. Test these areas to ensure dead zones aren’t disrupting the mix.

17. Ribbon Testing: As the ribbon wears down, it will require more time to completely mix all ingredients. If your coefficient of variation has steadily deteriorated, a worn-down ribbon may be the cause. Test your product regularly to avoid this problem.

18. Multiple Formulas: If your batch mixing system is dedicated to a single formula, you’re less likely to run into surprises or problems. However, if multiple different mixtures move through the system, you’ll need to separately calculate bulk density, shear sensitivity, friability and other aspects. A horizontal ribbon mixer or batch mixing system that works optimally for one recipe might not work for another. The solution may be as simple as increasing the mix time for some formulas or decreasing or increasing the batch weight to optimally fill the mixer.

The right batch mixing system design and the right dry solids mixer can reduce downtime, increase efficiency, and eliminate costly maintenance expenses. When designing a batch mixing system, work with your manufacturer to find the right size, volume, power, and design for your materials, facility and process.

Solving Material Segregation in Batch Mixing Processes

material segregation in batch mixing processes

When solid materials mix, a degree of material segregation is inevitable. A variety of processes are used to achieve a predetermined level of uniformity in batch mixing processes, however other processes downstream can cause the materials to separate again. With proper design considerations and awareness of the material segregation physics at work, processes and products can be tested for separation, and product defects can be avoided.

Material Segregation Problems In Batch Mixing Processes

Sifting

How It Works

Scientifically known as granular convection and known in practice as the Brazil nut problem, sifting is one of the most common material segregation problems in batch mixing processes. Sifting occurs mainly through the relationship between the particles’ size and mass; particles significantly larger and more massive (like Brazil nuts) rise to the top of the mixture, and smaller, less massive particles (like cashews) fall between the spaces towards the bottom. It can occur without movement, but movement worsens the problem, since vibration or shaking causes smaller particles to relocate faster into empty spaces. The degree with which this material segregation problem occurs depends on the variation between the particles’ size and mass, and the amount of each.

What You’ll See

Sifting is a material segregation problem impacting many processes. A vibrating conveyor belt can cause sifting, as well as some stirring processes. Even shaking a completed package (like a jar of mixed nuts) can cause this separation.

Angle of Repose

How It Works

The angle of repose material segregation problem in batch mixing processes works similarly to sifting, but operates on a different principle. Instead of sinking to the bottom, smaller, finer particles form a hill when they are poured or dispensed. When thicker, coarser particles reach the hill, they tumble down towards the edges. The materials’ differing angle of repose—the angle at which it will be stable and not tumble down—causes this separation.

What You’ll See

This material segregation problem in batch mixing can be especially difficult. In silos and hoppers it’s often the cause of flow problems like ratholing and bridging. If the coarser particles stick to the sides of the hopper they can get rancid and contaminate the next batch. Since air flows through the coarse and fine materials at different levels when they are dispensed, it can create a pressure differential that can damage a holding unit, such as a silo. Most commonly in batch mixing, the material segregation causes different concentrations of ingredients when the mixture is dispensed from an improperly designed hopper.

Fluidization

How It Works

Fluidization occurs when a mixture is suspended in a gas or liquid. In batch mixing processes, this material segregation problem most commonly occurs in plain old air. When a mixture is aerated (which may occur simply through free falling), the finer, less dense particles retain air and move towards the top of the mixture, while the larger, denser particles which didn’t absorb air sink.

What You’ll See

This material segregation problem in batch mixing commonly occurs in powder ingredients. If the powder does not bind sufficiently to another material, it will separate through fluidization if aerated or allowed to free-fall. With all the powder at the top, the uniformity and product quality can be compromised. Fluidization, combined with the previous two material segregation problems, also poses workplace safety risks from powder explosions and respiratory hazards as large amounts of powders separate into the air.

Trajectory Segregation

How It Works

Unlike the previous three material segregation problems, trajectory segregation occurs through horizontal movement. This occurs by two different principles. In a fluid mixture, trajectory segregation occurs through a relationship between particle size, density, viscosity, and velocity. Particles with the same viscosity and velocity, but different size or density will travel at different rates. This causes the mixture to seperate.

In a solid mixture, trajectory segregation occurs through friction. Finer materials with more surface area and therefore more friction move slower and will deposit closer to the end of the horizontal path. Larger materials with less surface area and less friction move faster and deposit further.

What You’ll See

This material segregation problem in batch mixing processes commonly occurs in ribbon blenders and conveyors or chutes. In ribbon blenders, the particles in a fluid suspension separate in the blender due to their differing size or density. In chutes and conveyors, friction causes the materials to move at different rates, creating a pile of fine materials near the end of the chute and coarse materials further away.

Material Segregation Solutions In Batch Mixing Processes

Ingredient Testing

In order to solve material segregation problems in batch mixing processes, the materials and processes must be well understood. Knowing the particles’ density, size, mass and other properties can help you predict how the materials will segregate. While designing process automation equipment, ask your manufacturer if they will conduct ingredient testing for angle of repose, sifting capacity, and other issues. With this information, your manufacturer can design equipment to prevent material segregation problems in batch mixing processes.

Material Segregation Testing

When testing material segregation in existing batch mixing processes, make sure to test accurately. Remember that material segregation in the end product will also affect any tests on the end product. Use a sample thief or a riffler to get samples that accurately represent the whole, and see where and to what extent problems exist in the process chain. Remember to check the coefficient of variation at different points of the process, not just at the mixer, to see if your downstream process is causing segregation.

Feed Bin Design

Angle of repose problems are most commonly caused by an improperly designed feed bin and hopper. Using a mass flow hopper designed according to the materials’ angle of repose will prevent the mix from dispensing unevenly. In general, an angle of at least 70 degrees is recommended. Hopper inserts or low-traction coatings can also be used.

Mixing And Blending

Mixing and blending processes should be carefully selected and placed. The wrong mixer or blender can actually cause materials to separate through trajectory segregation. If the mixer is placed too early in the process, the materials may simply resegregate downstream. Placing a mixer immediately before dispensing can mitigate segregation effects.

Coating

Many material segregation problems only occur in free-flowing mixtures. Adding a binder can stop problems like sifting, though other problems like sticking and clogging should also be considered.

Agitation

Aeration or vibration can remix some materials, particularly if they are separated in a silo or hopper. With both of these methods, be careful not to introduce sifting or fluidization.

New Materials

More drastic differences between materials cause more drastic material segregation problems in batch mixing processes. If your materials are especially coarse, or a large variation between particle size and density exists, talk with your supplier about material quality. Or, consider additional processing to a diverse material; would adding another process for more material uniformity prevent material segregation problems? Would it be cost-effective?


Material segregation may occur in areas that operators never see. This means you might only see the results in low product quality or contamination. You might also experience repeated processing problems and machine errors due to clogging, flooding, low flow and other issues. If you’ve noticed these issues, assess your batch mixing processes and see where material segregation problems may occur. Once you identify the problem, a simple fix may increase product quality significantly.

5 Powder Flow Control Problems And Solutions

powder flow control problems and solutions

Powder flow problems cause frustration and hours of expensive downtime. They can also damage machines, create backups, and produce sub-par products. Some types of materials, machines, and working conditions make powder flow problems more likely. We’ve identified the most common powder flow control problems and flow control solutions to help you solve these troublesome inefficiencies.

5 Most Common Powder Flow Problems and Flow Control Solutions

1. Problem: No Flow

Under normal operating conditions, the material should flow through the system without interruption. If no-flow alerts are a regular occurrence, the system is not optimally designed for either the material or the environment. This may occur in environments with high humidity, materials with high moisture content, solid materials that are irregularly shaped, or materials with certain coatings.

Solution: Agitation

Depending on the cause of the no-flow problem, a few solutions are available.

  • A mechanical agitator before feeder entry
  • Vibrator added to hopper
  • Air pads to aerate product

Each of these are long-term solutions that will ultimately save your time and money by eliminating downtime. When making these upgrades, make sure to conduct proper testing. Consider carefully where and how to mount the devices, and how often they should operate to be most effective.

2. Problem: Low Flow

This powder flow problem may go unnoticed for long periods since it doesn’t directly cause downtime. However, insufficient flow can affect all downstream systems. Low flow maybe be caused by obstructions above the feeder, or misalignments. This may also occur if the materials are too thick or the feeder is too small.

Solution: Bigger or faster feeder

The ideal flow control solutions for this problem will either expand the feeder to increase volume at slower speeds, or speed up the feeder to push more material through faster.

  • Upgrade to larger feeder
  • Add variable frequency drive
  • Change reducer on drive

3. Problem: Decreasing Flow

Some powder flow problems do not cause a sudden stop, but rather a slow reduction in material flow. Unlike other powder flow problems which are caused by materials sticking together, this is generally caused by materials sticking to the feeder because of static build-up.

Solution: Eliminate static

This is particularly common problem in fast-moving, dry materials, but flow control solutions to this problem are generally easy to implement.

  • Ground the feeder frame to prevent static build-up
  • Use electro-polish on feeder
  • Add Teflon coating to feeder

4. Problem: Material flooding

If too much material is getting through or the material floods after shut-off, this can also cause production problems downstream, or result in inconsistent products. These flow control solutions create the opposite effect of the previous three, but they are implemented in similar ways.

Solution: Slower, interrupted feed

Upgrading the hopper or attached systems can stop flushing and flooding.

  • Vent hopper to reduce aeration
  • Install slide gate or butterfly valve at discharge point
  • Smaller feeder
  • Lower drive speed
  • Incline the feeder

5. Problem: Damage to feeder

If your system takes more damage and needs more repairs than comparable equipment, the materials or the system may be to blame. This may be a bulk solids or powder flow problem, and it can be caused by too much abrasion or improper system construction.

Solution: Slower speeds, stronger system

This flow control solution can be implemented by either slowing down the product or reinforcing the system.

  • Lower drive speed
  • Install larger feeder to slow materials
  • Add liner or coating to system

If you’ve inherited a system that constantly sees problems, or your materials have changed and it’s created new issues, consider these solutions. If you’re building a new system, take advantage of testing and proper construction beforehand and these powder flow problems will never occur. With the right material testing before installation, you can be sure that your system is made for your materials before it arrives.