Agribusiness & Food

Sowing the seeds of good design

Drawing on the knowledge of hundreds of engineers, agricultural equipment manufacturer AGI works with its customers to come up with the best design for the job.

One of the first things AGI’s engineering team looks at when designing a bulk handling system is the actual commodity being handled.

This approach makes perfect sense in the context of the agricultural industry, which features dozens of different bulk materials, each with its own unique handling requirements that need to be considered.

Chickpeas, for example, are very light when compared with fertiliser, which is a much denser product. Canola flows like water, which makes it easier to move and consequently get into places within machinery that can cause damage.

Given so many variables, AGI works closely with clients to determine exactly what they are looking to get out of its solution, according to the company’s Australia and New Zealand business manager Peter Forster.

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“We look at the volume that they want to put through it, the local conditions, how often it will run and how easy it is to service and maintain,” he said. “It’s important to get materials handling right. A conveyor or silo is going to be moving and storing your product every day, so if something goes wrong the client will have a time-consuming problem to deal with that can impact their outputs and profits.”

Finding out exactly where the equipment will be located is a key element in the design process. AGI is a global company, operating across North America, Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia. Its engineering teams can draw on a massive network to determine what will need to be included to fit the local region.

Conditions will differ between the cold and wet Canadian conditions, the humid conditions of Indonesia and the dry heat of the Australian outback. Humid conditions can make material stick to the casings and the belt and will often require additional scrapers and shakers.

Coastal areas are often windy and salt spray can cause havoc for steel structures, which is why AGI uses wind maps of Australia to determine the average and peak wind speeds. In extreme cases, the company can even build a shed around the equipment to protect it from the corrosive environment.

Seismic activity is also taken into account, especially in New Zealand. Forster said AGI’s equipment could be designed to decouple, meaning the entire system doesn’t tear itself apart in the event of a tremor.

“A great illustration of how important designing for seismic activity is, can be seen in Christchurch,” he said. “There’s a straight road there that shifted left by about five metres when the tectonic plates shifted. Our silo near there went through one of the largest earthquakes we’ve seen, but because it had gone through all the codes and testing, it’s still standing there today.”

AGI services the agricultural industry at several levels of scale, ranging from 24–7 milling operations and international ports to on-farm storage. Each operation will have different needs from its equipment, which AGI provides.

In large-scale operations, the company can build massive silos and conveyors that are rugged and powerful enough to move tonnes of material at high speeds around the clock.

This is scaled down significantly on farms. Often farmers will want to avoid damaging the produce and are willing to sacrifice some speed and throughput to do so. AGI can provide wider belts and gentler equipment to accommodate these types of needs.

When it comes to motors, AGI works with a site’s maintenance staff to find out their preference. Some maintenance staff prefer V belts, as they are easier to maintain, while others want direct drives for improved efficiency.

Forster said AGI provided meticulous design drawings that undergo a stringent approvals process to help ensure sites implement the right drive.

“We take them through everything, from quotes to detailed design and implementation,” he said.

“Safety and easy to access equipment are vital, as well. We look at what we need to do, whether its installing walkways and platforms, cameras and accelerometers, or adding doors to places that need easy access.

“Going forward, we even help out with fault finding technology through AGI Digital hardware and software.”

AGI SureTrack software is designed to enable farmers to make the most of their existing resources and help producers effectively manage inventories. It uses data to inform seed selection, irrigation and field management decisions and grain management.

The data can be used to detect when something has gone wrong, such as belts slipping or increased heat in bearings, to allow operators solve any issues before they escalate.

Forster said the technology was evolving and will continue to grow as more clients begin to use it.

“We’ve seen it go onto several port facilities successfully and uptake on farms is growing. Bulk handlers want timely, reliable, accessible information to help the automate the smaller decisions,” he said.

“We’re also expanding our Asia team and have more design capabilities in the region, meaning we can offer more support and equipment.”

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