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Grain processing control solution

15 April 2016

Food Processing looks at an optimised control solution for a grain processing plant and finds out what benefits this has offered. 

The methods used to process grain are similar, whether it be wheat, barley, rapeseed, maize or sunflower seeds. Consequently, the solutions manufactured by Getreide-Fulliners Neuero Farm- und Fördertechnik (Neuero) need to be able to process a variety of cereals. 

An important step in grain processing is its storage and processing, immediately after harvesting. Neuero specialises in all aspects of grain processing – including the storage, cleaning, drying, cooling, ventilation, and milling of the cereals. Depending on the size and complexity of the system, the conveyers can transport between 20 and 200 tons of grain per hour. During the construction of a particularly complex project in Romania, Neuero took the opportunity to further optimise control technology. Control systems, control units and electronic motor starters, supplied by Eaton, played a key role in this optimisation which helped the company to develop compact, reliable and long-lasting systems. 

The main challenge in the construction of this particular system was the size – with an average of 200 tons of grain to be processed each hour and a total of nine silos with a storage capacity of 2,000 tons each, the processes are much more complex than in smaller systems. Trucks of grain arrive at the plant; the grain must then be transported for processing along trough chain conveyers to the various silos and undergo associated processing operations; starting with storage, then cleaning and drying all the way up to the final stage – the milling of the grain. The grains may also be cooled and ventilated before leaving the plant again via truck or ship. 

Varied steps
The order of the steps in the process varies depending on the condition of the grains and the application-specific requirements. For example, the drying process only takes place when measurements indicate a high degree of moisture, and cooling takes place only when sensors detect that the temperature in the silos is too high. “Even in a complex system like the one in Romania, there are potentially hundreds of transportation routes which, if needed, must all function smoothly,” explained Udo Sengenhorst, an electrical engineer responsible for automation technology at Neuero. “Even if only around 20 of these routes are used regularly, we must be prepared for all eventualities.”

In addition to the complexity of the process, the durability of the technical components also plays a role. “We build systems that are used for an average of 30-40 years,” continued Sengenhorst. “In addition, due to the enormous time pressures of the harvest season, during that time the systems are almost constantly in use. The harvest season in Romania, for example, runs approximately from June to December – a good six months. When the trucks full of harvested crops arrive at the plant, there isn’t much time available for maintenance work.” 

Scalability for automation
As the complexity of the system increases, so too do the control technology requirements. In practice, the large number of conveyers also means that there are a large number of flaps and slides which ensure the grain follows the correct route as it is moved between silos. 

For comprehensive control of small systems, Neuro typically uses the HMI/PLC XV-102 from Eaton, whichunites PLC and control elements in a single device. In the case of the Romanian system, which requires more processing power and storage space, the company opted for an advanced solution. Here, the XV-152 serves purely as an operating panel and enables on-site visualisation, while the PLC XC-152 in the switch cabinet assumes the control functions. Programming is simple in accordance with the CoDeSys standard, while the intuitive configuration environment Galileo enables Neuero to easily create visualisation. The system can easily be remotely maintained using RemoteClient. “Practically, we could easily transfer the software code from the XV-102 to the XC-152. The fact that both controls use the same programming proved to be a huge advantage in terms of time for us in this large system,” explained Sengenhorst. 

With over 25 slides and approximately ten valve boxes, there are many actuators to control. The normally 0.12 or 0.18 kW motors move the flaps and slides to the left or right in order to move the grain into the right channels. “With such a large number of actuators, it was particularly important to us that the motors are controlled efficiently. For that reason, we decided to use electronic motor starters from Eaton,” said Sengenhorst. 

The electronic motor starter (EMS) is a multifunctional component. It combines four functions – motor direct start, motor reversing start, motor protection and the safety-related shutdown of an actuator. As such, it can replace several conventional pieces of switching equipment in the switch cabinet. It is, therefore, possible to reduce the wiring work by up to 60% and the number of hardware components by up to 70%. At the same time, the end user saves valuable installation space. The integrated push-in terminal technology, which allows for tool-free clamping and releasing of the main and control power connectors, simplifies installation.

At Neuero, the EMS is primarily used as a reversing load relay with integrated motor protection. With a power range of 0.06 – 3 kW, the device is capable of moving all the actuators for the flaps and slides reliably in both directions. If blockages or impurities in the material conveyed overload one of the actuators, the EMS safely turns this off before damage can be caused.
After the implementation of the project the system proved itself in the first season by processing 136,000 tons of wheat, barley, rapeseed, maize and sunflower seeds. Sengenhorst is also happy with the automation technology: “Saving space was particularly important to us. It gives us an advantage when we want to retrofit parts in a system. By way of comparison, in conventional wiring, we need two paddles that are around 10cm wide. However, the electronic reversing load relay only requires 3cm of space. This means over the entire system, we have saved ourselves an entire switch cabinet.” 

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