How Automation Can Help Increase Bulk Material Handling Efficiency

Logistics Tech Outlook | Thursday, November 25, 2021

Automation provides numerous opportunities to increase the efficiency of bulk material handling.

FREMONT, CA: From the first assembly line to the sophisticated robotics used today, automated technology is meant to increase the efficiency of processes. Efficiency can be defined as increasing equipment uptime, minimizing unplanned downtime, or simply speeding up a process. Bulk material handling automation can be employed at various production phases and with a variety of different materials. Here are a few examples of how one can utilize automation to increase the efficiency of bulk material handling.

Routing Automatically

Automatic routing contributes to the smooth operation of upstream and downstream operations. Automatic downstream routing ensures that the completed product is routed to the appropriate finishing bin. Automating this step can increase the system's overall efficiency by eliminating human error and delays. Suppose an operator is busy with another activity and cannot correctly route the system. In that case, the bin will fill, and the operation will halt, as the material will have nowhere to go. Automatic downstream routing will redirect material to the next bin as soon as the previous one reaches capacity, ensuring that the operation continues smoothly.

Automatic upstream routing works similarly, except that it is used for raw components rather than finished goods. As raw materials are transported and distributed, automated upstream routing directs them to the correct container. These automated processes increase the efficiency of bulk material handling during processing and significantly improve the accuracy and efficiency of record-keeping, tracking, and tracing.

Monitoring of Machines

Automation can increase the efficiency of bulk material handling by boosting uptime but also by minimizing unplanned downtime. Preventive maintenance and machine monitoring are two methods for accomplishing this. This not only avoids unplanned shutdowns caused by machine fault but also helps prevent harmful situations that endanger facilities and employees.

Sensors can monitor the operation of a mixer, grinder, conveyor, or other device and warn operators of potential problems. The most popular methods are amp draw, vibration, and temperature. A sensor may measure amp draw to determine when a motor is operating at an excessive rate. This could indicate that the load is too heavy or the material is too thick, which could occur if the material in the process changes, the material becomes wet and adheres to the machine, the scale is off and dispenses an excessive amount of material, the motor requires maintenance, or another cause could exist. While the sensor will not diagnose the problem, it will indicate that one exists before the motor overheats and ultimately fails.

Additionally, shutdown conditions can be avoided by monitoring vibration or the temperature of a machine's bearings. For instance, if a grinder, conveyor, or other machine vibrates significantly, this could suggest an imbalanced load, the introduction of a foreign object, or the need for repair on another component of the machine. A sensor will automatically detect this issue and notify an operator. Sensors that monitor the temperature of bearings can pick up on even more severe problems. Bearings that are not properly oiled, damaged, or impacted by a foreign object or condition might overheat due to high friction. This can become a fire or explosion ignition device during bulk material handling, particularly with fine particles. Temperature monitoring sensors will identify this issue before it escalates into a hazard.

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