Use case about the added value of smart silos,
IIoT is making silos smart. This use case shows how sensors helped one sand mining company to manage their mobile silos more efficiently.
As soon as a mobile sand silo is delivered to a construction site, the sand mining company no longer has any control over it. Now it’s the customer who is responsible for estimating the sand consumption and for ordering sand in time. The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) enables you to make your silos smarter. Sensors provide exact GPS coordinates and feedback consumption to the cloud, enabling the sand mining company to manage the silo park automatically.
When sand is ordered from a sand mining company, trucks deliver the silos to the specific construction sites. This sand is used, for example, for sandblasting bridges or building facades.
The customer has to estimate how much sand they need for a particular job, and ask for sand to be replenished at regular intervals. If they do not order new sand in time, or the team uses more sand than expected, operations will come to a halt and new sand has to be ordered and delivered in a hurry.
Another problem is that, during the annual inventory, several silos are always impossible to find. Sometimes they resurface – long after the deadline – but they are often lost forever. Since silos are worth several tens of thousands of euros, the annual costs are quite high.
One solution to these bottlenecks is the use of connected silos. Cegeka first analysed the added value of real-time location monitoring of the silos for the sand mining company and the customer.
Using the right industrial sensor turns out to offer a lot of possibilities. After all, a GPS sensor guarantees a real-time view of the silo's location. The selected sensor also has a tilt and shock sensor, so the back-end receives a notification when it is placed horizontally on the truck.
During transport, the back-end receives new GPS coordinates, automatically informing the customer of the estimated delivery time. If the silo is placed vertically on arrival, the tilt sensor will again send a notification to the back-end. The customer is also automatically notified, allowing construction work to start immediately.
Linking silos to the ERP system makes it possible to verify that the right product has been delivered to the right location. Invoicing can also be done automatically.
Finally, the solution makes it easy to find missing sand silos and to check which silos have not been used for a long time so that they can be transported to another site to temporarily fill sand shortages.
The second option Cegeka proposed was to measure the filling degree. Cegeka analysed a wide range of sensor techniques to measure sand volumes. Given the harsh industrial environment and the presence of abrasive sand, only a limited number of sensors offer a reliable solution. These sensors are welded into the top of the silos. Literally looking down at the sand, they constantly calculate the volume by measuring the height of the sand. When all erroneous measurements have been removed, feedback is sent to the back-end.
A filling degree sensor is extremely valuable, both for the sand mining company and for the end customer. This is because it allows you to make adequate predictions about sand consumption, which helps prevent a construction site from running out of sand. If we also link the sensor to the ERP system, the customer can then schedule and process replenishment orders automatically, which reduces their workload considerably.
In addition, the advanced insights gained from these sensors are opening the door to new business models. IIoT-connected silos enable sand mining companies to evolve towards 'sand as a service', which involves the customer buying sand under a specific SLA.
‘By integrating the IIoT solution with an ERP system, sand consumption can be predicted and silos can be replenished in time.’Kim Rymenants, Sales Director at Cegeka
While installing sensors on and in silos may look straightforward, we cannot underestimate the complexities involved. For instance, abrasive sand is blown into the silo under high pressure at the sand mining company's site, which can damage sensitive equipment. The silos are transported horizontally, which puts a lot of pressure on the sensors, so they have to be very sturdy. The sensor batteries must offer a minimum of two years of service. And the sensors must be able to transmit data wirelessly, both nationally and preferably internationally.
Based on clients’ business requirements, Cegeka analyses the best sensors offered by its partners. After consultation with the company, the sensors are installed during the periodic maintenance of the silos. Cegeka can also provide the necessary support for the rollout and management of the sensors and/or smart silos.
To get the most out of these sorts of sensors, we need to embed them in an end-to-end IIoT solution. For example, a platform in the cloud can be created on Microsoft Azure, where the data from all the sensors can be accessed in real time. Algorithms can quickly analyse the data to make the right decisions. With its extensive experience, Cegeka can take care of the necessary integration.
Additionally, Cegeka can provide the much-needed connectivity between the sensors and the internet. A LPWAN Sigfox network is often the preferred choice for mobile silos. In the case of fixed silos, a local network is of more interest. Or, telecom operator Citymesh – a division of the Cegeka Group – can help set up a private 4G and 5G network.
To test the end application, Cegeka first sets up a proof of concept with a few silos. An evaluation follows after a few months. If the results are positive, scaling up is possible in the very short term.
‘An integrator like Cegeka – running everything from sensor to backend – plays an important role in the rollout of IIoT solutions.’Kim Rymenants, Sales Director at Cegeka
It goes without saying that smart silos are not only a promising development for sand mining companies. Other industrial companies can also benefit from connected silos as this technology has applications for the cement industry, manufacturing industry (e.g. the supply of plastic granulate to extrusion machines), tanks containing liquids, silos for storing flour in the food sector or silos for bulk storage.
It is also possible to add temperature, acidity, viscosity and humidity to the range of measured values. For instance, agricultural companies can also monitor the quality of goods and even prevent silo explosions by taking preventive safety measures. Companies using large engines can, for example, monitor lubrication oil tanks to avoid engine failure.
Thanks to its extensive experience in many different industries, Cegeka is able to determine the most promising applications for each type of silo.
Advantages of a filling degree sensor
Advantages of a positioning sensor
Then we'd love to invite you to our in-depth Discovery Workshop. Working with your Operational and Information Technology department, our experts will be happy to take the time to explore the added value this technology could bring your company.