For one Aberdeenshire manufacturer exporting grain dryers, the implementation of technology has nullified the effects of Covid lockdown restrictions. Alex Heath reports.
Over the course of the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on many businesses, not least those which are required to travel to conduct installations and servicing.
One such company which has encountered challenges as a result of travel restrictions is Aberdeenshire-based grain dryer manufacturer Graintek. However, employing technology has helped it overcome such hurdles.
Kenny Addison, managing director of the company, says the pandemic has sped up the employment of technology, leading the company to reassess its connectivity offering.
Traditionally, the company would have fitted SIM card modems to dryers, allowing owners and operators to remotely view and control the dryers. However, Mr Addison says WiFi modems are now used for their ability to transfer more data and allow for remote commissioning of facilities.
He says a recent commissioning was carried out of a 5,500 hectare farm in northern Estonia. The company has a strong following in Estonia, with 20 dryers in the past 11 years heading for the country, supplied through regional dealer RV OU.
However, with the harvest imminent and lockdown restriction hampering efforts to get to the Baltic state, a change of plan was needed.
Mr Addison says: “This latest installation was one of our biggest projects to date, with a 10-metre control panel part of the puzzle.
"With 193 motors to control, the large panel covers four walls in the control room, with over 2,000 signal wires coming in and out of the panel. To simplify transport logistics it was formed in two U-shapes with wires all ready to connect in-situ.
“Because of the amount of information that needs to be displayed, instead of small screens built into the panels, we opted for a wall-mounted 65-inch TV screen, making it easier and clearer to show more data.”
The panel oversees the running of the 80-tonne per hour split column 10-20 Tornado dryer, also supplied by Graintek. In addition, 33 conveyors and 13 elevators are wired up to the panel, ferrying grain to and from 21 silos.
Being a split column design, the dryer can be run in batch or continuous modes. It can also be shut in half, offering a reduced capacity of 40t/hour when needed, says Mr Addison.
The dryer is run on gas, rather than diesel or oil as is more common in the UK.
Measuring 15m in height, the dryer is cladded and insulated, increasing its efficiency and eliminating condensation, adds Mr Addison.
“Insulated with 50mm of rock wool, the dryers are designed in such a way that the smooth side of the dryer walls is on the inside, with joining angles on the outside leading to better crop flow.
"With 294 square metres of surface area, 130 sq.m of which is the hot area, the heat escape if uninsulated is massive, but from studies of our smaller dryers, the increase in efficiency is significant when a layer is added around it.
“Typically a 30t/hr uninsulated dryer will lose at least 20,000 kw of heat energy per harvest. This equates to 1,800 litres of fuel. The hot air plenum roof alone, the hottest outer surface, if uninsulated could lose up to 600 litres,” he adds.
With a similar harvesting climate to the UK, Estonian farms need spare drying capacity, with the country recording one of its wettest harvests to date, says Mr Addison.
“With hold ups due to Covid, the farm already had a couple of thousand tonnes waiting to be dried, with crop coming into the yard at 20 per cent and above.”
This particular installation is used for drying wheat and barley predominantly, with an on-site seed treatment plant also fed from the silos.
On the technology front, Mr Addison says there has been a shift to more remote control.
“Sim card modems were always used in the past, but gave a limited amount of features. You could look at the performance of the dryer and check it was working from a laptop or mobile phone, but could not control it.
"Switching to WiFi allows the customer to control and programme the dryer remotely. It is of particular benefit to ourselves as we can look at the programming and make any changes that need to be done, check up on faults and ensure everything is running smoothly. Now all our dryers go out with it, whether they are UK or overseas customers.
“We use a programme called AnyDesk that allows us to access the dryer’s computer and remotely programme it. In addition, keeping in contact with the installation team via Zoom and other video conferencing software allowed us to fit and set the dryer up without leaving the office in Aberdeenshire.”
Through the use of technology, the company has been able to install and commission one of its largest dryer and control systems to date, remotely from 1,000 miles away.
The coronavirus pandemic has sped up the implementation of technology to control and remotely access the computers used to run the system.
However, Mr Addison says it has changed the way the company will work in the future, enabling it to offer quick resolution to any faults which may occur.