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Soybeans keep flowing with the VEGAMIP microwave barrier switch


Soybeans are big business in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates world soybean production in the 2019/2020 market year will be near 355 million metric tons, and the United States is forecast to produce about a third of it. Most of those soybeans are destined for a processing plant where they’re turned into soybean oil for food companies or soybean meal for animal feed processors.

Dust, buildup, and temperature swings slow things down

A major grain processor located in Indiana goes through 140,000 bushels, or roughly 3,825 metric tons every day. Processing that many beans in a day means you can’t afford to slow down your process, let alone stop it. Unfortunately, this processor was dealing with stoppages and shutdowns because the measurement technology they were using to monitor the flow of beans wasn’t always reliable.

The beans move through the process in chutes, which need to keep flowing. If there’s a chute plug, it can temporarily shut down the process, and if it goes unnoticed for too long, it can lead to a shutdown, bringing everything to a screeching halt. This facility was using point level capacitance probes to monitor for chute plugs. Once the chute became blocked, the soybeans backed up and triggered the capacitance switches to notify operators of a plugged chute.

These probes were continually exposed to the soybeans and the resultant dust, and the buildup on the capacitance probes would produce false signals. Plus, when the seasons changed – as they often do in Indiana – the sensors required adjustments. These false signals and seasonal adjustments added up in time and money spent on maintenance. Operators needed something resistant to the nuisances slowing things down.

Products at a glance:

Non-contact measurement for non-maintenance

With regular and substantial buildup from soybean dust and the abrasive soybeans causing wear and tear, a non-contact measurement solution would be an ideal option for this application. VEGA representatives knew they had the right technology since they immediately suggested VEGAMIP microwave barrier switches.

At this particular facility, the soybean chutes are lined with ceramic, because ceramic can withstand the abrasive nature of the soybeans. It just so happens ceramic is also a non-conductive material, which means a VEGAMIP transmitter and receiver could be mounted completely externally, and the signal could still penetrate the chute and read the inner contents. Once the VEGAMIP transmitter and receiver were mounted and commissioned, it began monitoring the falling product. A time delay was set to avoid false trips from the falling product and only respond when the chute was blocked. The Midwestern grain processing facility was finally receiving accurate and reliable early chute plug notifications.

VEGAMIP microwave barrier switches are mounted externally, so abrasion and buildup were no longer issues. The ongoing, constant maintenance required with the point level capacitance probes quickly became a thing of the past. Plus, the VEGAMIP uses microwave signals, which operate the same regardless of weather, and there’s no need for an adjustment when the seasons change.

There are now 25 VEGAMIP transmitters and receivers on soybean chutes across the facility. Operators no longer receive false signals, and they’re able to clear plugs as soon as they happen, minimizing downtime and ensuring customers continue to receive a steady supply of soybean oil and soybean meal.

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