Integrating automation into portable plants

By |  August 7, 2017

The 21st century marks an age of instant information with the prevalence of digital technologies such as smartphones and tablets.

“We live in the age of quick information,” says Barry McMenamin, group electrical engineering manager at Terex, Powerscreen’s parent company. “At home if you want to find something out, you can Google it on a smartphone.”

The need to have information sooner extends into aggregate operations. More often, aggregate producers expect to have information quickly on what is happening with their equipment.

“Customers are starting to see digital technologies at home,” says Tim Conklin, mobile controls engineer at IFM Efector Inc., a Screen Machine Industries supplier. “For example, the iPhone came out in 2007, but since then people have become used to having smart technology. They also expect to see certain things automated in the industry.”

With digital technologies being commonplace, manufacturers are also trying to make them a norm on equipment. Within the past five to 10 years, an increasing number of manufacturers have started to offer automation and telematics tools for portable plants and other equipment, according to Matt Brinkman, director of engineering at Screen Machine.

“More people are used to digital technologies and almost expect these technologies when new products come out,” Brinkman says. “The industry is more comfortable with technology components, so we need to get on board and meet that need.”

Screen Machine integrated a programmable mobile controller on its 4043TR recirculating impact crusher as a way to help users monitor machine diagnostics and meet the demand for telematics. Other companies have also released similar tools, such as Powerscreen’s Powerscreen Pulse, a remote monitoring system that informs users of a machine’s GPS location, start times, stop times, fuel consumption and maintenance statuses.

Although these tools aren’t essential to the operation of a portable plant, they can help to make things run more efficiently.

“Sometimes it takes people a while to grow into technology,” McMenamin says. “Consider smartphones: You didn’t realize you needed one until you had one. People need to touch and feel this technology before they can realize its use. Customers might not understand the technology on day one, but overall feedback has been positive [with Powerscreen Pulse].”

Integrating automation

Screen Machine developed a programmable mobile controller for its 4043TR recirculating impact crusher as a way to monitor machine diagnostics. Photos courtesy of Haver & Boecker

The integration of automation, telematics and other software tools on portable plants allows for improved efficiency and cost savings, according to several portable plant manufacturers developing these tools. P.W. Gillibrand Co. Inc., a specialty sand and aggregate producer in Simi Valley, California, has experienced some of these benefits, as the producer recently purchased Haver & Boecker’s NIAflow software to help with one of its dry screening plants.

P.W. Gillibrand had transitioned a dry screening plant from screening a finer glass sand to a coarser product, yet that led to inefficiencies in the screening process. The producer recognized there was a need to change the way it loaded the screens, so it implemented NIAflow to assist with the transitions, find a new way to arrange the sequence of screens and create a better balance of feed size distribution.

“We’re using it to identify plant inefficiencies and look for opportunities for process changes to give us higher confidence levels,” says Marty Young, director of process improvement at P.W. Gillibrand.

It is still early for Young to gauge the overall effectiveness of the software’s impact on the screening plant, but he plans to use the software as it’s needed in other applications at the Simi Valley location.

While software such as NIAflow does not directly influence machines, it does provide users with a forecast on how to improve the machines, according to Haver & Boecker.

“The tool calculates many, many scenarios for users,” says Joachim Hoppe, general manager of the Haver Mining Division at Haver & Boecker. “And today, everything is getting quicker and faster, so this is what people are looking for.”

With portable plants in particular, tools such as NIAflow can prove to be critical, according to Hoppe.

“Space is critical,” Hoppe says. “With a mobile plant, you have to design things to a point. You have to optimize your equipment more with portable plants.”

Future of automation

While tools like NIAflow come separate from the plants they are working with, some portable plant manufacturers are taking steps to fully embed automation or telematics tools into the plants themselves. Such is the case with Powerscreen Pulse, which is embedded on the company’s newer plants, such as the Trakpactor 500.

“This type of technology is going to be embedded into equipment someday,” McMenamin says. “That might become expected to be there. We embedded it in the crushing product as standard so customers get it on the equipment. Others offer this type of option, but I think everyone will eventually get on the ball of embedding it into their equipment.”

In addition, some predict automation and telematics tools could offer more energy monitoring and predictive maintenance features in the future.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if machines could connect with manufacturers directly when they need a replacement part instead of the user having to take the time to call the manufacturer?” Conklin adds.

Others predict smartphone apps could be integrated with portable plant automation and telematics systems down the road.

“I think in the future we will continue to collect more and more information,” Hoppe says. “We may have apps providing us with immediate information on how an operation is doing or a forecast on when maintenance is necessary to avoid unexpected shutdowns.

“I’ve seen that optimization is becoming more important. I would say that is the key of the future.”

About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at or 216-363-7930.

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