Bin monitoring system detects everything from heat to humans

The new GrainViz technology is so sensitive, it can identify and trigger alarms when it detects anything from the smallest bug to a trapped human in a grain bin.

The latest version of GrainViz technology was unveiled in Winnipeg Dec. 12. At the same news conference, GrainViz co-founder and vice-president Boyd Koldingnes announced that his company had formed a partnership with GSI.

This exclusive technology partnership means the small Winnipeg company will bring its cutting edge high-tech grain management system to the global market via Agco, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of agricultural equipment.

Koldingnes says the deal means GrainViz will concentrate on developing the monitoring technology while GSI focuses on marketing it.

GrainViz uses radios mounted inside bin walls to broadcast and receive signals that translate into three-dimensional images of heat and moisture and potential problems within a bin.

Various monitors have given producers valuable information on heat and moisture for decades, but they depend on sensors and cables hung in the bin. Even though use of these sensors is nearly universal, spoilage rates still average three to seven percent.

GrainViz creates three-dimensional images of moisture conditions within the bin using 24 radio antennae mounted around the circumference inside the wall. Each antenna serves two purposes, alternating between a transmitter and a receiver. In the transmission mode, one antenna at a time broadcasts radio signals through the grain. The system uses the other 23 sensors to read those radio waves in a round robin sequence around the bin. Each radio rapidly alternates between transmitter and receiver.

The system collects the radio wave penetration data, using it to build a complex three-dimensional moisture map for the bin. GrainViz says there’s nothing unique about the radio equipment. The real key is the algorithms they’ve developed to decipher radio signals passing through the grain. The physical properties of corn, canola, bean, cereals and other crops are quite different, but the methodology and algorithms are similar for all crops.

A picture of grain in the bin provides a greater degree of advance warning about developing spoilage conditions. Version One that debuted 11 months ago was sensitive enough to find pockets of packed fine particles that react differently than other product in the bin. Koldingnes says the GrainViz engineering team has made major improvements since the January introduction and has added new sensing technology.

“Our new technology detects small insects, rodents and people in real time. Detecting a human in the bin when he shouldn’t be there is a huge safety factor,” states Koldingnes, adding that any kind of irregularity triggers an alarm and sends the appropriate signal to the operator by text, email, phone or a loud audible alarm.

The system is also designed to start or stop augers and fans, depending on what action is required.

“Safety always gets a big response from the people we talk to as we’ve shown the system to people across Canada and the U.S. Any human activity within the bin automatically shuts down all functions and instantly alerts the correct parties.”

Koldingnes explains that the system uses the same 24 sensors for everything. They pick up any moisture or temperature irregularity anywhere in the grain. Something as large as a human sets off the alarms quicker than an insect. The system instantly knows the person should not be there. This feature is especially important as farmers buy bigger bins and more of these bins are located away from the main yard.

“If you have rats or mice, just like a person, they show up as a completely different moisture parameter. Because they perspire, the system can detect that small increase in moisture and issue the appropriate message. Even bugs perspire enough that we find them in the bin by tracking their perspiration.

“Here’s how we find these intruders. Grain is stationary. It doesn’t move. But even the smallest insect moves and perspires. The system notices that the moisture migration from one bushel over to the next bushel.”

What if you’re wasting money to fumigate grain that doesn’t need it? GrainViz tells you whether or not you have insects. Conversely, you might think there’s no insect problem, but the system tells you there is.

“We don’t directly detect moulds or bacteria, but we do document the conditions leading up to that growth. We locate the spots with moisture and temperature. That allows you to take preventive action before economic damage is done. Turn the grain and run the fans.”

Saving energy and selling water are two significant side benefits of the GrainViz. The ability to accurately monitor potential problems allows you to put grain in the bin at a higher moisture level. This saves on the capital investment, labour and energy required to dry grain down to what has traditionally been considered a safe level. It also lets you sell higher moisture grain to the grain company.

As harvest and storage operations become larger and spread out, mistakes and thefts do happen. More and more often, the stories about someone’s 16-year old cousin augering a tandem of canola into a wheat bin turn out to be true.

Also true are the stories about farmers showing up at a remote bin site only to find the bins have been emptied.

Koldingnes says bin level monitoring is one of the easiest tasks for the GrainViz system. If the grain level starts going down in the middle of the night, the alarms go off and notifications are sent.

Koldingnes adds, “There’s a gap in North America’s grain trade. If we’re losing up to seven percent of our product every year to spoilage, then we have a major problem. That gap occurs between the combine and the end user. It’s in our storage system. That’s where farmers lose quality. GrainViz is designed to address that loss.

“We’re focused on maximizing the value of whatever you put through the combine, whether it’s barley going to the maltster, corn going to an ethanol plant or wheat going to a bakery. We’re trying to minimize energy inputs and maintain the protein, starch or calories content in order to maximize value.”

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