Device makes anhydrous ammonia tanks smarter

The Tattle System from North Star Systems allows suppliers to keep track of how much product is in their clients’ tanks

Smart anhydrous ammonia tanks? Who knew?

A new technology is designed to simplify fertilizer delivery for farmers and retailers while improving efficiency during seeding.

The Tattle System is a controlled remote monitoring and real-time tracking device from North Star Systems that communicates the levels of anhydrous ammonia in tanks from the farm to the supplier.

“The device that was developed really was aimed for one purpose initially and that was pressure vessel tanks, particularly anhydrous ammonia because that was our background, being involved in the agriculture sector for 30 years prior,” said Curtis Kolibab, chief executive officer of North Star Systems in Saskatoon.

“We believe Tattle Systems and the products we offer change the way business has been done in the past.”

The technology can also be used with propane, natural gas, butane or any other compressed gas.

A sensor is installed that reads the magnetic dial on the outside of a pressure vessel tank. The Tattle System is attached to the sensor using a magnet or bracket.

“Once that sensor is connected to our device, the device turns on, it starts reading the information in real time: location, level, weather, speed, any other variables such as the location, history or throughput. All can be measured,” said Kolibab. He describes it as the user interface that monitors real time data.

Work on the made-in-Saskatchewan technology began in 2015.

“We fully designed, developed, implemented and executed it all on our own right here in Saskatoon,” he said.

“It’s everything from the hardware to the firmware, to the board design, to the product design, to the cloud server, to the user interface. Everything was designed and developed by North Star.”

The guts of the Tattle communication technology are housed inside a durable grey PVC box that is self-powered using a built-in solar panel and a built-in, low-frequency radio and high-powered antenna.

North Star Systems set out to create a solution for the distribution of product from manufacturer to retailer to farmer in the field.

“There had to be a better way of getting product from the retailer’s tank into a farmer’s implement and put into the field in a much more efficient and better way. And that was the problem that we were faced with,” Kolibab said.

“Could we utilize some type of technology to help enhance that delivery of fertilizer from retailer to field? That was the initial problem we had.”

In the past, a farmer would call a retailer for a refill, often with only a few hours’ notice.

“Fact of the matter is, those couple hours would come, the truck would be there and something may have happened along the way where there was a rain shower or delay or something and that tank is still half full or three-quarters full,” said Kolibab.

“And that truck just drove 200 kilometres to an area that is far away and didn’t drop a full load, which is very inefficient.”

Using Tattle Systems technology, the onus is now on the retailer or supplier rather than the farmer.

The dispatcher or retailer has the ability to see all the assets, the tank levels, the location and whether they’re moving.

“The conversation now is instead of the farmer phoning the retailer, it’s the retailer saying, ‘I have a truck dispatch on its way. It’ll be there this time on this corner of the field.’

While the farmer benefits, the new technology is of the most value to a retail distributor who may own about 50 tanks and four delivery trucks.

“It’s a business tool for those retailers to better serve their clients. It also creates for them time to focus on what matters more for their business.”

The cost of a Tattle System varies by application and product and the technology is moving toward liquid tanks, as well.

“A lot of our business on farm is not only in the pressure vessel liquid fertilizer business but also gasoline and diesel fuel tanks,” said Kolibab.

“Our products are sold by a device which costs roughly anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 depending on the application. You have to purchase the sensor in combination with that and the sensors vary from $50 to $1,000, depending on the application. So you can literally outfit an anhydrous ammonia tank for about $1,000,” he said.

He said the return on investment is realized through improved efficiencies.

“We have the math to prove that retailers utilizing our system in dispatch-related operations, whether it’s fertilizers or fuel oil or potable water to septic, can see a 25 percent reduction in their logistics costs,” he said.

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