What’s the buzz about drones? Leveraging training and technology to improve safety

Birds-eye view of terminal in Superior, Wisc.

Drones provide a bird’s eye view and enable hazard monitoring.

Jun 26, 2020

As farmers have begun to use drones to safely keep an eye on their fields and operations, CHS is following suit as drones will soon be buzzing around the grain facilities at Savage, Minn., and Myrtle Grove, La., as part of a pilot project to improve safety and enhance data collection.

The test drones will zoom inside barges to inspect grain at Savage and fly over bins to check grain handling equipment at Myrtle Grove.

“We’re starting with two practical applications that solve real problems,” says Heidi St. Clair, director of supply chain automation, CHS Global Grain Marketing. “Using this technology could keep inspectors off icy boat decks and reduce the number of times they have to enter barges. We wouldn’t need to send people up on a cherry picker to routinely check the top of silos. And because we can repeat the exact flight pattern, we will get more reliable data for monitoring and preventive maintenance.”

The use of drones is a game changer when it comes to safety, says St. Clair. “The applications are endless. Safety challenges can keep people awake at night. Now we can reduce that risk, get better information and formulate safer solutions.”

CHS grain terminals already use a number of other technologies to boost safety. At Superior, Wis., hazard monitoring devices, such as bearing, rub and slow speed sensors, provide advance warning when a belt might be shifting or a piece of equipment is heating up. Superior also recently completed the process of installing self-propelled bin sweeps in 15 steel tanks. “Employees used to have to go into the tanks with a shovel rig machine to clear out the last 30,000 bushels. Adopting the sweep technology has eliminated risk associated with working around cables in a confined space,” says Daniel Vandenhouten, assistant terminal manager.

“Safety isn’t a program. It’s who we are as a company,” says Vandenhouten. “I think of safety like shooting a basketball in your driveway. You create muscle memory and it becomes a habit. You put all those good habits together, and over time it becomes a value.”