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A grain elevator with a delivery truck.
The new grain elevator in Herman, Minn., has 1.4 million bushels of upright storage with three dump pits capable of receiving grain at 75,000 bushels per hour. Behind the scenes, the elevator has been automated to allow for delivery any time day or night.
C magazine

First-of-its-kind automated elevator allows after-hours grain delivery

Oct 11, 2021

Team effort

The concept for an automated delivery system was generated within CHS, with Jim Gales, CHS construction department manager, creating the system design and Jerry Kramer, general manager for CHS at Herman, Minn., leading the proof of concept and design work. 

But the project took more than CHS talent to complete. Every piece of technology used — from grading equipment to RFID identification cards to internal accounting systems — needs to be in sync for the process to work and that required intricate collaboration with several business partners. 

  • Five core partners supported the project with these three core design partners: 
  • Sweeney Controls Company, Fargo, N.D., facilitated system integration and robotics. 
  • Kansas-based Mid-Continent Industries, Inc., provided grain grading equipment and related custom design. 

Solentra Global provided system integration, including RFID technology, the grading interface and automated bin management.

The following companies were engineering and electrical partners:

  • Power System Engineering, Inc., supplied electrical engineering services.
  • Summerville Electric orchestrated local electrical work. 

On a picture-perfect harvest evening, you are unloading another hopper of grain for delivery to the local elevator. With a long night of harvest ahead of you, your goal is to wrap up this field so you can start fresh in the morning. Unfortunately, the local elevator can’t remain open into the early morning hours to take the last of your bushels. 

Time to come up with Plan B. 

Sound familiar? Peak delivery season often means watching the clock and monitoring elevator cutoff times, constantly adjusting to arrive when the elevator team is on the job while handling other duties on the farm. That stress could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the latest innovation from CHS. 

A first-of-its-kind elevator just completed in Herman, Minn., has been automated to receive grain around the clock — without workers present. 

Innovating grain delivery from scratch

The idea for the industry-leading technology grew from an informal brainstorming session between Jim Gales, CHS construction department manager, and Jerry Kramer, the business unit’s general manager. Their back-of-a-napkin sketch turned into a multiyear collaboration with internal teams and key vendor partners to bring their vision to life. 

“When you start with nothing on a clean sheet of paper, a lot of time and energy goes into bringing the actual concept to life,” says Gales. 

The key question driving the project, he says, was how CHS could better serve customers while making the grain delivery process less taxing for employees. They also wanted the solution to work on existing sites without major overhauls. Two and a half years and thousands of hours later, they developed the solution. 

From the outside, the facility looks much like traditional grain elevators, but behind the scenes is a highly automated process.  

From Kramer’s perspective, the automation is a win for both farmers and the company. 

“Producers are busy and we all want to use our time to add value,” he says. “The new automated elevator gives us two wins. First, it gives area farmers a wider window to deliver grain. Second, it helps our employees have better work-life balance while simultaneously allowing us to efficiently utilize this new facility. It gives everyone more flexibility and options, and it makes for a better customer experience.”  

Kramer also points to the safety benefits of the automation, highlighting that the ability to receive grain without employees present allows for needed “off the clock” time for employees during peak seasons, reducing fatigue and accident risk without slowing or stopping grain deliveries for customers. 

The automated delivery system is expected to be available for use during 2021 harvest. 

Automating grain delivery

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