Industry Insights: How Suppliers Are Seeing the Tech Evolution of Grain Temperature Systems

Grain temperature monitoring is a key aspect of modern grain elevator operations. The data gathered by these systems informs the operator of the temperature, humidity, and sometimes even carbon dioxide (CO2) present in the grain mass.

Grain Journal spoke to five grain industry suppliers for the September/October issue to learn about what’s trending and how operators are helping to shape this technology's evolution.

Data Collection

Today’s grain temperature systems capture large amounts of data, and users want to receive data quickly so they can respond to hot spots proactively, not reactively. Having fewer people on-site increases the need for more information about what’s going on inside the bin.

Companies with multiple facilities have grain temperature systems that operate separately with potentially millions of data points, and top management needs to know what’s going on with their grain.

Companies are taking a proactive approach to sharing data. Operators can read a cable in a second – that hasn’t changed, but they’re more proactive in presenting, sharing, and displaying information.

Wireless Instrumentation

The main thing vendors are seeing is wireless instrumentation. Operators are getting away from installing conduits and wiring and instead using radios and gateways to provide temperature data. This makes larger systems much more cost effective from a purchasing standpoint.

There are different new types of sensors or frequency monitoring systems that can penetrate through the grain mass, allowing the movement to a wireless node inside the bin, rather than relying on wires. Data is then broadcast back to a gateway/accumulator outside of the bin that gathers information on temperature, moisture, and CO2 and presents it to a dashboard or screen.

Operators want people to have the ability to read temperatures on cell phones, so they’re moving to wireless technology. Bins, even on farms, are getting larger and particularly taller. Bigger bins are extremely noticeable in our business. The fact that bins are larger makes construction projects more expensive, but wireless as a percentage of the total cost of a project is getting smaller.

Wireless systems eliminate the need to run a lead wire, and some suppliers are able to retrofit older systems by adding a web interface for wireless operations.

Operators are getting away from installing conduits and wiring and instead using radios and gateways to provide temperature data.

Smartphone Access to Data

Operators want multiple people to have the ability to read temperature data on a smartphone. There are cell phone apps and cloud data folders that provide shared access.

The way data is accessed is an ongoing evolution for the industry. Grain temperatures are often stable day to day, and alarms via smartphones can alert those who need to know when temperatures rise.

There’s a technology focus on doing everything on smartphones and running from there. The question is: How dependent do we want to be on technology? Technology is great when it works, but what if a site loses power for a week? One person can run a facility with a PLC and a smartphone – until it doesn’t work. The argument could be made that there needs to be a balance between people and machines.

Solar Power for Ground Piles

Interest in solar-powered systems for monitoring grain temperatures in ground piles is growing. A wireless ground pile temperature monitoring system eliminates the need to run 120-volt power to the pile, so it’s easier to monitor.

Equilibrium Moisture Content

Methods of using headspace data have been around for years, but now operators are using ambient and headspace temperature and humidity data to control fans automatically. People used to want to turn fans on and off themselves but are increasingly using all this data to automatically control fans because algorithms are being used to make the decisions.

Grain temperatures have been monitored for years, but users are increasingly monitoring moisture, particularly on the farm side. If properly monitored and under stable conditions, corn with 14% moisture stored at 70 degrees has 40 days before it heats up. Corn with 14% moisture stored at 40 degrees can possibly be stored for up to 400 days before it heats up.

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