Matthew Furry, PSCL, discusses how autonomous monitoring and control systems can solve the logistical challenges posed by the need to source materials, such as fly ash, from recovery projects.
The journey of cement begins with mined or salvaged materials transported to a factory for processing. Often cement stock is transferred to a terminal before reaching its destination in a concrete batching plant to become the concrete binder. By understanding the full cement journey from constituents to construction, PSCL saw the benefits of solving the next set of challenges by going beyond the gate.
In addition to traditional quarries, and with pressure from environmental actors and only increasing demand for cement and concrete, alternative materials like fly ash for CO2-green concrete with reduced emissions can also come from rehabilitation projects. Addressing the greatest logistical challenges of these locations – increased number of shipments, carriers, trucks, transactions, documents and information – is at the forefront of managing the supply of new sources of raw materials.
These remote sites often have no electrical or network infrastructure, and useful material to extract can be obtained in months or even weeks. With a just-in-time model for delivery of materials, it is not economically or physically feasible to plan and implement power supply to every point of the site, install computers and controls, or acquire and house personnel to operate them. Additionally, many sites, such as former power plants and other government-controlled areas, require security monitoring for all on-site personnel. With time constraints to contend with and the need for a full suite of data services, there was nothing on the market that would meet the needs of these off-grid sites.
A new solution
Using a range of wireless technologies, PSCL has developed FR8Works and CDM Edge as standalone monitoring and control systems. Waypoints are configured and downloaded from the cloud and each site’s unique hardware configuration is provided. Real-time status and progress is available to all parties involved in the operation – owners, brokers, carriers and consignees.
At the heart of every system is the Tag Interface Module (TIM), a rugged self-contained unit built to US military specifications. (MIL-STD-810G), which means it can withstand the toughest environments, weather and man-made accidents.
Able to be set up on its own rugged tripod or pole mounted on site, the TIM operates on 110 VAC or its own internal battery. Connect it to the gate, scale and other controls, power it on, and the configuration is automatically downloaded from the cloud. With no onsite configuration required, thousands of dollars in hardware and software setup and associated labor costs can be avoided. If a TIM needs to be replaced, the old unit can simply be replaced with a new one. The unique site configuration is automatically uploaded to the TIM, enabling rapid resumption of operations.
Unlike swiping RFID cards or entering data at a kiosk, FR8Works and CDM Edge are designed for reduced interaction and contactless operation for several reasons. The first is time management. Keeping a driver in the truck by removing manual steps reduces their time on site and keeps transactions moving. They’re there, then they’re back on the road to move materials faster. At a busy site where trucks may be queuing up to be loaded, their wait times (and potential frustration) are dramatically reduced. Automation here reduces the overall time it takes to completely move all the material on site.
Along with time efficiency, the elimination of manual entry methods mitigates human error and the potential for identity and charging fraud. Sites without infrastructure often have a security guard to control access to the site, manually logging data onto their clipboard. The documents are sent, at some point, to the head office where they are reconciled. Data is assessed with hindsight and error tracking is hampered at best.
Drivers interacting with loaders can introduce errors. By keeping them in their trucks and automating interactions with site devices, the system eliminates errors and provides real-time data on all activity. Potential errors are avoided before they occur.
Each driver and truck is assigned their own TAG, a Bluetooth 5 beacon with a range of approximately 80 m (260 ft). System commands and monitoring are triggered by the proximity of a TAG to the TIM. The differentiation of a driver and their truck provides the necessary oversight for personnel clearances at sensitive sites requiring security clearances, with each site access logged in the system to comply with security requirements. While a carrier may be approved, a certain driver working for that carrier may not be. It also makes it possible to evaluate the performance of a driver independently of the material it delivers.
Now, the work of a security officer is no longer necessary and the site is accessible 24 hours a day, offering longer opening hours with better security at a lower cost. As the truck approaches the gate, the TAGs are read by the TIM and – assuming the driver and his truck have been granted access to the site in the cloud app – the gate will open automatically, eliminating the need for the driver to exit the truck or open a window to swipe a card or enter a code. At the same time, the event is logged in the system for authorized users to view. If a driver not configured on the system needs to be granted access, the site operator can open the door from the control suite.
GPS systems require a transmitter and cellular data plan for each truck and only track that truck’s location. The GPS satellite determines the position and the truck’s transmitter constantly updates the service provider with location data. FR8Works or CDM Edge only requires one data plan per site, reducing connections and costs. They control or monitor materials, barriers, scales, traffic lights and more, as well as every truck and driver. They are cheaper and faster to install with real-time data every step of the way for every component in the supply chain.
Depending on the number of processes to be monitored, multiple TIMs can be deployed. For example, if a site has multiple piles of material, it would be important to know that a truck is loading the intended material. A TIM at each stack triggers a visual indicator, confirming the truck is in the right place. While the truck is loaded, the driver stays in his truck. Site safety is increased by reducing or eliminating contact between operators, site machinery, material loading and unloading and personnel.
Moving on to the scale, the system already knows what the truck is carrying and weighs the load without the driver having to get out of the truck. Product accuracy and weight are assured. By the time the exit gate opens and the truck is back on the highway, data is already in the cloud for users accessing the web application and sent to the truck’s destination for site personnel to be ready for the next stage of the process. This is full supply chain monitoring. Real-time information is available to all parties involved when they need it.
Even larger sites will still only need one cellular data plan when integrating the mesh network option. A mesh network connects all devices into a single Wi-Fi network without the need for a router or switch. With the required mesh antenna on a single TIM, it networks all onsite TIMs within a 20 km radius.
Extend the concept
FR8Works and CDM Edge being process and device independent – the system will accommodate any system the operator wishes to monitor and control – can handle existing and future processes for the cement industry and material handling industries and transfer of related resources. Beyond FR8Works raw material recovery sites, CDM Edge cement plants and terminals can monitor silos to troubleshoot contamination issues and inventory levels through the Silo Sentry module using data generated for Bill of Lading (BOL). With all information verified in real time, the driver knows he is loading or unloading the right material in the right place. Silo monitoring is just the first addition to CDM Edge. More will be added as PSCL and its customers identify other areas for process automation.
The web application is configured with the same attention to permissions and what everyone in the process chain needs to know at all times. Brokers, carriers, end users and customers share common information but need to focus on their specific areas. The thousands of verified transactions generated each month are available to stakeholder systems through the Customer Link module. The resulting increase in speed and accuracy of information comes with reduced labor and cost savings. By making the process automatic and transparent, there is no more guesswork around the data.
In addition to the ability of FR8Works and CDM Edge to link to physical processes, PSCL has the ability to integrate with business administration processes. Commodity transactions can be transmitted to an ERP system via the CDM suite. This lets operators know where their people and materials are, how they’re affecting the books, and gives the ability to bill with confidence at every step.
New situations challenge established processes and perceptions. Being able to see what may initially seem like limitations as an opportunity for operators to advance themselves and their customers is the attitude that PSCL brings to its projects. Addressing remote areas where the demand for new cement materials originates, FR8Works and CDM Edge were launched as solutions that can improve the entire material handling process for the cement industry. Going beyond the door has highlighted new directions to improve the processes used and new ways to bring them to support customers.
About the Author
Matthew Furry is the president of PSCL. His software and automation career began at Process Solutions in 1996. Matthew held several positions within the company and learned the business from scratch. He also had the opportunity to gain experience working with similar tools in other industries around the world.
For more information on the range of products and services offered by PSCL, please visit: www.pscl.com
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/special-reports/04022022/going-beyond-the-gate/