October 17, 2017
The key to efficient loading and ticketing in an aggregates operation is to keep loadout trucks moving and increase the speed to complete the entire material loading cycle — from scale house to stockpile and back to the exit, says Ron Becker, business consultant with Command Alkon.
Automation technology can help play a role in speeding up this process by automatically identifying a truck as it enters the scale house. This can be done with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag or reading a license plate.
“Anything that identifies the truck without having to interact with a person helps move things along,” says Becker, who set up point-of-sale and remote scaling systems for Oldcastle Materials’ Shelly Co. in a previous position. “If a truck is coming in and being identified, a conversation is being started with the right truck.”
When a truck initially enters a plant to load material, the haul truck driver can identify himself and indicate the product needed. “If you’re coming in and out several times, you don’t need to check in every single time,” Becker points out. “You can assume the truck is there for the same thing, unless indicated otherwise.”
This allows the loader operator to handle other tasks when trucks are not in line. “If you can ‘talk’ to the loader-operator via the web or wireless check-in,” Becker notes,” you can provide information ahead of time on the product needed and the loader operator knows who is here for what and where to go.”
Efficiency is also important for the equipment being used. Cemex has EnergyStar-rated terminals at some of its operations, which keeps electrical consumption to a minimum by turning on operating equipment only as needed, explains Glenn Carr, Cemex regional manager of logistics operations for the West Region.
“If you keep employees engaged with a common goal of energy conservation, it can keep your equipment running as efficiently as possible,” Carr says. “It gives everyone a chance to succeed.”
Automation is important to making a plant efficient, says Jay Wise, a partner with Kruse Integration, noting that some small operations — i.e. “mom and pop” facilities — may not have much experience with it or think it is important. “Their grandfather may have worked the plant with a shovel, so that’s what they have known,” he says. “But it’s hard to be efficient this way. Someone may end up eventually buying the operation or it may go out of business because they won’t have data recorded about where improvements are needed.”
However, Kruse notes that automation alone is not enough to make it successful. Education is also essential. “You need a few guys that understand the entire system and how it works,” Kruse says.
Ron Becker is a business consultant for the Apex line at Command Alkon. Becker previously worked for The Shelley Co., part of Oldcastle Corp., in the IT department. In this position, he handled implementing point-of-sale systems in aggregates operations and working with plants to set up remote scaling and related operations.
Jay Wise is a partner at Kruse Integration. He has a background in electrical and electronics engineering and helps design systems to provide process automation and control, including for loading and ticketing systems.
Glenn Carr is Cemex ‘s regional manager of logistics operations for the West Region. He has 20 years of experience with Cemex. Carr started at Cemex ‘s Victorville facility in 1997, serving in the kiln operations department. He also served two years as operations manager over finish mill operations manufacturing cement.
Showing customer appreciation is important, but it needs to be strategic so it doesn’t slow down cycle time. “It may seem totally harmless to have snacks and coffee at the scale house, but get rid of it if you really want to move trucks along,” says Ron Becker, a business consultant at Command Alkon. “You want trucks coming in and getting rid of material. If they stop for 10 minutes here and there, that time could add up to a load.”
The ability to print a loadout ticket at the scale also helps keep cycle time and the loading process moving along because it keeps trucks in the line of traffic. “It adds huge efficiencies so things don’t break down at the scale house,” Becker says.
There is also a safety aspect of printing a ticket directly at the scale instead of drivers going inside the scale house and potentially falling, especially in areas that experience inclement weather, such as snow and ice.
“If you are watching your gate-to-gate times and accurately tracking them, it skews the numbers when someone comes in to get a ticket and then talks for 10 minutes.” Becker adds.
Although it’s good to keep the drivers happy, ultimately, the trucking company is the paying customer. “When a trucking company calls and asks why a load took so long but you have no explanation, because the ticket time doesn’t reflect how long it took to complete the load cycle, it could be problematic,” Becker says.
Instead, he suggests planning a separate event in spring or summer during good weather. “There is nothing wrong with having a grill near the scale house and handing out a hot dog on the way through to get a ticket,” he says. “This allows you to take care of the customer — the trucking company — and show appreciation for the driver, too.”
To have the most efficient loading and ticketing process, all elements of the system need to be integrated and simplified. This includes pulling together equipment load cells, scales, PLCs, and incorporating information to do a batching load-out and inventory.
“From this information, you can develop a graphical, user-friendly system for operators to be able to easily load-in and load-out,” says Jay Wise, a partner with Kruse Integration.
Graphically depicting a physical system makes it easier to be understood and allows for quick learning, operations, and troubleshooting. Within the system’s PLC and database, a variety of batching recipes can be created so they can quickly be selected via a drop-down menu.
“You might want a different mix of materials for load out into the trucks or rails,” Wise explains. “There may be different silos and cement bins — and even belts — that drive the system when a truck goes under them to load the material. The drop-down menu of formulas allows a different batch to be loaded to each truck.”
A system that tracks and records information such as downtime and inventory allows producers to identify problems, as well as what is keeping the loading and ticketing process moving along. “You can’t fix something or improve it if you aren’t recording data,” Wise says.
Report details highlight specific areas that require improvement. Wise gives an example of the old school way of reporting downtime to a supervisor — a napkin with notes on it about the reasons for downtime. “This isn’t detailed enough,” Wise says. “If not as efficient as possible, you won’t be able to keep costs down. Selling a ton of sand or rock for $6 or $7 is a low margin. If you’re not automated to get reports, you aren’t being as profitable as possible.”
At Cemex’s Victorville, Calif. facility, the largest portion of its trucks are dispatched, making it paramount to keep the loading and ticketing system as efficient as possible. To expedite the process, white cards are handed out to all drivers at the guard gate and each driver is asked to fill out his/her information.
“This speeds up the process when the information is being put in for ticketing,” explains Glenn Carr, Cemex regional manager of logistics operations for the West Region. “The card is used to confirm any discrepancies with the customer.”
It also allows the loading system in place to operate efficiently, enabling a truck to be loaded in less than seven minutes.
“Keeping the drivers in their equipment as we load their trucks minimizes the potential for slips and other accidents,” Carr adds.
Moving the signature pad and ticket delivery closer to the drivers’ hatch-closing station also further reduces customer exposure and time at the terminal, which reduces the average trip time between loads, he says.
“The utilization of a traffic light system is another effective way to communicate with the drivers on the scale,” Carr adds. “In our environment, communication is key. Starting with spotting the truck on the scale, a good PA system is important. This eliminates wasting time trying to get the truck under the spouts.”
Producers should ensure they have a good recovery system in place and keep the operation’s baghouses maintained for top efficiency. Keeping the baghouses and air pad silos in good condition enables trucks to be loaded both cleanly and quickly.
“If you have a good supply of cement, but it overruns your recovery system, your load time will be substantially be reduced,” Carr points out. “Investing in a good baghouse and recovery system can help the process.”