Adapted from a report by Parker Hannifin/Pneumatics' Product Manager Anna Stjarnvy ÷ Concrete plant operators need a reliable pneumatic system. Heavy-duty actuators operate the gates that open and close aggregate bins and cement silos, while pneumatic valves control the cylinders that ensure the mixing and delivery of materials. To prolong the life of these actuators and valves, other pneumatic products, such as filters, regulators and lubricators, clean the dust-choked air. Incorporating the right pneumatics can improve performance and productivity and save businesses significant time and money.
As the United States economy slows, many concrete producers are consolidating in an effort to search for ways to further develop their processes. If economic pressures aren't enough for the industry, ready mixed plants have been deemed unsightly by the general public for their intrusion on coastlines and mountain vistas. States such as California, Colorado, Arizona and Florida have placed restrictions on the heights and design of silos and aggregate bins. Mobile versions of concrete plants have become popular using low-profile equipment that can be packed easily and moved from site to site, avoiding the cost of material transport to and from a central location. Tough environmental laws also put pressure on concrete operators to ensure their processes are clean, dust free and efficient.
Traditionally, concrete workers perform manual batching using simple valve systems to manage the actuators that open and close gates. They use control panels with switches, push-buttons and LED readouts to ensure batching quantity and quality. Workers typically control the concrete process from a main cabinet, which requires a constant presence to manage each batch. Air, humidity, temperature and quality of cement can also affect batch quality. Wanting to save money while producing quality concrete, ready mixed operators need to incorporate components and processes that support efficiency and cost savings.
Equipment manufacturers and plant owners should look for pneumatics built specifically to withstand the extreme and abrasive environment of concrete production and demand solutions designed with repairability in mind for fast recovery. Newer technology incorporates spool and piston valves that accommodate precise and high cycle rates. Pneumatic suppliers design pilot technologies to withstand dust and dirt to extend service life. Gland technologies can withstand side loads. By investing in newer technology, cost savings result immediately from less downtime, higher productivity, less scrap and no clean-up.
Manufacturers focused on long-term benefits and wanting to differentiate themselves from competitors are turning to automation with smart valves and fieldbus solutions. The need for safety, consistency and quality encourages ready mixed plant operators to use systems that provide immediate feedback and offer diagnostics capabilities. An automated system makes troubleshooting easier and minimizes downtime. Pneumatic fieldbus solutions improve the quality of the concrete mixture through consistent quality batches, which results in better construction and a smoother project timeline.
Automated pneumatic processes promote streamlined operations. For example, mixer truck drivers can use automated systems to electronically place an order from their vehicle and instantly generate a purchase order. Sensors on the batching system can tell when a truck has arrived, dispensing occurs, and offsite managers can be notified of every transaction by e-mail. Data can be received without an employee being on site. This entire pneumatic system streamlines the process and offers time and cost savings. Workers no longer have to be available to control the batching, records of transactions are available immediately for approval, and information can be reviewed 24/7 from anywhere.
In addition to improving the speed of operations, collective wiring can reduce assembly time for mobile batch units. With every batch plant move, someone has to hard wire each solenoid to a terminal strip, then hard wire the terminal strip into the programmable logic controller (PLC). Using collective wiring, a concrete expert can quickly wire the system with several 25 Pin subconnectors directly to the PLC, saving hours of time during each setup. Using the fieldbus solution, workers performing setups can immediately verify all systems are working.
With construction booming around the world, competitive equipment manufacturers also must consider International Standardization Organization (ISO) standards when selecting pneumatic solutions. ISO is the world's largest publisher of International Standards focused on safeguarding consumers and promoting fair trade and efficiency for manufacturers and developers. Incorporating pneumatics and hydraulics into equipment that meets the ISO standards guarantees quality and interchangeability worldwide.
When it comes to outfitting ready mixed plant equipment, choosing proper pneumatics can make a difference for streamlining overall design both in the short term and in the future. Operators should consider a manufacturer/supplier that understands the extreme environment of the concrete industry and offers product expertise and steadfast customer service. For an OEM designing equipment or a batch plant operator, incorporating new technology Û including collective wiring, automated systems, and fieldbus solutions Û can help ensure quality concrete and save time and money. In view of increasingly tough demands placed on the concrete industry by customers and the economy, updating equipment pneumatics is a cost-effective way to deliver results that today's producers can ill afford to neglect. Û Parker Hannifin-Pneumatics Division, www.parker.com/pneumatics