Automation Takes Load Off Powder Carriers

The Automated Cargo Transport System (ACTS) for tanker unloading was developed by a veteran of the dry goods transportation industry operating in a highly

The Automated Cargo Transport System (ACTS) for tanker unloading was developed by a veteran of the dry goods transportation industry operating in a highly competitive market. As the head of his own trucking firm, Andy Hynick operated a fleet of 50 tractors and 50 trailers serving Florida ready mixed concrete producers.

A foothold in that challenging market, he reasoned, would be secured by automating the cargo delivery system to eliminate time spent waiting to convey powder and the need for a driver to be present during off-loading. Two intensive years devoted to the development and testing of a reliable hardware and software platform Û after reviewing all mechanical components of delivery and documenting the off-loading process Û yielded the tanker unloading system with which his fleet has been equipped since 2001. Hynick reports improvement in efficiency and reliability in the delivery of dry bulk products such as cement, fly ash and slag.

Automated Cargo Transport Systems Û the company he formed with strategic business partners experienced in level controls, automated valve systems, and electronic control systems Û has modified the ACTS with digital and Internet communication technologies. Accordingly, company representatives contend that the investment required to implement their system will result in payback within a year or less.

A key ACTS component is the radar level sensor, which provides real-time silo information. It can be employed as an integral component of the full automatic unloading system, or used as a separate item. In either case, ACTS Monitor Software offers a way to view silo levels at the batch house and dispatch office. Besides real-time silo level information, ACTS officials note, radar level sensors incorporate the following features for improved inventory control: reliable radar technology that requires no moving parts; continuous level information demonstrating uninterrupted operation; and, a safeguard against silo overfilling.

The radar level sensors thus provide the means to automatically notify the dispatch office or batch plant operator when the silo is reaching a low-level order point, so tankers can be deployed. Upon arrival, drivers use industrial quick connectors to attach blower and communication lines. Without having to wait for silo capacity, the driver simply unhooks the loaded tanker and picks up an empty one on his way back to the terminal for his next payload.

The tanker is automatically off-loaded at the appropriate time; no supervision or monitoring is required. Electronic data from the silo’s continuous level sensor and control panel as well as the tanker control panel is automatically monitored. Analysis of that data prompts the ACTS to send appropriate command signals to control the blower, compressed air supply, and tanker valve positions.

ACTS thereby makes pneumatic tanker unloading automatic and 100 percent consistent, as advanced control technology eliminates the need to have a tractor and driver present. The automated unloading system also ensures no clogged lines or overfilled silos. Tankers can be delivered in off hours or be utilized as secondary silos, freeing the tractor and driver to deliver to other sites and ensuring that plants will not run out of product.

Specifically for ready mixed plant operators, ACTS cites the following benefits of its automated cargo delivery system:

  • Improved deliveries Û Tankers can be delivered or on hand prior to reaching the silo low-level alarm.
  • Additional storage capacity Û Multiple tankers can be delivered and utilized as portable silos, providing competitive advantage on high-volume, continuous-pour projects.
  • Better quality control Û Positive identification of tanker contents and the appropriate silo minimizes potential for silo contamination with incorrect cargo delivery.
  • Silo level control Û Automatic silo level control eliminates potential shortages and overflows.
  • Improved off-loading procedures Û Pressures and silo levels are continuously monitored to prevent problems associated with plugged lines and bridging. Human error and oversight are also eliminated.
  • Internet and/or cell phone notification option Û Automatically monitored silo levels and unloading status can be programmed to provide immediate Internet and/or cell phone notification.
  • Bag house alarm option Û Automatic monitoring of pressure drop across the baghouse filter system can include notice when filter maintenance is required.

Additionally, ACTS developers emphasize the system’s versatility, as it is suitable for semi-tankers, double tankers, and pig/guppies. A manual override feature, furthermore, allows automated tankers to be used for deliveries to ready mixed plants that have not been automated.

A variety of alarm types is also available. Each can be configured to function automatically with no effort or action required by drivers or plant employees. Automatic alarm notification of maintenance employees, dispatchers, and/or management can be provided.

Three alarm types are offered. The Low Level alarm ensures that when silo contents reach the low-level order point, the ready mixed customer and/or hauler is automatically notified. The Wrong Silo alarm will automatically stop the offloading process if a tanker has been inadvertently connected to the wrong silo, and alarm notices will be sent. The Bag House alarm will be triggered if the pressure drop across the bag house filter system, which can be checked automatically at the beginning of each off-load cycle, reaches unacceptable levels. Alarm notification methods include any combination of the Internet, Ethernet, or cell phone. Û ACTS, West Chester, Ohio, 513/874-0060;


Driver uses industrial quick connectors to attach:

  1. Line from plant silo blower to tanker inlet to control tank pressure.
  2. Line from tanker to silo to allow product to be off-loaded to silo.
  3. Air line from concrete plant compressor to tanker control panel, providing pneumatic power to butterfly valve operators for regulation of tanker pressure and flow of cargo.
  4. Communication cable from silo control panel to tanker control panel, allowing the two control panels to monitor and control unloading pressures and silo levels.

Driver rotates silo control panel command knob to ÎautomaticÌ position and pushes green ÎstartÌ button.

Driver unhooks loaded tanker and picks up an empty tanker from nearest location on his way back to load-out terminal.

When sufficient silo capacity is available, silo control panel automatically starts blower and initiates off-loading process by sending information to the tanker control panel. Tanker control panel sends commands to open tanker valves to appropriate positions. Pressure readings and valve position information are collected by the tanker control panel to determine if tanker valve adjustments are required. When tanker has been fully emptied, the silo control panel shuts the blower off and depressurizes the tanker.