Matthew Furry, PSCL, explains how self-contained monitoring and control systems can solve the logistical challenges posed by the need to source materials, such as fly-ash, from reclamation projects.
Cement’s journey begins with materials quarried or reclaimed, moving to a plant for processing. Often cement stock is transferred to a terminal before reaching its destination at a batch plant to become the binder in concrete. In understanding the complete journey of cement from constituents to construction, PSCL saw the benefits of solving the next series of challenges by going beyond the gate.
In addition to traditional quarries, and with pressure from environmental stakeholders and demand for cement and concrete only growing, alternative materials like fly ash for CO2-emissions-reduced green concrete can also be sourced from reclamation projects. Addressing the greater logistical challenges of these locations – increased numbers of shipments, carriers, trucks, transactions, paperwork and information – is at the forefront of managing the supply of new raw material sources.
These remote sites often have no power or networking infrastructure, and the useful material to be extracted can be had in a few months or even weeks. With a just-in-time model for material delivery, it is not economically or physically feasible to schedule and implement running power to every point on the site, to install computers and controls, or acquire and house personnel there to run them. Plus, many sites – like former power plants and other government-controlled areas – require security monitoring for all personnel on site. With time pressures to consider and the need for a full suite of data services, there was nothing on the market that would meet the needs of these off-the-grid sites.
A new solution
Using an array of wireless technology, PSCL developed FR8Works and CDM Edge as self contained monitoring and control systems. Waypoints are configured and downloaded from the cloud and each site’s unique hardware configuration is delivered. Real-time status and progress is available to all parties involved in the operation – owners, brokers, carriers and receivers.
At the core of each system is the Tag Interface Module (TIM), a rugged standalone unit built to US military spec. (MIL-STD-810G), meaning it can stand up to the toughest environments, weather, and human-created mishaps.
Able to be set up on its own sturdy tripod or mounted to a pole on site, the TIM runs on 110 VAC or its own internal battery. Connect it to the gate, scale and other controls, power it up, and the configuration is downloaded automatically from the cloud. With no onsite setup required, thousands of dollars in hardware and software configuration and their associated labour costs can be avoided. Should a TIM require replacement, the old unit can simply be swapped out for a new one. The site’s unique configuration is automatically downloaded into the TIM, allowing operations to resume quickly.
Unlike swiping RFID cards or entering data on 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 are onsite and then they are back out on the road moving materials more quickly. On a busy site where trucks may be queued to load, their wait times (and potential frustration) are significantly reduced. Automation here reduces the overall time to complete moving of all material on the site.
Along with time efficiency, eliminating manual entry methods mitigates human error and the potential for identity and load fraud. Sites without infrastructure often have a security guard to control access to the site, manually recording data on their clipboard. The paperwork is sent, at some point, to the head office where it is reconciled. The data is assessed with hindsight and error tracking is, at best, hampered.
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 of all activities. Potential mistakes are avoided before they can happen.
Each driver and truck is assigned their own TAG, a Bluetooth 5 beacon with an ~80 m (260 ft) range. The system’s controls and monitoring are triggered by a TAG’s proximity to the TIM. Differentiating a driver and their truck provides the necessary oversight for permissions of personnel on sensitive sites requiring security clearances with each site access logged to 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 enables assessment of a driver’s performance separately from the material they deliver.
Now the labour of a security guard is no longer required, and the site is accessible 24 hours a day – delivering longer business 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 their truck have been given site access in the cloud app – the gate will automatically open, eliminating the need for the driver to get out of 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 authorised users to view. If a driver not configured on the system must be granted access, the site operator can open the gate 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 position, and the truck’s transmitter constantly updates the service provider with location data. FR8Works or CDM Edge require only one data plan per site, reducing connections and cost. They control or monitor materials, gates, scales, traffic lights and more, as well as each truck and driver. They are cheaper and quicker to install with real-time data every step of the way for each component in the supply chain.
Depending on how many processes require monitoring, multiple TIMs can be deployed. For example, if a site has multiple material piles, it would be important to know a truck is loading up the material intended. A TIM at each pile triggers a visual indicator, confirming that the truck is at the right location. As the truck is loaded, the driver remains in his truck. Site safety is increased by reducing or eliminating contact between drivers, site machinery, material loading and unloading, and personnel.
Moving onto the scale, the system already knows what the truck is carrying and weighs the load without needing the driver to get out of the truck. Product accuracy and its weight is assured. By the time the exit gate opens and the truck hits the highway once more, the data is already in the cloud for users accessing the web app as well as being sent to the truck’s destination for site personnel to be ready for the next step in the process. This is complete supply chain monitoring. Information in real-time is available to all parties involved when they need it.
Even larger sites will still only need one cellular data plan when incorporating the mesh network option. A mesh network links all devices into a single Wi-Fi network without the need for a router or switch. With the mesh antenna required on one TIM only, it networks all TIMs on site in a 20 km radius.
Extending the concept
With FR8Works and CDM Edge being process and device agnostic – the system will accommodate whatever systems the operator wishes to monitor and control – they can manage existing and future processes for the cement industry and related resource handling and transfer industries. Beyond FR8Works raw material reclamation sites, CDM Edge cement plants and terminals can monitor silos to address contamination concerns and stock levels via the Silo Sentry Module using data generated for the Bill of Lading (BOL). With all information checked in real-time, the driver knows they are loading or unloading the right material in the right place. Silo monitoring is only the first addition to CDM Edge. More will be added as PSCL and its clients identify other areas for process automation.
The web app is set up with same attention to permissions and what each person in the process chain needs to know at any given time. Brokers, carriers, end users and customers share common information but need to focus on their specific areas. The thousands of verified transactions generated every month are available to stakeholder systems via the Customer Link Module. The resulting increased speed and accuracy of information comes with reduced labour and cost savings. By making the process automatic and transparent there is no longer any guesswork around data.
In addition to FR8Works and CDM Edge’s ability to build links to physical processes is PSCL’s ability to integrate with business administration processes. Raw material transactions can be pushed to an ERP system via the CDM Suite. This allows operators to know where their people and materials are, how they’re affecting the books, and gives the ability to confidently bill at each stage.
New situations challenge established processes and perceptions. Being able to see what may appear to be limitations at the outset as an opportunity for operators to move themselves and their customers forward is the attitude that PSCL brings to its projects. By addressing the remote areas where the demand for new materials for cement are coming from, FR8Works and CDM Edge have been launched as solutions that can enhance the entire materials handling process for the cement industry. Going beyond the gate 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 career in software and automation started at Process Solutions in 1996. Matthew has held a number of positions within the company, and learned the business from the ground up. 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/