Blenders Stand Up To Pressure

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Waconia Vertical Blenders

As the grower equipment grows, so does the dealer, says Mark Anderson, vice-president of domestic sales and marketing with Yargus Manufacturing. With growers planting more acres than ever to capture profits from high crop prices, they need bigger units to get fields fertilized and volumes of product rushed out. “Many times retailers are expressing how they cannot keep up with growers during fertilizer season,” he says.

Over the past few years the sheer volume of blended product coming out of the large hub plants has increased dramatically, agrees Jim Carlson, sales representative with Waconia Manufacturing. “Facilities that were built primarily for wholesale distribution of bulk material are now primarily involved with distributing and retailing blended product.”

The 2012 season promises its own unique challenges, believes Bruce Hinkeldey with Ranco Fertiservices. In many regions he’s seen good weather during fall application as well as an open winter — both of which allowed retailers the opportunity to apply a large portion of preplant materials. But it also appears the fertilizing season will arrive sooner than normal, he says, “which puts pressure on everyone to get equipment service, buildings filled, and new equipment installed.”

Features Rise To Occasion

Blender companies continue to design features to get this daunting job done, in particular incorporating speed, accuracy, and durability in ever larger units.

Waconia just introduced a new line of blend and wholesale towers with overhead storage for up to 250, 275 or 300 tons. Prior to this new line, the largest capacity in the industry was 200 tons, says Carlson. “Along with the larger holding capacity, we can provide up to 18-ton blenders in the larger towers,” he says.

New last season was Adams Fertilizer Equipment’s 16-ton Vertical Fertilizer Blender, the company’s largest vertical so far. And there’s a new rotary unit on the way in two or three months, says Michael Tibbett, sales manager.

Doyle Manufacturing’s latest unit, the 13-ton Direct Drive Rotary Blender, has been moving well. It is geared “to stock some of the bigger tenders coming along,” says Rob Heiden, engineer. Pledging industry-leading speeds, it uses fewer parts than traditional chain drive blenders, and the direct drive system has a heavy duty planetary gearbox, coupled to a TEFC motor.

Doyle is facing extremely high demand — all the while working to complete a relocation to Missouri. The new headquarters building will have considerably higher square footage, all needed to meet the high volume of orders the company is experiencing.

Anderson says Yargus’ Declining Weigh Blend System is becoming one of its most sought-after blenders with higher tonnage retailers. The unit offers throughput speeds of three, four, five and six tons per minute or faster. “We like to say ‘speed makes profits,’ and the faster we can move trucks through, the more time the spreaders’ wheels are rolling,” he comments. And with retailers investing in larger tendering equipment, the Declining Weigh Blend System can blend and fill a 24-ton tender in six to eight minutes.

Manufacturers we talked with were quick to boast about the durability of their units as well as speed. For instance, Waconia’s Carlson says the company has always prided itself in engineering and manufacturing equipment “that won’t break down in the heat of battle. Everything we build is for the heavy seasonal demand of the fertilizer industry. With the short spring season, keeping up with the grower will determine where he will buy his product and services.”

Anderson encourages retailers to always invest in quality. “The more stainless steel you can buy, the better off you are,” he says. “Stainless construction is like having a built-in performance bond that protects a system for years to come.”

More Complex Mixes

Growers want fertilizer blends — delivered fast — to do more. They’re continually asking how they can maximize nutrient utilization, says Carlson. One answer has been enhancers, so blender makers needed to consider how to work with these products. Carlson says Waconia is spending considerable time researching and implementing efficient ways to apply these enhancers into the blend cycle. In some cases, this is even being done in receiving, before the product is conveyed into the building.

Sackett has geared up to manage complex mixes as well. “Our chemical engineers are continuously working to test new coatings and additives in the lab HIM mixer to ensure the R&D is being done in our lab and not at the blend plant,” says Charles Formisani, mechanical engineer and manger of sales and engineering.

In general, Hinkeldey notes that each year the industry is seeing new product formulations that retailers need to incorporate into blends. Generally they’re common fertilizers with coatings and stabilizers applied, but dealers don’t have the luxury of extra storage bins to handle these pretreated products so they need to impregnate on demand. In addition, he says, lower use rates of the liquids require accurate output and thorough mixing.

Ranco offers a variety of pump sizes that accurately impregnate the liquids onto the dry fertilizer during the continuous flow blend process. The liquid system can also be set up to disperse produced in declining weigh mode for incredible accuracy, says Hinkeldey. “And powdered products can be accurately incorporated into the blending using Ranco’s powder feeders, which continuously agitate the material so consistency of the product dispensed remains constant.”

A number of new products, such as Mosaic’s MicroEssentials SZ phosphate, require a separate compartment in a tower, points out Waconia’s Carlson. “Our blend towers are positioned well to handle multiple products,” he says. “We manufacture towers with up to 14 bins for maxiumum flexibility.”

Multi-faceted mixing needs to be achieved without slowing down the loadout process. Hinkeldey says users like Ranco’s Declining Weigh System’s ability to quickly change products without sacrificing accuracy, the desired target weight, or blend quality.

Tweaking along the way can be vital. The Yargus Declining Weigh Blend System uses the time delay start/stop and layering effect to make a quality blend regardless of ratios or amounts. Anderson says by using load cells on each bin, the unit is constantly monitoring output of product and making corrections.

The technology to incorporate micronutrients and apply fertilizer coatings is one of A.J. Sackett & Son’s main focuses these days, says Formisani. The company’s LIW (Loss In Weight) blending system has a proprietary continuous mixer to ensure accurate blending. Other features include load cell sampling at 200 times per second, a “one size fits all” feeder design for maximum flexibility, fully PLC-based, an option for in-line coating and “an extremely robust design that you would expect from Sackett,” says Formisani.

He adds that the company has formed a partnership with Kahler Automation — another name he says dealers can trust — to supply the automation for the LIW Blending System.

Formisani believes blend quality and the ability to precisely impregnate, encapsulate, and disperse add-on materials have to be the main drivers in a blender decision, rather than overhead storage capacity or even speed. In fact, Sackett feels so strongly about the importance of prescription blending that the company is only offering blend towers with its HIM mixer, which is designed specifically for new mixing challenges.

HIM mixer technology is based on small, fast batches, explains Formi­sani. A Sackett tower using one 3-ton mixer can output prescription blends at speeds close to 200 tons per hour. “This is not only substantially faster the typical towers but much more precise as well,” he adds.

Heacox is a Contributing Editor for the CropLife Media Group, which includes CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines, and the PrecisionAg Special Reports.

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