They’re big and they’re fast
By John Dietz
By John Dietz
Big farms have bigger demands on grain handling equipment, especially at harvest. Today, belt conveyors are being chosen more often than in the past for big grain farms, according to two companies that introduced bigger models in 2011.
A relatively new company in the conveyor belt business for farming, Elias ReliaBELT, Morden, Manitoba, has two conveyor concepts and several sizes. The largest is a 130-foot tube conveyor, 16 inches in diameter, holding a 30-inch belt. Rated capacity on 60-pound wheat is up to 15,000 bushels per hour.
The belt-behemoth was delivered in late 2010, along with a 480-volt three-phase, 40-horsepower electric motor and a second 10-horsepower motor on a 15-foot swingout tube conveyor, to Dakota Midland Grain in central North Dakota.
Tom Bass, manager of the new grain terminal at Surrey ND, immediately used the ReliaBELT conveyor to build three wheat piles, about 140 feet wide by 400 feet long.
On 12-hour shifts emptying grain wagons, the crew averaged 11,616 bushels per hour, Bass said. The nearest similar product he could find, Bass said, was a 24-inch conveyor only rated to move about 9000 bushels per hour.
“This is big-time more efficient, especially going to a ground pile,” he said. “We had a wet fall. You don’t want rain on it while you’re going to the ground. You want to have a window of four days. You get it out there, you tarp it, and you’re done. Then it can rain all it wants.”
A bigger Batco
Batco Manufacturing, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, recently introduced the 2400 series. This tube conveyor carries a 24-inch belt in a 14-inch tube up to 120 feet long.
It’s the latest in an extensive line of portable belt conveyors offered by the company. Founded in 1992, Batco has more than 70 employees and markets throughout the United States, Canada and overseas. It is one in a group of companies acquired by Ag Growth International (AGI), Winnipeg.
“We launched the Batco 2400 series in response to requests from our larger commercial customers,” said Dan Donner, AGI vice-president, sales and marketing. “The 2400 series will do 14,000 bushels an hour at a 25-degree incline. That’s more than the largest farm auger we offer and about 55 percent more than our previous largest belt.”
Another AGI company, Westfield, builds one of the best-known lines of grain augers. Donner sees somewhat different markets for augers and conveyors in the grain handling business.
“You need a longer conveyor to reach the same bin elevation,” he said. “An auger pushes the grain up the tube with the spiral; a belt conveyor carries the grain up. If you get the conveyor steeper than the angle of repose of the grain (about 22 degrees for canola and 28 degrees for wheat), the grain starts to roll back, and capacity starts to drop.”
Westfield’s longest and biggest auger delivers 9500 bushels an hour feet to a maximum elevation of 71 feet, six inches. The Batco 24-120 has a maximum elevation of 58 feet; at the 25-degree optimal operating angle, it reaches 48 feet high.
As a result, some yards just don’t have the space required for the longer tube conveyor. For those with the space, the other big considerations come down to cost and quality.
“In Western Canada, one trend driving the popularity of conveyors is the growth in pulse acres. The conveyor will handle that product gently – less splits, less dockage. If you’re moving edible beans, a conveyor is your preferred option. Running an auger half-full at any speed gives much more opportunity for metal-to-metal contact that cracks and damages seed. With a belt conveyor, it doesn’t matter; you could run it a third full or at maximum capacity and it won’t damage the product,” explained Donner.
The tube conveyor cost, up front, is about 50 percent more than that of an auger with equal capacity. The auger technology is a little simpler – and it wears out faster.
“You can easily expect three times the service life out of a conveyor,” he said. “There’s not the same number of wear points. We’ve been selling conveyors for 15 years and we really haven’t been selling replacement belts.”
Both companies, Batco and Westfield, have made many improvements to their products, Donner said. Westfield now has steel reinforcement for the critical wear areas, for instance.
Batco has gone to a more powerful “Pinch-S drive” set of rollers for large units. Two drive rollers are forced together, pinching and trapping the belt to reduce slippage and go longer lengths with greater capacity.
Energy requirements favour the tube conveyor over the auger. Because the belt is carrying the grain, rather than pushing it uphill, it has a much lower energy requirement, he said.
| Durable gentleness
In early September 2011, Portage la Prairie bean grower Jim Pallister brought home a new Batco 2000 series tube conveyor. He already had two 85-foot models. The new tube, 105 feet long and rated for 9000 bu/hr, is assigned to a series of 42-foot-tall, 7500-bushel hopper bins in his main yard.
Pallister started growing beans in 1989 and switched immediately from augers to conveyors. He grows more than 5000 acres of white navy beans in most years.
Belt conveyors also last longer and are safer than augers, he said.
Occasionally, a heavily worn belt can break. When it does, it probably can be repaired with lacing. The conveyor tube, if kept dry, probably can last for a whole career.
“Safety is quite a big issue,” Pallister said. “Every load is sampled. Every few seconds a scoop comes out of that load. You reach in with a scoop, but nonetheless I’m just way more comfortable around belts than augers. If you connect with a belt, you can likely step out of it; if you get into an auger, that’s it.”