The recent rise in grain bin accidents and fatalities has highlighted the serious challenges faced by those handling and transporting bulk commodities. Increasingly, bulk flow professionals are finding solutions in the heart of the American Midwest, where one company has been on a four-decade mission to deliver safer, more effective silo clean-out and bulk flow technologies to the world.
Pneumat Systems, Inc. entered the bin cleaning business in 1980, when it was called on by General Mills to assist in emptying and extinguishing a massive silo fire. This eventually led to the development of Pneumat’s flagship product, the BinWhip®. Described by company president Greg Nelson as a “weed eater on steroids”, the whip head is lowered into clogged bins on an articulating arm through an access hole, eliminating the need for confined space entry or other hazardous activities by workers. The hydraulically-driven motor rotates a spark-proof flail or chain at high speeds to blast through material that has hardened due to excess moisture, insect infestation, or other reasons. Over the years, Pneumat has found it to be an effective cleaning method on bulk materials of all types, from grain and feed ingredients to fertilizer, sand, cement, coal, ores, fly ash, petcoke, and countless more.
By providing contract cleaning services or selling equipment for customers to use themselves, three generations of Nelsons have helped their family business keep bulk flowing in every state of the US and over 20 countries. Industrial & International Sales Manager Dustin Williams is proud of how the Mankato, Minnesota-based company maintains both a global reach and strong personal connections with their customers. “Since we design, build, and use the products that we sell, we’re able to offer unmatched service, support, and training.”
Pneumat currently has a crew in Chicago clearing ten large silos at a grain processing facility that was recently purchased after sitting dormant for years. “The old material that’s been sitting inside those bins is rock-hard. It’s been a great opportunity to put our new Dual Impact BinWhip® to the ultimate test,” said Field Supervisor & Safety Manager Robert Duffee.
The Dual Impact BinWhip is a recent advancement to Pneumat’s original bin whip technology, and is quickly making waves in the bin-cleaning world. The patented design includes a double set of whips that spin in opposite directions for increased hitting force. The counter-rotational forces generated also stabilize the unit, giving the operator more control. “We can clean bins up to 40% faster,” said Duffee. “The success of the Dual Impact BinWhip really speaks to Pneumat’s philosophy of continuous problem-solving and innovation.”
Over the years, Pneumat’s growing expertise in the bulk flow industry has led them to develop additional tools for handling bulk materials. These include the RailSpreader™, a system for safely loading railcars to 100% capacity without manual shoveling. Transportation and logistics operations have saved hundreds of dollars per car from the increased efficiency, whether moving soybean or corn gluten meal, clinker, pelletized plastic, or other bulk product. “The return on investment is undeniable,” said Nelson. “If you can get 10% more product into a railcar, every tenth car ships for free.”
When Pneumat became aware of the challenge companies handling dried distillers grains (DDGs) have unloading this difficult product from truck trailers and rail cars, it seized on the opportunity and developed the HopperPopper™. This system allows operators to drive a blast probe into the hopper compartment using wireless controls, safely clearing bridges and hang-ups with precise blasts of air. “It eliminates unsafe banging, pounding, and poking that costs our industry so much in terms of injuries and employee turnover,” says Williams. “Truckers will drive far out of their way to reach unloading stations equipped with the HopperPopper because they know how much more quickly they’ll be able to dump their load.”
Other bulk flow equipment developed by Pneumat includes the BinDrill™, a portable drilling rig that is typically used in conjunction with the BinWhip to create an opening in bridged product, and the Cardox CO2 Blaster™ system, which is used to break up rock-hard materials lodged inside bins and vessels. “Non-detonating gas expansion systems have become invaluable for certain types of bulk material flow, especially in the cement industry,” says Williams. “There are a number of providers, but we believe our Cardox system is the safest and most user-friendly on the market.”
Sales Manager Sam Cebula hints at some exciting new products that are currently under development, adding, “I’m proud of Pneumat’s ability to deliver practical solutions that have a direct impact on our customers’ bottom lines. Our team has more experience evaluating, troubleshooting, and solving bulk flow issues than anyone. We have an arsenal of specialized equipment, and the ability to develop new solutions if existing ones are inadequate.”
Despite changes and uncertainty in global bulk product markets, Pneumat has experienced accelerating growth in recent years and remains optimistic about the future. It attributes its competitive advantage to a strong safety focus, experienced team, and willingness to tackle the difficult flow problems that no one else can solve.
“Pneumat exists to create a safer world, free from bulk flow issues,” says President Greg Nelson, “Whatever changes are ahead, we’ll be here pursuing that goal.”