November 25, 2020

When Seconds Count: Train Loading Solutions Equal Big Savings

MaxYield West Bend

Gerald Zwiefel, center, discusses improvements to the rail loading area at MaxYield’s West Bend location with Ernie Bleuer (L) and Frank Schmidt.

Last fall, MaxYield CEO Keith Heim issued a challenge to each member of the senior management team: save the company $25,000, or add $25,000 to the bottom line. Loading trains faster at West Bend offered a key area for improvement, noted Gerald Zwiefel, MaxYield Cooperative’s central team leader.

“It was challenging to load 100-car trains in 15 hours. We’d been exploring the possibility of going to 110-car trains and knew we’d have to load more cars in the same amount of time, if this would ever become a reality.”

In any case, it was clear that loading train cars more efficiently could save MaxYield a great deal of time and money. Zwiefel enlisted Frank Schmidt, MaxYield’s maintenance electrician, and Ernie Bleuer, the grain superintendent at West Bend, to assess every step in the train loading system.

Maximizing capacity pays off

The team started with the load-out building, which houses the scale head and scale printer. “We had wanted to replace this 30-year-old building anyway, because it was too small and it was hard to keep the equipment from getting dirty,” Bleuer noted.

MaxYield’s maintenance team spent a few weeks dismantling the 6-foot-by-6-foot load-out facility and replacing it with a new 6-footby-10-foot building. The new facility is much more user-friendly and is also cleaner, which protects the equipment from dust, Bleuer said. Next, MaxYield team members observed the train loading process to identify areas for improvement.

“MaxYield receives an extra $10,000 from the railroad when team members can load a train in 15 hours or less, and penalties are imposed if the train isn’t loaded within this allotted time,” said Zwiefel, who noted that MaxYield loads an average of 15 trains per year at its West Bend location. “We looked for ways to trim the minutes and seconds between loading cars.”

After learning that MaxYield team members were loading grain at a rate of one rail car every eight minutes, the goal became six minutes. Options included using another available grain leg and maximizing the capacity of the load-out belt. A relatively inexpensive monitor streamlined the process, said Schmidt, who noted that it takes approximately 400,000 bushels of grain to fill a 100-car train.

“Before we installed this monitor, we didn’t have any way of knowing how full the belt was. If the belt was overloaded, it would plug, and we would have to scoop grain off by hand, which took two to three hours. Now we don’t have to worry about the belt being overloaded.”

Schmidt also evaluated the elevator’s main grain legs and found that they were only being used at 75% of capacity. New belt-slip monitors that could be purchased for a nominal cost allowed the team to speed up the system. After evaluating the motors on the legs, Frank found yet another area for improvement. While the legs were being run at 70 amps to move grain out of the elevators and into the load-out bins, he knew this should be well over 100 amps, based on the size of the motor.

“Speeding the legs up was essential so we could keep the grain flowing,” said Schmidt, who also worked with the team to speed up the Trackmobile’s passages across Highway 15.

The team installed a signal light that turns on when all the gates that feed grain to the belt are closed. Once those gates closed, it takes 20 seconds for the belt to empty out. “Before, there was no clear signal as to when the Trackmobile could move across the highway,” Bleuer said. “With the signal light, we’ve cut 20 to 30 seconds off the transition between each rail car.”

Success inspires more innovation

MaxYield West Bend Train Load

MaxYield’s West Bend train crew implements some of the changes that shaved two hours off the time it takes to load 100 rail cars.

The first test of the new system came on December 30, 2011. “We went from 16 hours to 14 hours to load a 100-car train, which was exciting,” Schmidt said.

The team also benefited from MaxYield’s purchase of a new trailer that allows instant grain grading. Previously, all the grain samples had to be sent to Fort Dodge for grading, and the process could take a few days. Now all the official grades can be done on-site. “This has been a wonderful tool,” said Zwiefel, who noted that MaxYield uses the trailer at five locations where team members load trains.

When all these factors are added up, the improved train-loading system has saved MaxYield $27,662. Cooperation from MaxYield’s team members made this success possible, Bleuer said.

“Who wants to stay here loading a train in 15 or 16 hours when you can do it in 14 hours? We knew we could do better, and we got better results by getting everyone’s input.”

While the new train-loading system has saved MaxYield a great deal of time and money, other benefits can’t be quantified in dollars and cents, noted Zwiefel, who values the improved safety and team member morale.

Heim’s challenge has put people in a new frame of mind, added Schmidt, who noted that team members are evaluating other ways to improve efficiencies, such as putting fish cakes from MaxYield’s soybean processing facility in 1-ton bulk bags rather than 65-pound burlap bags.

“By working together, we’re finding ways to make MaxYield an even better company that provides the solutions our clients need.”

 

 

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