How do connected silos work?
Connected IBC and silos are among the many solutions developed as part of the digital transition in the agri-food industry.
Valuable information is thus transmitted without delay to other connected objects or directly to farmers via a web or mobile application.
Even if this might at first glance seem rather simple in concept and use, in reality a connected silo is a concentration of many technologies. Which tools are used? How is the data transmitted and secured? What installations should be planned for these sensors? These are some of the questions we will answer here to get a clearer view of how connected silos work.
The different measurements allowed by sensors within a silo
Sensors for connected silos transmit information about 3 main categories of measurements:
- Grain stock level;
- The temperature inside the silo;
- Grain moisture content.
Level sensors are probably the most innovative on the market and the companies that design them compete in ingenuity to offer ever more efficient solutions. Their objective is to offer precise and nearly permanent control, so that they can then adapt their logistics strategy.
As for the temperature and hygrometry sensors, their function is to help in the decision-making process for starting the ventilation in the silo, thus limiting health risks, but also explosion risks in silos for instance.
The operating modes of the level sensors
To fully understand how connected silos work, we need to take a closer look at the different measurement technologies they can integrate.
First, there are the level probes of the connected silos, located inside the storage facilities. Most of them operate with electrodes, either as conductive or capacitive probes. However, this technology is little used in grain and granulate silos, as it is mainly developed for level control of liquids.
Radar and ultrasonic sensors are more widespread and are also positioned in the silo. They respectively emit electromagnetic and sound waves towards the grain, enabling them to determine how far they are from the surface of the stored product and to deduce the volume.
Finally, there are non-intrusive sensors, which are placed outside the silo. The level is detected thanks to the electric current generated, so the silo deforms very slightly according to the quantity of product it contains.
The implementation of stock control tools
The installation of sensors on connected silos obviously depends on their mode of operation. Many of the current models have the disadvantage of having to be installed inside the silo, and are therefore subject to environmental problems (dust, humidity, etc.). They are either placed under the silo lid or installed after drilling the silo. The risks of water infiltration are not negligible during this type of installation.
An external sensor is positioned at human height, simply at the foot of the storage infrastructure, within a period of barely 20 minutes. An insulating foam is then installed, acting as a protection against variable temperature, water, dust, etc.
Communication between silos and users
Once set up and parameterized, the sensors can be commissioned to detect and transmit the remaining stock level or information on temperature and water vapor content.
Beyond the different types of measurement previously mentioned, the technologies related to the operation of connected silos must therefore enable communication between the device and a visualization interface. With the help of electronics, computer code and the use of radio waves, the sensor then becomes connected.
The challenge for this communication between objects in agriculture is to provide a low-cost, low-power solution that works everywhere. To meet this challenge, many manufacturers of sensors for connected silos use very low throughput, through operators like Sigfox who use low frequencies.
Access to data via an online service
Collecting storage information is one thing, being able to visualize it and use it to define your logistics strategies is another. This is made possible by the web platform for monitoring connected silos, proposed by each manufacturer of connected sensors.
This is a dashboard that lists all the essential data from each sensor: filling level, alert threshold, last low-level alert, temperature, etc. This platform connected to the silo also makes it possible to manage the users who have access to it, to establish weekly, monthly or yearly reports on a sensor or group of sensors, or to obtain information on the maintenance of these monitoring systems.
Another advantage of platforms of this type is ERP integration, which allows data from several applications to be linked together. Thanks to this, it is possible to envisage a more global operation of the connected sensors. For example, the silo control platform can be linked to the order management tool, so that a supplier can be contacted directly as soon as the sensor indicates that the stock is too low.
Information at your fingertips on a smartphone or tablet
One of the major interests of a connected solution is to have access to the right information at the right time, anywhere and without delay. The mobile application for connected silos is therefore an indispensable product, since it is accessible from a simple Smartphone.
Simplified compared to the web platform, the application provides some key data: the remaining amount of grain in the storage facilities of course, but not only. As an example, the most advanced systems allow you to visualize the stock forecast for the following days with the help of graphs.
Very useful services are also integrated into this type of connected application, such as the possibility of manually declaring an empty grain silo or an alert system when an optimal truck load can be ordered.
The issue of security of connected silos
When talking about the security of connected silos and their operation, two types of reflection can be made:
– Data protection, which is always sensitive when one is in a connected environment;
– Security at work of farmers and cooperative agents, which is greatly improved thanks to the remote control system.
First of all, it is important to know that the information collected is valued by the companies, as it is the basis for the development of new products and new sales strategies with operators in the agricultural field. Nevertheless, it is necessary to succeed in ensuring the protection of this data, but also of the entire system, to avoid the risks of abuses or even piracy. It is for this reason that some sensor manufacturers are promoting compliance with the GDPR and the reliability of companies providing information storage and processing services.
While some remain skeptical about this virtual protection, it can be said that the operation of connected products ensures the physical security of individuals using the grain silos. Indeed, everything can be done remotely: there is no danger of falling into the silo or inhaling novice dust.