Chipping Away at Innovation
Providing customers with the latest and greatest technology is a smart move for any company. All feedstock suppliers have different challenges and requirements, and as their needs change, the equipment manufacturers are usually quick to respond.
It all begins by identifying an opportunity to improve and exploring the market to determine whether an enhancement is desired by customers. Once potential operational improvements are identified, an estimated cost to change must be determined, raising the question: if your machine price changes, will the customer still purchase the machine?
Listening to customers and tweaking equipment to make improvements from previous models is a must for a company’s success. Communication is key. Constant dialogue between the customer and a company’s sales, engineering and after sales service teams ensures that everyone is heading toward the same goal.
Inspired by customer feedback and demand, several companies made upgrades to their products this year.
A trendy term in the forestry industry is microchip. The actual size of a microchip is generally a half-inch or less, and in many cases, it is referred to as a three-eighth-inch-minus chip. These chips can be produced in the woods with nonmerchantable timber or logging residual that was previously used as fuel chips, or in some instances, left on logging landings. “The use of these chips will vary from a supplement raw material for a cofiring application such as coal-burning boilers, or the most common application of pellet manufacturing,” says Larry Voelker, Morbark’s director of engineering. “The increased demand worldwide for pellets combined with the plentiful wood basket the southeast U.S. provides has been an industry driver.”
Being able to produce the microchip has allowed chip producers another market to obtain and also maximize their return when performing a logging job.
Morbark’s most common chipper for this application is the Model 40/36 Drum Chipper. This machine is capable of producing 65 percent or better three-eighth-inch acceptable chips and 95 percent half-inch acceptable chips at a rate of 70 tons per hour on a regular basis in an in-woods chipping application.
Michael Stanton, Morbark’s industrial products regional sales manager for the Southeast, says that Morbark offers a full line of whole tree chippers and high-speed wood grinders ranging from 250 horsepower (hp) to 1,200 hp in both diesel and electric powered. The whole tree chipper line consists of multiple different-sized drum and disc options. The high-speed grinder product line includes tub grinders and horizontal grinders also referred to as Wood Hogs.
“The biomass users and producers have a chip spec that they must meet for their boiler systems. This can come in form of a set chip size or a maximum size in length shred when it pertains to wood grindings,” Stanton says. “Morbark’s broad product line allows the ability to cater to the customer’s requirements.”
When upgrades need to be made, Voelker says that the company has a continuous improvement philosophy and tries to capitalize on any opportunity for improvement that comes along. “We are constantly looking for input from customers, dealers, salespeople and anything that can help us meet these goals,” he says. “We’ve made substantial changes to our larger machines with very good chip quality.”
Continental Biomass Industries
One piece of equipment that Continental Biomass Industries is getting a lot of user feedback for is its 5800 Magnum Force Grinder, a machine that has a size, weight and permit requirements that are causing some concern. “A lot of projects are smaller in nature, in and out more frequently, so transport of the machine has become a very big issue,” says Jeff Moulton, engineering manager at CBI. “They want to end up with a machine that’s a little more accommodating, so we ended up building a 765 horsepower Cat Engine horizontal grinder that weighed 60,000 pounds and fell below an 8.6-foot width. It’s a more nimble machine to load and move and maintains the durability and pretty significant production level.”
Because there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, CBI looks at each customer and what they are trying to do in determining the best machine for each application.
“A machine like the CBI ChipMax 484 can be set up as a two-pocket chipper or a four-pocket chipper and comes with various different configurations for discharge,” Moulton says. “We can either top load or end load the trailer. It’s a question of looking at what the customer is trying to do and rather than saying ‘we have a, b and c, pick one,’ we almost customize a machine for their needs.”
Aaron Benway, regional sales manager at CBI, says the company is always looking to make improvements from previous models, whether it be in increasing the overall durability, serviceability or efficiencies of the machines. Feedback from multiple customers and different niche parts of the overall industry lend a hand in deciding when to make a change.
“A lot of requests are related to maintenance and accessibility. Everybody is working on tight margins, so whatever we can do, we strive very hard to make improvements in those areas,” he says. “When customers have requests, we will discuss internally with our sales and engineering and get some costs together to see if it’s something we can offer as an optional addition or a change we want to make going forward.”
Jay Van Roekel, biomass business manager for Vermeer Corp., says the company recently introduced a Chip Drum for its HG6000 model, which allows the grinder to produce a consistent-sized chip necessary for many applications, including biofuel chip production.
Vermeer continues to launch new Tier 4 final engine packages, has a new Bioscreen Kit for HG6000 and TG5000 models and telematics packages now available for grinders. For chippers, it has improved its products with additional engine options to meet customer needs for various hp sizes and types of fuel used.“Our chippers now have EcoIdle, an engine control system that automatically idles the engine horsepower down after 30 seconds of inactivity to maximize fuel economy. Saving fuel to make fuel, this machine was built for the biomass industry,” Van Roekel says.
Vermeer has been focusing on various key market segments and has staff members engaging the customers in those specific markets, including biomass, tree care and forestry, using the same models in different applications. “This focus allows us to understand our customers' needs and business models so we can then develop our product line to enhance the customer experience with Vermeer products,” Van Roekel says. “Different users have different feedstock specifications, but no matter where in the world they are located, the conversion process seems to dictate the general specification.”
Harvesting method, weather, equipment adjustments, support equipment, storage and transport methods all play a role in material quality. Talking through all these variables is crucial for a successful project. Vermeer’s bioscreen kit for its HG and TG grinder models is a good example—grinding baled material with variable moisture content has challenged traditional wood screens by blinding off as moisture content increased, but the bioscreen kit keeps the grinder productive in all moisture levels while maintaining sizing control. “I find most biomass end users are not experienced in the harvest and processing systems. Vermeer’s experience with agricultural residues and energy crops, as well as woody material processing, helps us explain the feedstock impact throughout the supply chain,” Van Roekel says. “We also see customers evolving their specifications and even the variety of material they want to use. This makes it extremely important to discuss not only today’s feedstock used, but also possible changes in feedstock or specification so we can select the right equipment for the job today and tomorrow.”
Vecoplan’s New Generation, or New Gen, of single-shaft rotary grinders incorporates many new features and benefits, many of which greatly improve maintenance and efficiency. Features including direct drives, double sidewalls, outboard bearings, swing-out screens and externally adjustable reversible counter-knives all greatly reduce the amount of time spent on routine maintenance.
“The HiTorc drive is one of the most beneficial features available on Vecoplan’s range of single and dual shaft rotary grinders,” says Yuri Chocholko, Vecoplan, LLC’s sales manager, wood, biomass and biofuels. “The HiTorc magnetic pulse drive allows the customer to change the speed of the grinding rotor at the touch of a button while the machine is running—anywhere from 30 to 300 rpm,” says Yuri Chocholko. “By changing the speed of the rotor, this unique technology allows the customer to increase or decrease the throughput of material through the machine, change the particle size coming from it and reduce the energy consumed.”
Best of all, this can all be done while the machine is running to suit the customer’s feedstock. The drive contains no belts, pulleys, fluid couplings or gearboxes, which means very little maintenance and the highest possible transfer of power and torque to the grinding process. Energy savings are maximized far beyond what traditional VFD drives can offer. For example, a 100 hp drive at 150 rpm will consume the same amount of energy as a typical hair-dryer when idling.
“Customers typically call us when their original equipment can no longer keep up following a change in the amount of material they are handling, or increasingly, when the feedstock itself changes,” Chocholko says. “The equipment configuration used for grinding woodchips will not be the same as that used for grinding miscanthus. As prices fluctuate for the feedstock, both raw and processed, and the changing seasons make available different crops for processing, the equipment that was designed for last year may not be what you are asking of it this year.”
Many hammermills and chippers are designed to go full speed ahead at all times, but the Vecoplan design permits a change in screen size, cutting speed, cutter design, available torque and the amount of material one can process. “Since many of these projects are in a trial, pilot or startup stage, a lot of the feedback we get is actually the unknown. Customers may not know the moisture content, bulk density or raw material size—it is perhaps too early in the project or these levels fluctuate—so we are presented with a wide range of possibilities to work around,” Chocholko says. “These factors must all be considered when correctly sizing any piece of size reduction equipment, but the customer simply does not know, so they look to us to provide them with our experiences in the field.”
Chocholko says, the outboard bearings, double sidewalls and direct drive features of the New Gen range of grinders all came about from customer feedback as to what would make for a better machine.“We studied the comments given to us by customers over the years on the design of the previous generation of machines, and also looked at our most commonly sold nonwear items in our spare parts inventory,” he says. “We picked a number of design changes that we could implement, without negatively impacting the machine’s performance or drastically increasing the price of the machine. The resulting performance in the field, as well as the reaction to the changes by our customers, has been phenomenal.”
Markus Schwarz of Bruks Klöckner, Bruks Rockwood’s Germany office, where the company’s chipping equipment is manufactured, says its latest offerings are for the biopower and biofuel market. “In the biopower market, we are offering chipping lines to chip logs for the production of heat and power. In the biofuel market, we are quoting combinations of chipping and rechipping lines for the pellet production,” he says. “For industrial pellets, there are several projects in the U.S. and Europe.”
Bruks Rockwoods’ focus has been to get equipment downtime as low as possible. To accomplish that, it has split the screens of its chippers in order to get a lower weight for an easy and quick change. On larger chippers, it has added an option to open the screen cradle hydraulically. Furthermore, it has simplified some features in order to reduce the number of parts and therefore increase liability.
Because Bruks Klöckner is a relatively small company with 75 employees, the sales department, general manager and the design department stay in close contact,” Schwarz says, "so if there is a need to change or update a design due to the market requirements, we can react very quickly.”
For example, the company had a client in Germany producing charcoal that requested a chip length of 200mm. “In this case, we were able to design a new rotor for the chipper, which was able to produce such a big chip length,” Schwarz says. “After we had designed the rotor, we produced a test rotor and made a trial in our laboratory before we produced a new machine.”
While Morbark, Continental Biomass Industries, Vermeer, Vecoplan and Bruks Klöckner are at the leading edge of biomass equipment innovation, they are only a few of the many companies working every day to listen to and meet the demand of the always-evolving bioenergy industry.
Author: Keith Loria
Freelance Writer, Biomass Magazine