Found Money

July 15, 2003

You know the deal with found money, right? A dollar lottery ticket you received as a gift pays off $300. Or maybe it's the $20 you find under the back seat while giving your car its biennial cleaning.

There are many versions, but the basic premise is that found money must be spent. You weren't expecting to have it, so you must use it and enjoy. It can be beers all around for your friends or a bigger-than-usual donation at church. It doesn't matter how; it just must be shared.

That's how I felt after last month's International Powder & Bulk Solids Technology Forum near Chicago. It wasn't found money, but it was found knowledge, and I have to share it with you.

I got there late on the final day, and most attendees were already heading home. The last session of the Process Measurement for Solids Handling track was to be a recap of the week's presentations. But there were only two attendees in the room, so the wrap-up was reduced to a self-critique by the presenters of how the sessions had gone. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to get a quick refresh of my solids-handling knowledge. This was my found money in a condensed, totally unanticipated format.

Early in my career, I helped design and then debug large-scale vacuum conveying systems. They unloaded railcars full of resins and carbon black pellets directly to overhead, controlled-feed hoppers for 2,000-gallon ink-mixing tanks. I remember that the sweep elbows at key points in the transport pipes never performed as designed. We always would have one or two repiping projects to relieve chronic clogging of the more fragile materials.

But, back to the conference: We also had a nice discussion about specifying instrumentation and controls for solids handling rather than liquids. Our ad-hoc group foresaw increased use of Coriolis principles in solids flow measurement for non-sticky materials. Pricing is becoming attractive, and the vendors are promoting its use a bit more. We also saw reason to make better use of inline measurement of product quality as a key to improving yields and reducing final quality control holdups.

We talked about network connectivity. We all know that moving data electronically from solids-handling systems for real-time inventory updates and to sense system health can improve overall uptime. But companies often run multiple legacy systems ," even within a single plant, there can be a few, each with limited, proprietary communications protocols. Company decision-makers do not usually consider connecting to the rest of the manufacturing data system a must-do. It seems they believe clipboards and manual readings are all that's needed.

I think powder and solids-handling users feel a bit like second-class citizens sometimes. They know they have more to offer beyond reliable conveyance of materials, but they're not being heard.

I'll bet some of you have a few success stories to strengthen the argument. Tell me about them, and we'll start the discussion here. Consider it a found opportunity.

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