Flow Problems? Try Bulk Material Testing First

At a site visit recently I was introduced to an operator in the plant control room. My host told him that I was there to work on the flow problems that had been plaguing their surge bins for years since they had made some changes to the raw material treatment. He sarcastically said “Good luck”, and then he added, “Man, are you being set up to fail?”

As far as he was concerned, this flow problem was a fact of life and was something that they were going to have to live with as a cost of doing business. He and the troubleshooting team had tried everything they could think of and had made little progress. His experience did not allow him to see another solution. He had reached a point where he could not conceive that a solution that included reliable on-demand flow was possible.

I smiled when I heard his sentiment because J&J had solved problems just like this and I had every confidence that I would be able to find a solution to his problem.

That is one of the things I enjoy about this job. What we do can look like magic to some people. But it is not magic, just a different way of seeing the problem, and having appropriate tools to deal with it.

Another thing that was brought out at this site visit was the troubleshooting team’s pleasant surprise when I told them that I would need to have a sample of their material for testing. Up to that point, their experience had been with equipment vendors. Not once had anyone asked for samples to measure properties of the material.

Most bulk solids handling equipment works great, but only in the correct application. Not often is it possible to see that a piece of equipment will solve a problem without much or any testing. With an unusual problem or material, testing is definitely required. Trying to force-fit a solution to a problem where there is no fit, just to make a sale is usually not good for anyone. It is by far the most expensive solution for a business.

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