an image showing the 6 elements of PCE’s dragline systems
August 28, 2017

Precision Agriculture Requires Precision Measurement

Devices ensure precision fertilizer application while reducing air and water quality issues

By Mark Trapolino, KROHNE Inc.

Puck Custom Enterprises (PCE) is passionate about helping the animal agriculture industry be good stewards of the environment. The Iowa-based company, which designs, builds, and sells manure management equipment, wants to help its customers be responsible about the animal nutrients they put into the ground.

Measurement tools are the key to success in reducing air quality and water quality issues associated with manure management. That is why PCE has incorporated a range of sophisticated measurement tools into its systems, including magnetic flow meters designed specifically for agricultural use, pressure sensors, tank level measurement instruments, and compact temperature sensors.

PCE was recently recognized for its success when the Small Business Administration named Ben Puck, founder and president of Puck Custom Enterprises, as the “Iowa Small Business Person of the Year.”

Company sees a market need and fills it

Raised on a family farm in rural Iowa, Ben Puck began pumping and hauling liquid manure for area farmers as a way of bringing in extra revenue. As the business grew and he added other manure services to his business, he was dissatisfied with the products he found on the market. The engine sets and pump sizes and features were just not designed to handle the tough conditions he found every day in the fields.

So, like generations of farming entrepreneurs before him (let’s call him an agripreneur), he decided to build a better mouse trap. Today, his company proudly claims its dragline system is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to utilize animal manure as a natural fertilizer to grow crops. The hose reel was his first patented invention; he has since received several other equipment patents for inventions to improve manure application.

Six elements of PCE’s dragline systems include 1. Manure agitation 2. Hose as a pipeline for transportation, 3. Pumps 4. Fertilizer application 5. Wireless controls, and safe operation of a service business.

Puck incorporated a variety of measurement technologies made by KROHNE. They had been using KROHNE devices for measuring liquid flow in the early systems they had built, so it was a natural fit once they formally began manufacturing equipment for themselves and bringing it into their product line.

“KROHNE is not known as the most economical, but without a doubt they are extremely reliable and the cost versus benefit is fantastic. The support we get from KROHNE is literally priceless to us. They explain how things work, and why. They teach us to teach our customers how to be more successful.”

Measuring animal nutrients and avoiding misapplying liquid where it does not belong

According to Puck, the magnetic flow meters used on the equipment provide a tool to properly place the liquid manure fertilizer in the field at the recommended rate. Animal nutrients contain key nutrients that must be applied at agronomic rates for proper crop production, and handled carefully to protect our air and water quality. The equipment PCE provides enables precise measurement of the number of fertilizer units placed per acre of ground. Proper placement in the root zone ensures the crop can utilize the nutrients. Each gallon applied is accurately measured and mapped through the use of a GPS.

Manure applicators are commonly paid by the gallon applied. Flow meters are used, in effect, as the applicator’s cash register, so accurate measurement is critical.

Puck explains the process, noting that the equipment takes liquid manure from a site and transports it to the field through a lay flat hose. The tractor then incorporates it into the soil for fertilizing. The system uses two flow meters in series, with one meter on the pump at the site, and the other on the tractor in the field. Because they are using the hose as a pipeline, the second meter acts as a “handshake” made in the field.

Tractor operators can view the site and field measurements side-by-side in the tractor cab using PCE’s LightSpeed wireless engine control system. Comparing the two flow meters indicates if the line is secure all the way to the destination. If a leak is detected, operators can go back out and quickly find it, minimizing the possibility of an environmental impact.

For this application, PCE uses the KROHNE OPTIFLUX 4100 agricultural version magnetic flow meter. KROHNE actually used PCE as one of its key initial testing sites to see if it was on the right track with the new agricultural version, which was developed about eight years ago to increase reliability in these tough field conditions.

The new design includes encapsulation of the entire body of the device with a special nonconductive gel potting that is unique to the agricultural industry. This means the body is cleared of air, so no condensation occurs in the meter when the process is running. The potting also makes a good vibration dampener. The potting when cured is flexible and can move without tearing the circuitry off the internal circuit boards of the flow tube and flow converter.

KROHNE OPTIFLUX 4100 agricultural version magnetic flow meter is a tool for properly measuring and placing the liquid manure fertilizer in the field at the recommended rate.

Puck sells much of its equipment throughout the Midwest and Northeast, where manure applicators face extreme temperature variances leading to condensation from freezing and thawing, in addition to the rough travel through a field in a tractor.

Another unique feature of the flow meter is its special tungsten carbide coated electrodes, which provide additional abrasion resistance to wear against the sand-bedding used at dairy farms. The tungsten also offers signal noise filtering, an advantage since the liquid manure has a high solid content and is flowing at a high velocity.

PCE also incorporates KROHNE OPTIBAR 3050 pressure gauges/transmitters, which enable them to transpond pressure using LightSpeed, which provides 2-way communication with each pump unit using a cellular signal. It allows users to remotely monitor numbers in real time, like inlet and outlet pressures, along with flow. The information can be sent to an operator’s devices, including a cell phone, tablet, or computer. From there the operator can interact with the pump unit through their device from miles away.

KROHNE OPTIBAR 3050 Pressure gauges are found on both the inlet and outlet sides of PCE Pump Units for safe pump operation.

Safety is very important to PCE, and monitoring pressure adds another layer of safety to their systems. PCE uses OPTIBARs on the inlet and the outlet sides of the pump to keep the pump running smoothly. Their new Guardian control panel adds a layer of intelligence to their system by allowing the user to preset operating parameters for each OPTIBAR. Guardian then throttles the engine automatically to slow or speed up the pump to keep pressures within those parameters.

PCE’s Guardian control panel communicates information from KROHNE instruments to wireless internet-based control platform.

The flexible OPTIBAR 3050 pressure gauge can also be used as a standalone unit with an analogue setting.

To determine how much volume is left to be put in the field, PCE uses the KROHNE OPTIFLEX 1100 guided radar (TDR) contact level meter, which Puck finds has been a useful tool for making key decisions in the field with the crew’s time.

Puck uses pump units with hydraulic booms to pump manure from swine barns. A KROHNE level meter is affixed to the boom, communicating pit level. The measurement is transmitted wirelessly through PCE’s LightSpeed system to field operators.

Pump units with hydraulic booms pump manure from swine barns and transmit measurement to field operators.

Finally, the equipment systems incorporate the KROHNE OPTITEMP TRA-C30 compact temperature sensor on hydraulic oil towers. The sensor monitors the hydraulic fluid temperature, ensures it is in the right operating range, and determines if the hydraulic levels are high enough for proper operations.

Accurate measurement helps businesses remain successful and environmentally compliant

“Accuracy counts, especially when you’re being paid by the gallon,” says Puck. When developing new equipment, PCE frequently comes up with new ideas about things they want to value or measure. They then bring the idea to KROHNE to see if they have a device that can make the measurement. KROHNE has had a solution each time, making it easy for PCE to integrate the measurement tools into their systems. “What we don’t know is what we don’t know, so it is great to be around a company that can help answer us each time we ask, “Can we do this?”

A PCE Booster pump transports liquid manure through hose to the application tractor.

What’s next up on the measurement horizon?

Puck is passionate about the budding liquid manure application management industry, which he says is critical to ensuring the survival of animal agriculture. While it is so important to the environment to handle manure safely, correctly and efficiently, Puck says the industry is really still a baby that has yet to walk. To help that baby start running, Puck provides more than 20 pump schools to the industry each year, offering customers the knowledge, training and equipment to maximize their profit potential. Customers spend a day or two at the plant discussing safety, flow, accuracy, and proper nutrient placement, as well as ways to improve efficiency.

For now, PCE uses KROHNE’s sophisticated measurement technology for applying agronomic fertilizer, counting gallons to bill customers, and for leak detection to make sure what is leaving the site is getting to the field. The accuracy they get from the measurement systems they have in place helps them make great decisions.

But they are still on a quest for more knowledge, such as analytics on inline measurement of nutrient values within the manure stream – the ability to map how much nutrient is being applied to certain areas of the field. Also of interest is better diagnostics to determine if stray voltage due to velocity is affecting volumetric measurement accuracy.

Puck sums it up this way. “We deal with animal agriculture. Animals eat and provide nutrients and we want to responsibly put these nutrients back in the ground, so we can supply a lot more food to those animals. There are air and water quality issues involved in this process, so measurement is extremely important. KROHNE provides the measurement tools we need to get better at using manure. They are efficient and accurate and I am glad to be able to offer the products as a dealer. KROHNE has done a great job of allowing us to grow.”

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