Feb 23, 2018

Puck Precision

Accurate fertilizer application reduces water quality issues

Mark Trapolino writes on reducing water quality issues by fertilizer application

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 key to reducing air 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 flowmeters designed specifically for agricultural use, pressure sensors, tank level measurement instruments and compact temperature sensors. PCE recently was recognized for its success when the U.S. Small Business Administration named Ben Puck, founder and president of PCE, the “Iowa Small Business Person of the Year.”

Filling Market Needs

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 its services, he grew dissatisfied with the products he found on the market. The engine sets, pump sizes and features were not designed to handle the tough conditions he found every day in the fields.

So, like generations of farming entrepreneurs before him, he decided to build a better mousetrap. Today, his company 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 since has received several other equipment patents for inventions designed to improve manure application.

Puck incorporated a variety of measurement technologies made by Krohne. He had been using Krohne devices for measuring liquid flow in the early systems he built, so it was a natural fit once he formally began manufacturing equipment for the company and bringing it into its 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,” Puck said.

Precision Measurements

According to Puck, the magnetic flowmeters used on the equipment provide a tool to properly place the liquid manure fertilizer in the field at the recommended rate. Animal wastes contain key nutrients that must be applied at agronomic rates for proper crop production, and handled carefully to protect 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 device.

Manure applicators are commonly paid by the gallons used. Flowmeters are used as the applicator’s cash register, so accurate measurement is critical.

Puck explained 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 fertilization. The system uses two flowmeters 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 flowmeters 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 flowmeter. Krohne used PCE as one of its key initial testing partners to see if it was on the right track with the agricultural version, which was developed approximately eight years ago to increase reliability in tough field conditions.

The design includes encapsulation of the entire body of the device with a special nonconductive gel potting. 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. When cured, the potting is flexible and can move without tearing the circuitry off the internal circuit boards of the flow tube and flow converter.

Puck sold much of the 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 feature of the flowmeter 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 and transmitters, which enable it to transpond pressure using LightSpeed, providing two-way communication with each pump unit using a cellular signal. It allows users to remotely monitor readings such as inlet and outlet pressures, along with flow, in real time. 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 a device from miles away.

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

The flexible pressure gauge also can 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 said 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 level meter is affixed to the boom, communicating pit level. The measurement is transmitted wirelessly through PCE’s LightSpeed system 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.

Optimizing Revenue While Being Environmentally Compliant

“Accuracy counts, especially when you’re being paid by the gallon,” said Puck. When developing new equipment, PCE frequently comes up with new ideas about things it wants to value or measure. It then brings the idea to Krohne to see if it has a device that can make the measurement. The solutions from Krohne streamline PCE integration of measurement tools into its 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?’” Puck said.

Next on the Horizon

Puck is passionate about the budding liquid manure application management industry, which he said is critical to ensuring the survival of animal agriculture. While it is important to the environment to handle manure safely, correctly and efficiently, Puck said the industry is still a baby that has yet to walk. To help that baby start running, Puck has provided 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 measurement technology for applying agronomic fertilizer, counting gallons to bill customers, and leak detection to make sure what is leaving the site is getting to the field. The accuracy it gets from the measurement systems it has in place helps PCE make informed decisions.

The company is still on a quest for more knowledge, such as analytics on inline measurement of nutrient values within the manure stream or 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.

“We deal with animal agriculture,” Puck said. “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.” 

About the author

Mark Trapolino is agricultural industry manager - upper Midwest and Mountain regions for Krohne. Trapolino can be reached at [email protected].

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