A grain storage system can be a thing of beauty, provided the setup was properly planned for the long haul and executed properly. And making that happen means the storage facility dealer, designer and the farmer must all be on the same page. “A storage facility is a significant investment — often part of a long-term plan,” says Adam Abels, Ag Advantage Systems, a Thompson, Iowa, designer and builder of GSI grain systems.
Abels, who has been using three-dimensional computer-aided design drawings for his customers for nearly a decade, has long been an innovator in presenting designs to customers. “Two years ago, I started laying my 3D designs over Google Earth images to show the farmer just how the system would fit in their operation,” he says.
But what if you could put the customer right inside a facility before the first yard of concreted was poured? What “mistakes” could be found by walking through the facility first, checking ladder placement, air-line locations and dump pit specifications, as just a few examples?
“Adam told me when I came in today that I should prepare to be amazed,” Jeff Divan, Divan Farms says, smiling. Divan has been involved in high tech since college, working with startups and major players including The Climate Corporation and Ceres. But he’s also working with his father and expanding the family farm operation. Divan farms near Thompson, Iowa.
Part of that expansion involves the on-farm storage facility. And during a recent meeting in an empty storage area, Divan got a chance to walk through his existing and future storage system. “And yes, I was amazed,” he says.
SIMULATOR DEMO: On the right, Jeff Divan and Adam Abels are reviewing the storage facility plans for Divan Farms, including a range of potential future expansions. On the left, the simulation gives you an idea what they can see — in 3D — so they can get an idea of how the revised facility changes will work.
Put on the glasses
Abels is participating in GSI’s trial program that takes mixed-reality technology and provides a 3D view of a grain facility for customers. This is different from virtual reality, where you put on goggles and are stuck “inside” the image. Instead, with mixed, or augmented, reality, you’re seeing the image over your existing surroundings.
This demonstration was held indoors, because current technology isn’t bright enough to use outside — yet. “We wanted to provide the best possible view for the customer, so we sized the facility to about 40% of its real size for the demo,” says Lance Brown, GSI global learning and development director. “This technology has the potential to provide the farmer a full, holistic view of their business.”
GSI, part of Agco, is investing in this new tech. Brown noted that the company is working with the University of Illinois, and has brought on interns in mixed reality to build on the company’s programming for facility design.
Essentially, the user puts on the HoloLens unit and can technically “walk” through the facility. Divan, who is on a five-year plan to expand the storage facility as the family farm grows, could check out a range of factors. “There were air lines and a new tower, and I wanted to see how that would work in relation to other parts of the facility,” he notes. “This really allows me to see how our farm’s storage system can expand. And this approach gives me confidence in the design.”
Any on-farm facility is a big investment, but a storage system has a lot of moving parts. Get one part wrong and it can create headaches for years. Abels explains that his work to plan facilities and his use of computer-aided design help prevent that, but this new tool will be a game-changer as it becomes available.
“The customer can actually see the facility and get a sense of the scale, determine if a change is needed, and make that change before any work is done,” he says.
Brown explains that the idea of using mixed reality started as a training tool, but GSI sees the value of using the tool for design assistance and more. In fact, Agco’s AP brand, which makes hog facility equipment, is using augmented reality to show its positive-pressure systems.
He envisions a day when this technology is commonplace enough to help diagnose issues in swine buildings, and more.
As for Abels, who has been trialing the tech, he sees a future with the tool. “We can see how this could make customers more comfortable with their investment in new storage facilities.”
You can get an idea of what you see in the HoloLens from the video below. It was taken in the same room at Ag Advantage Systems, where Divan had his demo, and shows what could be seen in the space.