GSI grain silos: how they’re built

By: Tom Dickson, Photography by: Andrew Britten, Video by: Andrew Britten

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Since the amalgamation of Grain Services Inc (GSI) and AGCO, massive grain storage silos have begun to pop up around the country like the pyramids in Egypt. TOM DICKSON went to Ballarat to see some construction in progress.

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The stars must have aligned when agricultural machinery manufacturer, importer and distributor, AGCO, purchased Grain Systems Inc. (GSI) and then later contracted Keogh Agricultural Services to take charge of the construction phase in Australia.

The reason why the two major entities joined forces in 2011 is simple.

While AGCO had equipment for nearly every aspect of farming, right from sowing the seed to harvesting the crop, it didn’t yet offer any kind of post-harvest storage solution.

The purchase of GSI was a decisive step forward in providing a comprehensive range of products and services, not only for the grain growing industry, but also to large-scale pig and poultry enterprises.

 

GSI Overview

GSI Silo

There are two distinct divisions of GSI. One deals with storage, conveyors and bucket elevators, along with steel support structures and all the accessories that go with them, while the other is the ‘protein division,’ encompassing the poultry, swine and dairy industries.

AGCO Sales Manager for GSI, James Lang, says the company can now offer a huge product range complete with factory and engineering support.

"Between GSI and Keogh Agricultural services, there are extensive resources to draw on for sales, construction and backup plus international corporate knowledge," Lang says.

"These grain storage systems have already been constructed all around the world, so the silos being built here in Australia have already been proven to perform."

 

Silo construction on Berrybank Farm

GSI Silos Berrybank

On a piggery just outside Ballarat in Victoria, Melville Charles has two 2,500 ton GSI 40 series grain silos currently under construction.

Why two? That’s because he runs a massive operation, breeding and fattening about 40,000 pigs per year for sale into the pork market.

Each week the pigs consume 250 tons of grain, hence the need for extensive storage. Charles grows most of his own grain, purchasing the rest from local growers straight off the header.

He says having a large storage capability allows him to purchase high volumes of grain early in the season when prices are usually more favourable.

Charles Integrated Farming Solutions Pty Ltd aims to maximise returns from sustainable farming practices. The property collects and recycles all the effluent from the piggery and moves it through primary and secondary digesters to produce methane gas.

Methane powered generators produce enough power to meet the demands of the operation with excess energy sold back into the grid. The remaining sludge is dehydrated, bagged and sold as organic fertilizer and garden mixes.

The flagship operation is constructed around an ageing and inefficient grain storage system. Replacing the large number of small silos and grain sheds with two high capacity silos will simplify the movement of grain.

More importantly, the technology built into the GSI 40 series grain bins will further increase productivity on the Berrybank farm.

 

Quality materials

GSI Silos Nuts And Bolts

Every component that goes into building the structure is rolled and cut to precision. The holes are pre-drilled and the panels have a rubber seal attached to the edges.

This style of construction eliminates the risk of poor workmanship which might compromise the integrity of the structure.

Dodgy welds or failure to apply sealing aren’t a factor - all that is required is that the bolts are tightened to the correct tension.

Keoghs uses zinc coated JS1000 bolts supplied by GSI, which provide added protection from rust. Every component is packed in shipping containers and delivered to the site.

A 10-inch U-Trough comes standard with an integrated power sweep capable of transferring about 136 tonnes of wheat per hour.

The side wall sheets are made from high tensile steel rated up to 70,000psi (450 MPa) minimum. A commercial G-90 galvanised steel coating increases life and durability.

 

Construction

GSI Silo Construction

When Keogh Agricultural Services arrive, the only requirement is that they are presented with a clear level, compacted site.

Keogh Agricultural Services CEO John Manning says the concrete base of the silo is the most important aspect of the whole structure.

"If you get the foundation right, the construction process can go ahead without too many dramas," he says.

It takes between three to four days to establish all the formwork, dig the foundation trenches and prepare the site.

On the day of the pour, about fifty cubic metres of concrete is used to produce a 16.5m diameter, 650mm thick round slab, which takes about two hours to complete.

Five hours later the slab is levelled and trowelled, the formwork is removed, and the team exits the site.

The two 16.5m diameter bins at Berrybank farm are from the 4024 spec silos. They feature two stiffeners per side wall panel, with four inch corrugations.

Fifteen rings are constructed on top of each other to form a 16.79m high wall, reaching 20.76m high at its peak.

Watching it rise is quite a spectacle. Twelve hydraulic jacks are bolted down to the slab at equal distance apart just inside the perimeter of the silo.

Each curved wall panel, which measures about 2m long and 1m high, bolts together to form a ring.

The hydraulic jacks bolt to the ring, then one operator takes the controls of the five horsepower hydraulic pump, raising the jacks and ring up just high enough to put together another ring underneath.

This process is repeated 15 times until all rings are in place and the shell of the silo is complete. All the construction process takes place from ground level.

Four workers can complete two rings each day, resulting in the whole structure taking about seven to eight days to reach full height.

GSI Silo Construction _2

Then work starts on the floor and auguring systems commence.

To comply with Australian standards, two tubular steel rings are bolted to the top two rings of the silo, adding strength to the structure by helping it resist the pressure of high velocity winds.

The wall panels and stiffeners, along with nuts and bolts, are manufactured from heavier gauge steel toward the bottom of the silo to cope with the increased load.

A stairway spirals up the outside wall for safe access to the roof, where exhaust vents can be opened and closed.

My only criticism is that the handrail on the stairway doesn’t fill me with confidence on the climb up.

While it’s all very interesting to watch it rise from the ground up, it’s what goes inside – and I don’t mean the grain, rather the technology and componentry that maintains the grain quality – that makes GSI silos exceptional storage units.

 

In-silo technology

GSI Silo Technology
AGCO Sales Manager for GSI James Lang (right) explains to Tom Dickson that while the Dura-Lok floor is one hundred percent GSI, the auger and power sweep are manufactured and installed by Keogh Agricultural Services. 

It’s proven that bacteria, mould and pests are less prevalent in a cool climate. Heat and moisture build-up in silos causes immediate protein loss, resulting in massive damage to the quality of the grain.

Keoghs install 30 horsepower GSI manufactured fans that ventilate the silos and provide air flow through the grain, preventing heat and moisture.

Keoghs also constructs GSI’s Dura-Lok flooring system, which consists of 3.5 inch wide lengths of folded galvanised steel that locks together.

This is mounted on a frame and legs which suspend it about 30cm above the cement floor. The flooring has tiny slots cut into it to allow air to flow through.

When required, the fan pumps air into the cavity between the steel floor and cement base. The ventilation is forced up through the grain and out the exhaust vents at the top.

Any build-up of grain residue and dust in the floor cavity can be blown out by sealing off the exhaust vents at the top and opening small doors at the bottom of the silo.

A thoroughly clean feed storage area again maximises grain quality.

The 4024 spec silos have six brackets attached to the roof for attaching grain monitoring sensors capable of constantly checking grain temperature and moisture content.

They can be integrated into a computer system to automatically control the ventilation fan to rectify the detected problems.

The silo can be totally airtight for fumigation purposes. Using the fans to ventilate the grain at the end of the fumigation process speeds up the withholding period.

Keoghs are installing an augering system for filling the silos. The hopper and high volume auger will see semi tippers unloaded in less than 10 minutes.

 

Final words

The completely sealed storage unit with built-in automation provides unsurpassed grain storage.

If at some point in the future you need more storage area, additional rings can be added to increase the volume of the silo.

 

Specifications

Make: GSI

Model: 4024

Diameter: 14.4m                               

Volume: 2550 tonnes; 3007 cubic metres               

Eave height: 16.79m                               

Peak height: 20.76m                              

Fan make: Keogh Agricultural Services

Fan power: 30hp

Augers make: Keogh Agricultural Services

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