Telemetry, IoT Turns Trash Into Treasure at DuPont

Contributor: Jason Koestenblatt
Posted: 01/10/2018
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DuPont

The DuPont Industrial Biosciences team made a commitment to help get a fledgling industry off the ground, and demonstrate the value there is in using innovative technologies to harness information, analyze data, and make business decisions that result in substantial time and money savings.

The DuPont team found a new way to enhance its creation of cellulosic ethanol, which would help power a full-scale production plant producing 30 million gallons of the fuel from 375,000 tons of corn crop residue each year. All this begins at the field level, where corn crop residue lays on the farm once the season is complete, is harvested by machinery, transported, and later converted into cellulosic ethanol. The process isn’t exactly simple, but the workflow had been established and resulted somewhat fruitful.

But Chris Hewitt, DuPont’s Center of Excellence Leader, and his team knew that with technology like telemetry, IoT, and mobility, the process could be more efficient, and was worth diving in to see what they could uncover.

The challenges set before them, however, were massive.

Because of the lifecycle of the corn crop season, the DuPont team had just a 70-day window to pick up the “trash” that would be converted to run the plant for a full year. While 70 days is short, when factoring in inclement weather and potential downtime, the team truly had approximately 32 days to make this work.

Additionally, a limited number of manufacturers make square balers – the machines that pick up the corn crop residue and turn it into transferrable goods from the farm. “Their technology communicates only with attached equipment of their brand,” said Hewitt. “Each brand requires separate or unique licensing software, creating a limiting environment.”

Another pressing issue the team faced was the potential of fires from arson or lightning strikes, Hewitt said. But within those challenges, DuPont found plenty of silver linings and a new way of work. “We determined that with the use of telemetry we could build a solution to drive communications, notifications, and value,” said Hewitt.

“DuPont designed a solution which allowed us to introduce a flexible, robust telemetry model, marrying the blended harvest equipment into one data receptacle,” Hewitt said. “Our focused solution enabled us to analyze data and meet customer needs.”

What came from DuPont’s initiative was an IoT breakthrough. Data allowed the field crews to know where to be and when. By connecting tractors and balers with a single receptacle, they began capturing real-time info for the first time, resulting in optimizing the crews and delivering cost savings.

Via mobile app and dashboard, field crews and administrators were able to view moisture levels in the bale; monitor equipment idle time – a substantial metric considering tractors and balers are measured on hours used, not mileage, and determine when a missed tie was thrown into the field. This vulnerability in the baler can potentially cause damage with planting equipment the following season.

The return on investment was monumental, Hewitt said, both in time and money. A new efficiency was born as data was now driving more quality decisions. The alerts and metrics helped reduce the price paid per bale by nearly 35%; improve nitrogen management to optimize crop yields and increase profitability, improve field residue management, and improve crop conditions for the following growing season.

In leveraging telemetry, DuPont achieved 35% savings, reduced idle machine hours by 30%, and most staggeringly, has seen a monetary return of seven times its original investment thanks to data-driven decisions and logistics.

In the end, Hewitt challenged his team, resulting in a solution which delivered value and a transformation in the field. His challenge was three-fold:

  • Listen beyond the customer request. What was the real issue and problem that needed to be solved?
  • Be OK with disruption; it can be an opportunity
  • Partner with the business. Go beyond a 'legacy' way of thinking and determine the art of possible.

In leveraging telemetry, DuPont achieved 35% savings, reduced idle machine hours by 30%, and most staggeringly, has seen a monetary return of seven times its original investment thanks to data-driven decisions and logistics.

Jason Koestenblatt
Contributor: Jason Koestenblatt

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