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2019 Banff Pork Seminar

Smart technologies: The new brain in the barn

Date posted: January 9, 2019

Tom Stein

Get ready for a smart revolution in pork production management systems.

That was the message Tom Stein had for pork producers at the 2019 Banff Pork Seminar, Jan. 8 to 10 in Banff, Alta.

Stein is senior strategic adviser for Maximus Systems, leading the design and development of next-generation pig and poultry production management software using machine learning to automate pattern recognition and analysis.

Stein first outlined what modern, smart control systems are using the Maximus modular computer control system as an example. Then he outlined nine current and emerging smart technologies for pork production.

As pork producers look to the future, they have important decisions to make now about how to get ready for these new technologies, he says. Producers will want to have a single barn control platform system that can connect to or integrate with these new technologies.

"My thesis is that it will be the smart barn control system – 'brain in the barn' – that becomes the single management and control platform for integrating all these new in-the-barn technologies.

"When you look at even this short list of nine emerging technologies, ask yourself questions like: How will they be managed? How many networks will pork producers install in their barns? How many different software applications will pork producers need to work with? Will pork producers want to log-in to 10 or more separate networks and apps to manage each different technology? Will pork producer employees need or want to learn 10 or more separate software systems? Who will service and maintain multiple networks within a pig barn? What about the cost of installing and maintaining 10 separate networks in each site or barn or room?

"One must remember, these nine technologies are the beginning, not the end," he says.

Which management software platform to adopt is another critical success factor for the same reasons. Producers will want a single software platform that seamlessly works with a smart control system because otherwise it will be too hard to manage. Brains in the barn will communicate in real-time and in both directions with brains in the office to spearhead the next evolution in pork production management.

Complete production overview

Modern, intelligent barn controllers fully integrate the function of all components of climate control into a single unit, eliminating the need to program and co-ordinate several smaller controls. With this ability, tighter temperature bands can be maintained, with some controls able to regulate the temperature. The control should show all ventilation stages and allow you to determine which fans start at which temperature, what the inlet/curtain openings should be for each stage, the ideal static pressure for each stage, etc.

The advantage of having inlet and fan function within the same unit is in having three or four types of inlets available to the same controller, which can be transitioned through and controlled by static pressure as different fans are activated. Being able to smoothly transition from one type of inlet to another as the outdoor temperature changes throughout the day can save a significant amount of heating cost. Individual heaters can be monitored and controlled in combination with inlet controls. Some controls are capable of handling up to 16 zones for great uniformity along the length and width of the barn.

Obviously, heating and ventilation savings are a huge factor in payback on these computers, but some of the tools that allow users to track, analyze and manage those aspects are key. Using your controller to collect heater run-time data (to find faulty heaters or air leaks), temperature and humidity logs by zone (including outside), feed and water consumption, mortality, and many other statistics can make all the difference in diagnosing and fixing problems that may not be immediately apparent by walking the barn.

The data-tracking and alarm systems give equipment and service providers a direct line to your controller from a remote location and provide you with premium technical service, even when they can't be there immediately. Software links you to your sites and barns 24 hours a day. You can check on the situation in the barn, no matter where you are in the world. Alarms can be sent to your PC, tablet computer or smartphone. And, if necessary, you can adjust the settings in the control computers remotely to improve the processes in the barn. The result is a complete overview of your company and insight into production costs and technical results.

Modern, intelligent barn controller

Stein says many brands of controls are 'tightly bound' into proprietary systems tied into the company's product line. "You don't want that," he says. "A smart control should be able to work with any brand: any fan, any heater, any curtain, any bin load cell, any hog sorter, any stand-by generator, any inlet, etc."

Here is Stein's checklist of 28 essential characteristics that he believes should be found in a smart barn controller system:

  • Single product that works for any species (pigs, poultry, dairy/beef, others)
  • Single product that can be configured to run any barn/barns
  • Independent: control any brand of fans, curtains, heaters, inlets, etc.
  • Online and networked (status always known)
  • Accessible directly via Internet
  • Robust and secure data transfer to private cloud database
  • Immune to power failure
  • Robust surge protection
  • USB backup of all control settings for restoring the controller if power outage
  • Remote (cloud database) backup of all control settings
  • Module diagnostics (diagnose problems with a specific sensor or output)
  • Be able to create user-friendly names for all inputs and outputs
  • Location tracking (latitude and longitude)
  • Multiple languages
  • User authentication, authorization and permission system
  • Create, delete, and manage users from phone, tablet, laptop, desktop
  • Robust security to prevent unauthorized access
  • Message users by SMS text, email or phone.
  • Multiple phone and email addresses for each user/contact
  • User-specific settings for messaging availability (e.g. 24.7, 6 a.m.-8 p.m., etc.)
  • User-specific settings for what messages should be sent to whom
  • Be able to quickly see current conditions in the site/barn
  • Robust local data storage (at least two years)
  • Maintain history of interaction with controller (who set or changed what)
  • Frequent software updates (every six to eight weeks)
  • User-controlled ability to manage software updates to the controller
  • Extensible (ability to add functionality in the same box)
  • Robust accessibility to settings, programs, functions (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop)

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