Archive: Jun 2023

How to Prevent the Most Common Causes of Machine Downtime

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technician factory machine maintenance working wrench

Unplanned machine downtime can disrupt operations, cause unnecessary costs and affect downstream processes. Find out about the most common causes of machine downtime, its effect on your revenue, and proactive strategies that can improve equipment efficiency and reliability.

Mechanical Failures

Mechanical failures can include issues such as component breakdowns, wear and tear, malfunctioning parts, or equipment reaching the end of its service life.

Solution: Regular maintenance can help identify potential mechanical failures and address them before they get worse. Maintenance activities can include visual inspections, testing, lubrication, calibration, and replacement of worn or damaged parts. Predictive maintenance techniques, such as vibration analysis or thermal imaging, can also detect early signs of impending failures.

Dust and other material residues can also lower equipment efficiency, clog components and eventually cause malfunction and failure. Periodic cleaning with AcoustiClean sonic horns can remove particle accumulation and prevent machine downtime.

Poor material flow

Unlike occasional equipment failures, poor material flow can happen every day. Stagnant material can lower the vessel capacity and block the vessel outlet. This can lead to reduced throughput and increased downtime. It can affect downstream processes or equipment and require operators to stop the process and assign workers to manually clear the material blocks.

The most common causes of poor material flow are bridging and ratholing.

  • Bridging happens when material forms an arch or a bridge across the outlet of a storage bin, preventing the free flow of material. It occurs when the material’s cohesive or interlocking properties cause it to adhere and form a stable structure.
  • Ratholing occurs when a hole or tunnel is formed within the stored material in a bin or hopper, leaving a void around the outlet area. This happens when a funnel-flow pattern develops: the central material column flows freely, but the material surrounding the perimeter remains stationary.

Solution: AirSweep promotes on-demand material flow to prevent material blocks. The powerful air pulses can move damp powders, sticky solids, and other challenging materials that are prone to bridging and ratholing.

Human Error

Operators or maintenance personnel can make mistakes that result in machine downtime. This can involve incorrect operation of the equipment, improper maintenance procedures, or mistakes during repairs or adjustments.

Solution: Proper training, clear operating procedures, and effective communication can minimize the occurrence of human errors.

Cleaning and other regular maintenance

Regular cleaning of machinery and equipment is essential to ensure optimal performance and meet industry sanitation requirements. However, it does contribute to overall machine downtime.

Solution: Clean-in-Place (CIP) technologies are automated systems and processes used in various industries to clean and sanitize equipment and piping systems without disassembling them. It removes product residues, microorganisms, and contaminants to prevent cross-contamination between batches and reduce the risk of microbial growth or product spoilage.

Aside from CIPs, AirSweep can also be used to flush the vessels clean between batches. An infant formula uses AirSweep to flush vessels between batch runs, cutting cleanup time from 40 hours to 10 hours.

Material spills and pile-up

When conveyor belts, bucket elevators, or other material transport equipment malfunction, there’s a big chance that material will spill over. If this occurs, companies face two problems: repairing the equipment, and cleaning up the mess.

Solution: For some companies, any material pile-up can lead to days of downtime. A concrete company estimates that its feeders load about 250 tons of gravel per hour, or 4 tons a minute. Even just a 10-minute malfunction could result in 30 hours of downtime. To prevent machine downtime and its catastrophic results, it installed DAZIC zero speed switches that could alert the operator of any abnormal changes in equipment speed.

Cost of unplanned machine downtime

Equipment downtime affects productivity and costs. Calculate how much your company is wasting whenever your equipment malfunctions or operates at lower efficiency.

Unplanned Downtime = (Time Asset is Down / Total Time) x 100
The cost of downtime can depend on factors like the size and complexity of the affected operations and the number of workers who are affected. You can use this formula to start your calculations, but you may need to add other variables depending on your particular process.

Cost of Unplanned Downtime = Average Hourly Wage x (Time Asset is Down/Total Time) X Number of Employees Affected

Protect your equipment and your revenue

Control Concepts, Inc. has helped thousands of plants improve their bulk material handling. Our products—AirSweep, DAZIC, and AcoustiClean—are used by companies of every size and industry. Work with us to improve productivity and reduce machine downtime.

Pneumatic Flow Aids: Benefits and Comparisons

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grains cereal being delivered agricultural silo

Many production facilities have problems with poor material flow. Powders or other bulk materials cake on the hopper or bin walls and block the vessel outlet. But instead of reaching for the nearest hammer, many are now turning to more powerful, automated solutions—like pneumatic flow aids.

What are pneumatic flow aids?

Pneumatic flow aids are bulk solid handling equipment used specifically for improving the flow of material while it is transported or processed. They use compressed air to break up the cohesive friction that causes material blocks, and then propel the material down the vessel or pipes.

Pneumatic flow aids are often used in industries that handle dry, granular, or powdered materials, such as manufacturing, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and mining. Many of these materials are abrasive and fragile and can degrade if over-handled. The compressed air minimizes direct contact, unlike vibrators and other mechanical flow aids.

What are the different kinds of pneumatic flow aids?

  • Fluidizers. Fluidizers are small discs attached inside the vessel wall. As the discs move, they push air down the vessel wall to loosen the material. While fluidizers are inexpensive and may even be pre-installed on some vessels, the gentle aeration can only activate light powders and can’t fix most bridging and ratholing problems.
  • Air cannons. These large devices release single, powerful blasts of air to break up material blocks. The nozzles are carefully embedded in the vessel wall and hooked up to a system that automates the firing sequence. While it can activate sticky material, it uses a lot of electricity and can damage vessels. If not installed properly, the material can also accumulate inside the nozzle edges and cause sanitation and contamination issues.
  • Pneumatic knockers. These are pistons that hit the vessel at variable intervals, much like an automated hammer. Unlike other pneumatic flow aids, a knocker doesn’t use air to activate the material—instead, the air powers the piston. Despite its name, its mechanisms are more similar to industrial vibrators or agitators.
  • AirSweep. AirSweep is a unique pneumatic flow aid that resolves many of the issues found in fluidizers, vibrators, air cannons, and pneumatic knockers. The patented nozzle releases powerful bursts of air that can activate all materials, from light powders to very sticky and moist solids. It does not damage vessel walls and is installed outside the vessel for easy cleaning and maintenance.

How does AirSweep work?

The AirSweep system is uniquely designed to create on-demand, first-in/first-out material flow. Unlike pneumatic flow aids which run continuously, you can control exactly where and when the air pulses are released. It can also activate tougher materials, break up tough material blocks, and sweep the vessel walls completely clean. No material residue is left behind.

The role of pressure and volume

While all pneumatic flow aids will use compressed air, they achieve varying degrees of material activation—because of the simple principles of pressure and volume.

Think of it as a garden hose versus a fire hose. While they may both use water and have similar structures and mechanisms, a fire hose has more power and range. You can’t use a garden hose to put out a big fire, and you can’t use a weak pneumatic flow aid to solve tough material flow problems.

Get the right flow aid for your process

Choosing the right flow aid involves many factors like efficiency, cost, installation and maintenance, and more. We can help you weigh the pros and cons, and find the right solution for your needs. Contact us for a free consultation, and a custom proposal from our engineers.

5 Ways AirSweep Boosts Productivity and Streamlines Operations

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industrial factory employee smiling while working

Efficient material flow has a huge impact on productivity, costs, and even plant safety. Companies can lose thousands of dollars a day because they had to stop operations to clear out a clogged silo or hopper. They may even have to throw out contaminated material or pull workers from other tasks to hammer away at the material blocks.

AirSweep can solve dry bulk materials handling issues and ensure efficient, reliable material flow. It is used in thousands of plants around the world and can handle materials that other flow aids can’t. In fact, many companies shifted to AirSweep because they saw that it was more powerful and cost-efficient than their current system.

Here are five ways AirSweep enhances material flow and paves the way for higher productivity and streamlined operations.

AirSweep: Bulk Product Handling Equipment for Material Flow

Bridging and ratholing are two of the most common dry bulk materials handling issues. In both cases, the material forms a solid mass that blocks the vessel discharge outlet. Material flow becomes slow and uneven, and “old” material remains in the vessel. This can become a safety issue for food or pharmaceutical companies that use materials that can spoil.

AirSweep breaks up bridging and ratholing and pushes the stagnant material back into the flow stream. The powerful air pulses work on damp, sticky, or problematic powders that don’t respond to other flow aids, such as titanium dioxide or flax and cocoa.

Enhance silo and hopper efficiency

Many dry bulk materials handling issues occur in silos and hoppers, where bulk materials are stored before being transferred to the next stage of the production process.

Material blocks can reduce storage capacity and speed of discharge. In fact, surveys show that most silos and hoppers only operate at 80% capacity because of poor material flow.

AirSweep can be installed on silos and hoppers to dislodge blocked material. The nozzles are strategically placed at the right points and then set to release air pulses in a specific pattern. This prevents slow flow, overflow, bottlenecks, uneven feeding, and material segregation.

Reduce cleaning and maintenance time

Cleaning and maintenance tasks can take up valuable time in manufacturing and industrial processes. AirSweep can be used to flush vessels completely clean between batch runs. It costs less than using flushing material and is safer and faster than manual cleaning.

AirSweep is so reliable that one of the world’s biggest infant formula companies uses it to prepare equipment between the production of regular and lactose-free milk. They installed it on their blenders, vacuum receivers, sifters, and packaging line vessels, and significantly cut down their turnaround and cleaning time.

The AirSweep unit itself is also very low-maintenance and can be removed for cleaning with simple hand tools. This is very convenient for processes that follow strict sanitation standards.

Minimize manual intervention

Sometimes, companies have to send workers to resolve dry bulk materials handling issues. They climb into a vessel with hammers and pick-axes to dislodge material blocks—a solution that takes too much time and puts them at risk for injuries and unnecessarily exposes them to materials.

Worker safety organizations discourage plants from giving any tasks that the worker is not specifically trained to do, or leads to prolonged contact with powders or substances that can cause irritation, respiratory problems, or other long-term health problems.

AirSweep is a safer, faster, and more effective way to solve material blocks. Not only does this reduce the risk of worker injury, but it also allows them to focus on more productive tasks.

Increase productivity

The biggest and clearest benefit of the AirSweep system is that it increases productivity and output. When material flows, so does the rest of your process. Here’s just one example: a minerals processing plant was able to cut down the filling time of its supersacks from two hours to just a few minutes. Production increased so much that they had to hire more people—a “problem” that most plants would like to have.

Improve your plant efficiency with AirSweep

AirSweep offers a reliable and simple solution to dry bulk materials handling issues. Contact us to find out more about how you can use it to improve productivity, reduce maintenance time, and streamline your production processes.

What is Bulk Material Handling Efficiency?

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raw sugar bulk loading

In all industries, the efficient movement and storage of materials play a vital role in smooth operations and increased productivity. If the material flow stops, so does production—and every delay incurs costs and risks.

This is where bulk material handling comes into play. This field of engineering looks at the fundamental principles of managing tons of material, and the best strategies for achieving reliable material flow.

In this blog post, we will look at what is bulk material handling, its key components, and various methods used in different industries and applications.

What is Bulk Material Handling?

Bulk material handling is the process of moving, storing, and managing large quantities of dry or granular materials. These are in their loose or bulk state, rather than packaged goods. Examples include powders, grains, minerals, chemicals, and aggregates.
It encompasses various stages:

  • Unloading: Materials are removed from trucks, railcars, or other transportation vessels
  • Conveying: Materials are transported from one location to another through a network of belts, pipes, or other systems
  • Storing: Materials are stored in bins, silos, or warehouses for easy access and inventory management
  • Blending: Materials are mixed together in precise proportions to create desired product formulations
  • Loading: The final product is transferred to trucks, railcars, or other means of transportation for distribution to customers or further processing.

What is Bulk Material Handling Efficiency?

The goal of bulk material handling is to effectively manage the movement and flow of bulk materials throughout the handling process.

Efficiency in bulk material handling encompasses various aspects, including:

  • Smooth Material Flow: Materials flow smoothly and continuously from one stage to another without interruptions, blockages, or slowdowns. This is achieved by using the right equipment, designing the right material flow paths, and applying the right strategies to prevent material blocks.
  • Minimized Downtime: Efficient material handling minimizes the time required for maintaining equipment, clearing blocks, or resolving material flow problems.
  • Optimal Equipment Utilization: Equipment should operate at full capacity and potential. It’s important to use the right equipment for the specific application and maintain it properly to avoid bottlenecks and idle time.
  • Cost Reduction: Efficient bulk material handling can help lower costs by preventing material waste and lowering energy consumption. And if material flows efficiently, this usually allows for better inventory management.
  • Safety Enhancement: Any bulk material handling process must include safety protocols and proper training to lower the risk of accidents or incidents caused by poor material flow or equipment failure.
  • Data Monitoring and Analysis: Bulk material handling efficiency identifies stages in the process that can be improved or optimized. It is useful to monitor and analyze data like flow rates and equipment performance, then use these insights to make informed decisions.

What are the best practices for bulk material handling?

Every company will have unique bulk material handling challenges, based on the materials and processes they use.

While there is no “cookie cutter” approach to perfect material flow, these practices can help prevent the most common problems.

  • Do regular equipment inspections: Inspect silos, hoppers, conveyor belts, and other equipment to identify and correct any issues before they become bigger and more expensive to fix.
  • Follow preventative maintenance: Cleaning, lubricating, and replacing worn-out components can keep equipment at optimum performance, and prevent blocks caused by mechanical failures or inefficiencies.
  • Know the material’s characteristics: Carefully consider the characteristics of bulk materials and use the appropriate equipment and handling techniques. For example, use filters to remove impurities that can cause blockages, or optimize material flow rates to prevent overfilling storage bins.
  • Use the right flow aid: Flow-aid systems such as AirSweep promote consistent material flow and prevent blockages.

Improve Bulk Material Handling Efficiency with AirSweep

AirSweep is a highly effective bulk material handling system that promotes smooth, on-demand material flow.

It uses strategically placed nozzles that release powerful air pulses that disperse and dislodge materials without requiring mechanical force.

Airsweep diagram
Unlike traditional methods that need manual intervention or costly equipment modifications, AirSweep offers a simple yet robust solution.

  • Efficient material flow: AirSweep ensures consistent and unrestricted material flow by breaking up bridging, ratholing, and other material blocks. This leads to improved productivity, reduced downtime, and increased overall efficiency.
  • Higher savings: By preventing blockages and material buildup, AirSweep reduces the need for manual labor, equipment downtime, and maintenance costs. Unlike vibrators and air cannons, it does not cause metal fatigue—thus reducing maintenance and replacement expenses.
  • Versatility: AirSweep systems can be installed on hoppers, silos, chutes, bins, conveyors—or any equipment where material can pile up. It has been used in practically every industry, including cement, food processing, mining, power generation, and more.
  • Easier installation and maintenance: AirSweep can be installed with simple tools and can be retrofitted into existing equipment with ease. It also has low maintenance requirements, ensuring uninterrupted operations and saving time for maintenance personnel.
  • Fewer safety risks: AirSweep helps prevent material buildup, which can lead to hazardous conditions such as collapsed bridging, fires, and explosions.

Improve your material handling efficiency today

Whether you are dealing with powders, grains, or other bulk materials, consider AirSweep as part of your material handling strategy. Contact us to learn more about what we can do for your process.

How to Prevent Material Blocks in Common Vessels Used in Material Handling

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silver feed hopper on chicken farm

All industrial and manufacturing processes will use storage silos and hoppers and other vessels to hold material before it is sent to the next stage of production. Ideally, these are designed to prevent spoilage and contamination and allow easy maintenance and access.

However, there is another important factor: material flow. During storage or transfer, materials can settle, segregate, form clumps, or develop bridging and ratholing.

In this blog post, we will delve into the common vessels used in material handling and highlight the role of AirSweep in enhancing their efficiency, with insights from real-world case studies.


Silos are tall, cylindrical containers that store bulk materials, such as grains, cement, or powders. These vessels are commonly used in industries that require large-scale storage. Silos offer advantages such as space optimization, ease of loading and unloading, and protection from external elements.

AirSweep can be installed on silos to ensure efficient material flow. Bunge, an agribusiness and food ingredient company based in the USA, had issues with rice bran bridging in their storage hoppers and silos. Workers had to hammer the vessels, which was ineffective and stressful for everyone in the factory. “It was like fingernails on the chalkboard. You wanted to get away from it,” said John Pappenheim, Bunge’s Maintenance Manager.

AirSweep solved material blocks (and noise!). Installation was also simple and inexpensive: they just attach the units with simple tools and connected them to their existing compressed air and electrical system. “Any electrician can wire it up. I would absolutely recommend it.”


Hoppers are smaller containers typically found at the beginning or end of a material handling process. They are used for feeding materials into a system or collecting and dispensing them. Hoppers are widely employed in industries like mining, construction, and agriculture.

Unfortunately, hoppers can often be the bottleneck in production because of material bridging and ratholing over the outlet. AirSweep can prevent these issues from occurring.

One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of rubber tires had issues with carbon black bridging in the weigh hoppers. The entire process would shut down because the rest of the machines were starved of raw materials. After installing AirSweep, the material flowed freely.


Chutes are inclined channels or tubes designed for the controlled movement of materials from a higher to a lower level. They are commonly used for transferring bulk materials such as granules, coal, or sand.

AirSweep technology can be integrated into chutes to eliminate clogging, ensuring a smooth and uninterrupted flow of materials. Heidelberg Cement installed the system on their pipes and chutes to remove cement clinker—a very hot, hard substance that fluidizers, vibrators, or even air cannons couldn’t remove. AirSweep was the only flow aid that worked.

Conveyor Systems

Conveyor systems are widely used in industries to transport materials horizontally or vertically. They consist of belts, rollers, or chains to move goods efficiently.

AirSweep systems can be strategically placed along conveyor belts to tackle material flow issues, such as accumulation or blockages. The pulsating bursts of compressed air from AirSweep devices help dislodge any lodged or stuck materials.


Cyclones, also known as cyclone separators, are vessels used in material handling systems to separate particles from a gas or liquid stream. They are commonly utilized in industries such as chemical processing, power generation, and mining. Cyclones employ centrifugal force to separate solid particles from the gas or liquid flow.

AirSweep is proven to improve cyclone efficiency. A plastic and chemical manufacturer had frequent production delays because of the build-up of adipic acid in their cyclone. It developed a cake-like crust that blocked the upper discharge and restricted material flow. Additionally, the product-laden air failed to separate and return to the baghouse, resulting in valuable product being carried to the waste stream.

AirSweep solved the problem immediately. “The AirSweep was a success! We are already looking at retrofitting more units into a silo with the same material.”

Improve material flow in all your vessels

From storage silos and hoppers to chutes and cyclones, AirSweep technology eliminates flow issues and enhances productivity. Contact us to find out more about how you can incorporate it into your process.