Created with safer, more effective goals in mind, the Load Toad™ is taking innovation to the next level.
Four million tons of dried distiller’s grains will fill a lot of rail cars.
But it won’t necessarily fill them well, which was a problem for team members at POET’s 26 ethanol plants.
When you dump grain through a spout, it forms a mountain, a cone-shaped pile. But the thousands of rail cars shipping POET’s high-protein animal feed Dakota Gold® across the country each day weren’t shaped like cones.
Introducing the Load Toad, POET’s patent-pending engineering breakthrough from a team member at the company’s Leipsic, Ohio plant that lets workers load more product more quickly into more rail cars than ever before.
Workers no longer have to shovel grain from the peak of the pile to the corners of the rail car. It also improves worker safety and substantially cuts costs. The first device of its kind, POET has already seen interest from plants outside the POET network who want the Load Toad as soon as it hits the marketplace.
A little more than a year ago POET Commodities Assistant Ryan Schroeder in Leipsic, Ohio, said the idea of the Load Toad “just kinda came” to him as he looked for a safer, more effective means of loading Dakota Gold dried distillers grains and solubles (DDGS) into railcars. It was hot, dirty work, and Schroeder’s invention became the unique solution to maximizing how much DDGS could be packed into a railcar.
Schroeder worked with a local company to build a prototype which he then demonstrated at POET Biorefining -Leipsic. The excitement over the original “slinger” quickly grew. Then came a year of testing at the POET Biorefining – Mitchell, S.D. facility resulting in the improvement of the Load Toad’s initial design. “Improvements included enhanced safety features, a gain in capacity of DDGS loaded into railcars and a substantial increase in effectiveness,” said Steve Redford, Director of Engineering for POET. The result of the innovation, development and testing work at POET is a proprietary design that is now patent pending.
“We’ve tried to keep the device simple in design and give it the longevity we wanted it to have,” Redford said.
The present design of the Load Toad has significantly increased the amount of DDGS it can pack into railcars, over what a human worker could do, Redford said. The effect goes beyond the DDGS loading, streamlining POET’s entire operation and allowing the company to fill each railcar closer to full capacity, Redford said.
“You’re talking thousands of (rail) cars we’re moving around,” Redford said. “So in a year’s time you’re really reducing the number of railcars.”
The reduction in the number of railcars POET is moving will save most POET plants significant freight costs, said Rod Pierson, Director of Plant Operations for POET.
There is no other device like the Load Toad on the market, and no other device that could promise the Load Toad’s efficiency, particularly with the amount of DDGS that the Load Toad can move without plugging.
“We’ve tried a few other products out on the market and nothing comes close to what this thing can do,” Pierson said. “They couldn’t handle the flow of product going through our loadout system.”
The Load Toad was one of those rare “grand slam” ideas.
The first mass production model of the Load Toad came out in February and over the next year it will be rolled out to all POET plants.
Additionally, POET plans to rent the Load Toad to other plants, and Pierson said excitement about the device has already generated phone calls to POET inquiring as to when the Load Toad will be available. POET has chosen to rent the Load Toad devices to plants in lieu of selling them in order to keep the devices up to date and tailor them to meet the needs and operations of customers.
The Load Toad’s effectiveness and ease of use, however, does not reduce the number of employees needed to fill railcars.
“It doesn’t go from a two-person job to a one-person job,” Pierson said. “It just makes their job more efficient and cleaner.” As POET continues to grow, the future plants will include the Load Toad as standard equipment, Redford said.
While the advances in farming and laboratory sciences surrounding the ethanol industry have garnered the most media attention, infrastructure improvements and innovations like the Load Toad should not go unrecognized. POET may well garner additional attention for this sort of work, just as it has for its development of feedstocks.
James Moe, Chief Operating Officer of POET Design & Construction and Plant Management, said innovations like the Load Toad are simply evidence of POET’s continued philosophy of advancing its business and the industry.
“The Load Toad is just another example of POET driving optimization in the business and maximizing output wherever possible,” he said.
As robust as the Load Toad is currently, POET engineers are working on the new versions of the device, aiming to continue improving its effectiveness. POET’s goal would be to advance the Load Toad enough that it maximizes the load on each railcar and sets the standard by which other devices would be judged, Redford said. The Load Toad is still a “young” device with great potential, he said. Pierson concurs that any future designs of the Load Toad are not meant to “reinvent the wheel.”
“We’ve increased its performance,” Redford said. “And we’re working on the next generation of machines, because we believe there is still room to grow.”
The Load Toad and future modified models, as stand-alone units, fit perfectly into the process of loading railcars without requiring the re-engineering of the loading systems already in place, Pierson said. The device practically runs itself.
“It’s de-bottlenecked the process of topping off cars,” he said.
While the Load Toad no doubt has immediate benefits for POET, its invention has done more: it has excited workers toward creative solutions in their workplace and demonstrated that some of the best ideas come from within a company where innovation and teamwork are paramount.
“Team members are very focused on innovation of technology on a daily basis at POET. It’s a vital piece of the fabric of our success,” Moe said. “Every segment of the business works together on a collaborative basis to drive this differentiation of our business.”