Cotton growers put a lot of hard work and money into producing cotton fibers. So why should low moisture levels in a processed bale rob them of income?
That's the idea behind Uster IntelliGin's new moisture control and monitoring options, which are available to ginners and producers this coming season.
IntelliGin — known generically as gin process control — uses sensors and sampling devices to monitor qualities of cotton flowing through the gin. In a fully-automated system, a sophisticated system of valves allows seedcotton and lint to bypass certain cleaning and drying machinery, if needed, without interrupting the flow of cotton.
The bypassing decisions are made by IntelliGin's computer, which continuously makes computations of grade, moisture, lint weight and premium and discount values and determines which sequence of machines will provide the best return to the producer.
This normally results in fewer processing machines being used, which in turn results in less damage to the fiber — a bonus for the textile mills and more turnout for the producer.
Uster has continually upgraded IntelliGin since its inception, including adding limited HVI classing of individual bales. This year, improvements include moisture monitoring, moisture control and two more HVI classing measurements.
“We've had a lot of requests from a group of customers to develop a final bale moisture,” explained Joe Yankey, of Uster. “They wanted to know at the end of the ginning process what the moisture of a specific bale was.”
To accomplish this, Uster mounted a moisture sensor inside the bale press tramper. “For every bale, we're taking 15 to 17 moisture measurements and averaging that throughout the bale to come up with an accurate moisture measurement,” Yankey said.
Uster built on that capability and this year will offer three options, according to Yankey.
Moisture monitoring: Results from the moisture sensor in the bale press tramper are displayed on the IntelliGin computer screen and can also be saved. Final bale moisture results can also be compared real-time to the moisture readings from individual sampling stations at the module feeder, gin stand and lint flue.
The option “gives us some valuable information,” said Wes Morgan, gin manager at Rolling Hills Gin, in New London, N.C. Morgan has tested the monitoring-only system for two years.
“When we get close to the dew point at night and during the morning when the sun is coming up are when humidity is changing. That changes the way you put humidity back into the cotton.
“On a blistering 90-degree day, we can't put enough back,” Morgan explained. “You just turn it wide open and hope for the best. But on rainy days, it can make a big difference. You want to make sure you're not putting back too much.”
Moisture control: Uses the results from the final bale moisture to control the gin's moisture restoration system. A typical moisture restoration system adds 1 to 1.5 percent moisture to the bale, according to studies conducted by Uster.
Supplemental moisture: Adds 1 to 1.5 percent moisture. Is applied when the gin's moisture restoration system can't hit the required target moisture level in the bale. The moisture is sprayed at the bale slide.
The latter works best when cotton is picked during dry harvest seasons — like the ones growers have experienced the last couple of years.
“We want to maximize the moisture, but not go over 8 percent,” Yankey said. “That puts dollars in the growers' pockets.”
All three options will be available this coming growing season, according to Yankey.
The IntelliGin system is adding HVI length and strength measurements to individual bale information. IntelliGin currently provides HVI leaf and color grade.
The new features could be used to create efficiencies in shipping and storing of cotton, according to Yankey. “We can class cotton right at the bale press, put it in the warehouse and never have to move it again until we ship it.”
The new features were installed at Servico Gin in Courtland, Ala., last year. “We measured length, strength and uniformity real-time for every bale in the gin,” Yankey said.
Uster did not have to condition samples, instead using the moisture reading to adjust length and strength measurements. “We classed 62,000 bales with length and strength categories and moved them out to the warehouse based on those categories.
The categories were developed with the help of Parkdale Mills, a textile mill headquartered in North Carolina. “We made two length groups, 1.09 and longer and 1.08 and shorter,” Yankey said. “On strength, we would only highlight a bale if it hit the minimum. We put those all in the same category.”
While a moisture control system provides a direct return to growers in added bale weight, new HVI features provide a more indirect benefit, noted Yankey.
“It actually helps in the marketing of the cotton and the warehousing of cotton. Part of what we're doing with the HVI measurements is to show that it can work. It's not for everybody, that's for sure. But there could be some savings that could really help us be more efficient, whether it's basis points or lower storage costs.”
USDA's HVI classing office still has the final word on cotton fiber qualities and properties. But in June, a panel will discuss the future of moving cotton classing to the gin at the upcoming Engineered Fiber Selection Conference in Memphis.
“We'd like to move in that direction,” Yankey said. “Last year, USDA charged around $1.35 a bale to HVI class and that was a break-even charge. But if we could do that at the gin — and we could do it for less — there are some real substantial savings there. There are some challenges to overcome, but it's doable.”
Uster sells IntelliGin as a system, charging the gin an upfront installation and technology fee and a bale fee. Uster will also charge an installation fee and a per bale fee for moisture options and HVI options. The farmer would choose whether or not he wants his cotton ginned using the technologies.
“One thing that we've done from the beginning is to not make a producer do anything,” Yankey said. “Each producer would choose whether or not he wants any part of IntelliGin.”
Uster is also installing grass and bark measurement technology on a couple of gins this year for testing, according to Yankey. “There are pockets of ultra narrow row (UNR) cotton around the Mid-South and Southeast and one of the challenges is that they're really worried about the grass and bark.”