We often take for granted the safety and convenience automation creates. I was reminded of this when a severe storm caused a power outage in my hometown. When my pushbutton approach to opening my garage failed, I had to manually lift and lower the door. True, a small discomfort, but I soon realized how automation makes my commute safer, easier, and faster.
When will automation be the norm in adding fiber to concrete? Over the past 15 years, computer control of batching and the automated addition of admixtures have transformed the ready-mix industry. Even five years ago, most plants used automated control systems for their batching process. But at the same time, you could visit hundreds of ready-mix plants without seeing a single automated fiber dispenser.
Rill Banks, president of FRC Industries, got involved with automated fiber addition in 2001 when producers started asking for a better way to add fibers into concrete. Two years later, several companies were investigating different automaton strategies and building dispensers. But Banks estimates less than 50 working dispensers were actually in the field at that time. That's less than 1% of ready-mix plants with automated fiber dispensing.
Banks recalls the excitement at the 2003 World of Concrete when there was a working dispenser in one of the fiber booths and talk of dispensers in others. Ready-mix producers were interested and ready for automation.
Three automation strategies had emerged—dispensing bulk fibers, dispensing bags of fiber, and suspending fiber in a solution that was pumped. Each strategy had its advantages and disadvantages. Generally, these early systems were expensive and complicated.
Fast forward to 2008
But now, new automated fiber dispenser models are available that are simple, reliable, affordable, and compatible with the tough conditions at ready-mix plants. The estimated number of fiber dispensers operating in the U.S. is now close to 500, a nine-fold increase in five years. Buckeye Building Fibers, a manufacturer of secondary reinforcement fiber, is installing 10 dispensers each month.
Progressive ready-mix producers are now incorporating a better way to add fibers to concrete. Automation provides real safety, operational, and quality benefits.
Producers often cite safety as a significant reason for embracing automated fiber addition. Historically, producers developed a variety of ways to manually add fiber to their concrete mixers.