Lab Product News

Conveyor system reduces waste

After years of handling 70 tons of corn cob meal product per year with a combination of mechanical equipment and physical labour, Sam Pinto, facilities director at the Van Andel Institute, an independent bio-medical research institute, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wanted to streamline the process at his facility.

Aware that the use of pneumatic conveyor systems was common in manufacturing industries to increase efficiency, reduce labour, and for ergonomic purposes, Pinto said he “figured that we could use it in our industry because the principal is the still the same. You are moving material from one point to the other.”

He wanted to replace the laborious task of handling incoming product, in which two staff members would spend approximately 3 hours a week taking delivery of 40-lb packages from a skid, then processing those packages into a central storage area where they were dumped into a hopper that held approximately 300 lbs. After researching the feasibility of implementing a pneumatic conveying system, Pinto decided on a Vac-U-Max system.

“We looked at a couple of different vendors and they were significantly less cost than the others,” he says. “I can’t explain why that is, but I think that may be in some regard because they are in the manufacturing industry and they do more of these systems, so their costs were lower than the niche companies who were only dealing with the life sciences companies.”

After understanding the material characteristics, Vac-U-Max designed a system that allowed the company to replace the 40-lb bags with 1,000-lb bulk bags of the material which in itself saved Van Andel Institute $17,000 per year.

With the pneumatic system, the institute now uses super sacks which are brought in on a palette and then hoisted to a bulk bag unloader with a sturdy frame that includes an 8-in i-beam. When lowered, the bottom of the bag rests on a sealing ring in the unloader bed, creating a completely enclosed system. Because the system is sealed, no spillage occurs.

An access door allows the operator to untie the bag where the product then drops by gravity into a filter receiver with a level sensor that controls the amount of product discharged into the hopper.

The system that was implemented to process material into the facility has cut labour in half and reduced material costs, but the newest system from Vac-U-Max’s cleaning division goes even farther and has enabled waste to be reused.

“The newest system for removing the waste product from the facility has allowed us to gain some efficiency in the operation and save on trash disposal costs, but eliminating the product from the waste stream is what is exciting,” says Pinto. “It’s not going into a landfill; it’s being reused, which to me is exciting because when you start talking about the quantities that are being diverted from the landfill, it completes the process from a sustainability standpoint.”

Prior to implementing the newer system, material was collected and bagged in 44 gallon containers, taken to another location, and then hoisted individually into a garbage compactor. The process would take two people several hours a day to process seven to eight containers. Now, the entire process is automated, saving about 10 hours of labour each week.

 “The way we were doing it before put the waste into our regular waste stream. Now, with the pneumatic system, we have eliminated the product from the waste stream completely, reducing our regular waste by about 75 percent,” says Pinto.

The institute partnered with a local company that picks up the container every six weeks, turns it into compost and sells it as fertilizer to local farmers. “The product is organic and now it is being converted into a product that can be reused,” says Pinto.

The sealed conveying system uses an auger below the hopper to ensure the waste material flows properly through the vacuum line to a large container that holds only the waste corncob meal.

“Again, it’s not so much that it has saved us several thousand dollars per year in waste cost,” says Pinto, “but the positive impact it has on the environment.”

For more information, request online at, October 2011 issue reply card # 17.

This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Lab Product News.