Industry professionals engaged in bulk material handling activities know that specialized equipment is key to making processes more efficient and safe. Machinery like the HopperPopper by Pneumat Systems is designed to help loadout facilities unload challenging bulk materials from truck and railcar hoppers with less manual labor by delivering powerful blasts of air to refluidize product so it can flow freely through the hopper gate and onto the next stage of production.

In this article, we’ll explore the functions and benefits of the HopperPopper air blasting system, and probe into the ways it makes truck and railcar unloading operations safer, faster, and easier. Read on to learn more about what makes the HopperPopper by Pneumat Systems a vital tool for certain bulk material handling tasks.

HopperPopper Railcar Unloading Equipment

For years, Pneumat Systems has been providing HopperPopper railcar and truck unloading systems to bulk flow facilities across the United States, Canada, and beyond. The effectiveness of this system, which leverages both hydraulic and pneumatic power, comes from delivering compressed air blasts exactly where they are needed in the truck or railcar hopper, eliminating the manual labor and risk exposures that come from traditional truck and railcar unloading methods.

Understanding the Problem

In an ideal world, bulk materials would flow freely, and under the right conditions, many products do. When the discharge gates are opened, products like dry whole grains are known for having excellent flowability, emptying the hopper with the help of gravity alone. Unfortunately, certain products, like dried distillers’ grains (DDGs), corn gluten, soybean meal, wheat midds, and other fine materials that have been loaded hot or wet can present a nightmare for truckers, rail carriers, and loadout facilities.

Miles of travel and humid weather can cause these materials to become densely compacted inside the hopper, and all manner of methods have been attempted by workers to free it – sledgehammers, air lances, mauls, wacky homemade tools, vibrators, skid steer or backhoe-mounted contraptions, ramming and shaking cars – all of which consume time and energy to a frustrating degree. At the end of the day, workers get injured or quit, morale takes a hit, tensions flare, and facility throughput plummets.

Origin of the HopperPopper

Pneumat Systems was originally known for their BinWhip silo cleaning equipment and TeamPneumat cleaning crews, used to clear hung-up material and buildup from bins and silos. Through their work in bulk handling facilities, the company became aware of the inefficient unloading processes that were constantly putting operators behind schedule and exposing workers to a range of hazards, from working at heights to musculoskeletal injuries. Pneumat Systems designed the HopperPopper as a way to help these facilities deal with challenging “hard cars” and truck trailers in a safer and more efficient way.

Across North America today, some of the largest bulk handling, transloading, and logistics companies use Pneumat Systems’ HopperPopper to streamline the unloading process when working with products that include:

  • DDGs
  • Soybean meal and other meals
  • Wheat midds
  • Corn gluten
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Other dry bulk products that present unloading challenges

Solving Long Standing Issues with the HopperPopper System

During storage and transit, bulk materials like DDGs, soybean meal, and other agricultural products and grains can compact and cake into a unified mass. Saturn Agriculture is an example of a company that successfully installed HopperPoppers to rapidly unload DDGs and wheat midds from truck hoppers at their 13-acre intermodal transloading facility in Joliet, IL.

The HopperPopper system comes in a model suitable for railcar unloading, and another designed for open-top trailers. It combines a rugged hollow probe (similar to a beefed-up grain sampling probe) with a high-volume compressed air tank and release valve. The blasting process takes part in three simple steps:

  1. Probe: Using a remote control that offers a full range of positioning controls, workers drive a hydraulic probe into the material from above, steering it into any position within the hopper where they wish to break up the product.
  2. Blast: With the push of a button, a high-volume blast of compressed air is released into the stored materials through the discharge ports in the buried tip of the probe, creating about a 3-foot blast radius that loosens up surrounding product.
  3. Flow: Gravity takes over and material flows out of the discharge gate as the operator continues to blast away any bridges or hang-ups as needed.

The HopperPopper also includes programmable machine limits that constrain the motion of the system to a safe operating envelope, which reduces the chance of the probe coming into contact with a worker or causing damage to a railcar or truck trailer during railcar and truck unloading operations.

Hopperpopper Unloader

Improving Unloading Processes with the HopperPopper

Pneumat Systems’ HopperPopper railcar unloading equipment is a surefire way to boost unloading efficiency and ensure workers are protected while discharging different products through truck or railcar hopper gates. For material to flow effectively, a hole needs to be created from the hopper gate to the top of the pile of material. Typically, an operator will begin by deploying the first air blast in the vicinity of the open gate at the bottom of the hopper and then working their way up vertically until a flow channel is established and material is flowing freely.

The advantages of HopperPopper unloading equipment from Pneumat Systems include:

Decreased Unloading Times

During storage and transit, caking and compaction of agricultural products and other materials can grind unloading processes to a halt, resulting in a time-consuming cascade of issues that can impact every stage of transportation and production operations. Feed mills, grain elevators, food production facilities, pet food processors, and metal and mining facilities require a steady flow of product to operate effectively, and this aggravating problem can become a source of constant interruption. Introducing Pneumat’s HopperPopper system has the advantage of eliminating these unloading back-ups and providing a smooth flow of product that reduces downtime and loss to maximize productivity.

Reduced Labor Costs

Since the HopperPopper system simplifies the process of discharging materials from railcars and trucks, the need for manual labor is also minimized. Workers don’t have to put themselves in harm’s way while attempting to clear packed product from trucks and railcars, but can operate the blast probe from a safe distance with precision control. A brawny hydraulic power unit moves the cylinders that allow the probe to access hard-to-reach buildup in corners and edges that traditionally are some of the most difficult, time-consuming, and unsafe areas for workers to clear during unloading operations.

Reduced Railcar and Truck Damage

HopperPopper technology eliminates the need for poking, vibrating, and hammering that causes

excessive wear on trucks, railcars, and equipment over time. By applying the HopperPopper’s unique rapid-release compressed air technology, powerful forces are directed into the product, and not into the railcars or trucks themselves. Serious damage has occurred to truck and railcar hoppers and gates from accidents caused by manual unloading efforts using equipment unsuited for the task. The HopperPopper system even features programmable machine limits to reduce the likelihood of the equipment coming into contact with the truck or railcar in a way that could cause damage to the hopper or probe.

Improved Worker Safety & Retention

Pneumat’s HopperPopper is often custom-tailored to fit a facility’s loadout area, and is installed in such a way that operators can control the system from a safe location on top of the railcar or nearby catwalk. Plant, facility, operations, and safety managers know that one serious fall or back injury can wipe out weeks or months of profits. For them, the HopperPopper represents an important risk reduction strategy that protects the health and safety of their team while also protecting the company’s bottom line from the negative impact of fines, workers’ compensation claims, hiring and training expenses, and higher insurance rates.

Enhance Your Bulk Material Handling Process Today

For dry bulk material shippers and receivers who regularly unload challenging materials, an investment in the HopperPopper can yield a positive return on investment in a short amount of

time. Truckers hauling DDGs and meals in the Midwest have been known to drive miles out of their way to unload at facilities equipped with the HopperPopper because of the speed, safety, and ease with which they are able to dump their load and get back on the road. It’s a true testament to the positive difference the HopperPopper can make, saving facilities time, money, and enhancing worker safety for years to come.

Download a brochure to learn more about Pneumat’s HopperPopper here.