Silo design

Concrete producers are constantly faced with changing technology. Computer control systems, reclamation equipment, mixing techniques, chemical admix mechanics, and material handling advancements are but a few of the current technologies in the ever-evolving concrete production industry. At least some things never change: take storage silos, for example. These vertical “tanks” are about as simple as it gets, right? Dead wrong — and ‘dead’ may prove the critical term if a concrete producer or his plant engineer is careless in the design or use of a silo. It may surprise some that storage silos are not just tanks but, in fact, structures that have function criteria including how the silo is to fill, empty, and store a given bulk product; flow pattern, i.e., mass or funnel flow; structural geometry comprising the shape and materials incorporated in silo design; and how these are affected in full or empty operations and under varied ambient conditions.

Understanding the material to be stored
A common mistake on the part of concrete plant owners arises from the assumption that a “cement silo” design can be used for storing any bulk product around the concrete plant. The fact, however, is that cement storage design criteria are distinct; it is not safe to assume that slag, fly ash, silica fume or silica sand, lime, or other bulk fines can be contained in a silo originally designed for cement storage. Producers need to understand the characteristics, properties and flow patterns of any material to be stored in a silo. To determine a material property and flow pattern, contacting the material supplier and asking for complete product data worksheets is recommended. Such measures have become increasingly important as replacement ingredients in bulk are being added with far greater frequency to concrete and concrete products. Self Compacting Concrete (SCC) and High Performance Concrete (HPC), often calling for various bulk powder or fines additives, are frequently purchased without consideration of their respective silo storage requirements. For instance, cement is aerated to make it flowable or fluid-like. Although weighing in some cases as little as 60 percent of certain cements (by volume), fly ash can be handled much like cement, as the latter has higher design criteria — but not always (Figure 1).

Design criteria
Consider, for example, a conical or round silo constructed of steel containing a product that has a lower friction coefficient (wall friction angle) than a referenced designer's “cement on

steel. Multi-compartment silos Whenever a conical silo is split into separate compartments. ambient and load conditions (wind. Designing a multi-compartment silo by splitting a simple.” Assume a producer selects a product. Even in the absence of pressure peaks due to external adverse factors. With its round surface area compared to the coarse surface area of cement.). A complete hopper or cone section failure could result. Silo failure can be catastrophic to workers and their businesses. The silo designer. Other considerations are the structural ramifications of a multi-compartment silo. Stiffening supports and multiple openings in silo hoppers or cone bottoms must be incorporated as needed. such as tornado (vacuum conditions) or hurricane (severe uplift and external wind-load pressures). careful design calculations are required. ft. rain. The silo designer must be knowledgeable regarding inserts involved in a properly constructed split or multi-sectional storage silo and their effect in relation to pressure peaks resulting from erratic flow properties. snowfall. Contacting your silo designer before placing any product in the vessel is always advisable. was also taking into account a wall friction angle creating a structural vertical transfer of weight to the cylinder wall of the silo.). Placing a mass-flow product like cement or fly ash into a bin-style silo that may have been designed for funnel-flow material properties — imagine how sand is drawn down — can create an . given certain product. Should the friction angle be greater. however. the producer presumably feels safe in doing so. higher compressive loads will be transferred to the cylinder wall. single-compartment storage tank is a recipe for potential disaster. such as fly ash (60-74 lb. per cu. informed producers recognizes that avoiding errors in silo use contributes to a safer environment and workplace. a greater amount of the silo product weight is now creating pressure on the silo hopper or bottom cone section — far greater than specified in the original design. assuming a mass flow discharge of a fluidized product that may typify fly ash as well. nonuniform pressures created by eccentric withdraw from multi-compartment silos can cause total structural failure. the lighter fly ash has a lower friction angle. and seismic). which might cause buckling or the silo's collapse (Figure 2). per cu. A problem. arises in that the cement silo was designed to accommodate the properties of normal weight cement. Thus. Because the material is lighter than the cement product (85-94 lb. and places the product in a storage silo without consulting the silo designer. which may be full on one side and completely or partially empty on the other(s) under high wind loads or in severe weather conditions. The same design criteria apply even more stringently to rectangular or square silos. Various design pitfalls must be avoided that can lead to asymmetric pressures imposed on internal components. ft. consequently. These pressures can cause uneven emptying and further loading or pressure peaks.

e. page 24). the entire structure is only as good as the fasteners used — and the personnel who are responsible for tightening them. A fully exposed silo (any shape) has been standing in the sun all day long. and rivets and bolts must meet exacting specifications.underdesign situation. Empty silos. they deflect. Suddenly. and the silo is nearly full. bolted construction silos are often welded on the interior after assembly. a concrete producer may assume the plant is idle. While the reverse situation may occur. Clearly. For this reason. If mass flow develops. but certainly. The stored material at rest is allowed to settle as the wall expands. having been partially filled last at two o'clock on the previous afternoon. The degree of expansion is determined by the specified hoop strength. the silo wall contracts. all plant personnel had left the yard for the weekend. Yet. for example. Silos are like huge sails when subjected to wind loads. and/or by incidental geometries. especially where storage silos are concerned. the plant is always in motion. the silo enlarges mostly in circumference. a huge implosion occurs. . the shape of the silo and the existence of rigid areas in the structure. and empty are important design criteria. that is. What could have happened? The scenario described here actually occurred and was caused by something silo design engineers refer to as thermal ratcheting (Figure 3. the ramifications are not as great. are not necessarily creating lower loads. However. Picture a cool evening about ten o'clock on a Saturday. Now. The near full silo cannot push the material back up the silo wall without a substantial increase in tensile stresses. load combinations for wind and uplift in silos that are full. During daylight hours as the ambient temperature rises. as the sun warms the silo. if your storage bin or silo is designed as a rectangular structure for bulk powders. in the case of a silo of bolted-construction design. tensile wall strength. Consequences could include silo collapse. i. The variables are seemingly inexhaustible. sway. it must be fit for the storage and discharge of mass-flow products (if that is what you plan to store) and not funnelflow products. consider that the plant is idle. This thermal ratcheting effect is compounded for every day the temperature rises. Think of the silo's movement relative to its contents as comparable to the position of the sail to the wind — the effect is that great. and even rotate. followed by a cool night when a near-full silo sits idle. cement (or any given powder) rains down on everything. Clearly. Temperature considerations Observing that the belts are not running upon viewing a plant. the silo moves differently depending on how full or how empty it is at a given time. the pressure may be much greater than design criteria would accommodate in a funnel flow bin. partially full. Fortunately. When night comes and the temperature drops..

. and environmental considerations is once again emphasized. the velocity in a fill pipe is always increasing. As neither of these scenarios is desirable. Passing the Saltation velocity point. the high dynamic loads imposed can cause a hopper or cone failure. Again. Filling accomplished pneumatically using a vertical 4-in. when idle. diameter. The material may arch or rathole. Imagine a silo full of cement where aeration has been miscalibrated and contains free water from condensation or is totally inoperative. and vacuum are all important factors directly related to the silo structure. powders and both fine and coarse aggregate are normally found. the need for proper material assessment. At concrete plants. Were the same bulk tanker truck fit with a 5-in. In most markets. when almost full. flours. velocity. Filling considerations The means by which a silo is filled constitutes another important consideration in its design. silo design. dust collection. least of which will be dust control (Figure 5. food stuffs. and when almost empty. air exchange ratios. Since air always flows from a higher pressure to a lower pressure and thereby expands. line without increasing the blower size — not an uncommon practice — the Saltation velocity may be surpassed. Humidity considerations Where any bulk material is concerned. a dilute phase conveying method is used. The silo wall may then buckle below the obstruction level. The cement has settled and compacted creating tensile stresses. humidity must be factored into the silo design. pressures. Clearly. Keep in mind that a silo must be filled under all conditions: when in use. pharmaceuticals and pigments. however. to name just a few. Humidity is not something to be taken lightly by bulk storage design engineers or by concrete producers (Figure 4). Reinforcing the concrete sufficiently requires a wall thickness and a heavy steel component involving considerable expense. a properly designed silo must perform across the entire spectrum. material handling engineers and silo designers typically deal with a much wider variety of bulk material including meal.Thermal ratcheting and tensile stresses are primary reasons that so few smaller-diameter silos are constructed of concrete. plastics. line on the silo so it can be filled faster may instigate further problems. pipe with a close 90 degree bend to a diffuser comprises dense phase loading. Requesting a silo manufacturer simply place a 5-in. All types of bulk storage require design criteria that take into account the varying percent of relative humidity. Should the ratholed or arched product suddenly break loose. heavily reinforced concrete becomes cost-effective for silos starting at about a 45-ft. page 26). producing extraordinary loads on the silo wall as the full load of the material is transferred to the silo wall just below the obstruction when the silo is mass-flow emptied below.

Where states do not permit over-pressure pop-off valves due to air pollution concerns. Just a few pounds per square inch of pressure on a 12-ft. diameter silo roof can create enough force to lift hundreds of thousands of pounds of dead weight. i. Angled lines will move less product and require many times the additional air due to line sloughing in poor dilute phase filling in what is known as the “unstable conveying zone” (Figure 6). maintaining a properly sized filter system is especially important. or dry-batch truck loading points.e. When investigating scavenger systems. buckling. Occasionally. mixers. all of the air placed in the silo must be allowed to escape and the cubic feet of air (air space) displaced by the fill product. Although dense phase filling involves less air exchange than dilute phase filling. many of these systems as adapted for the concrete producer marketplace are not properly designed. or horizontally and then vertically when needed to offset fill positions. Tank pressure is one area of silo design that most producers relate to easily. however. With too little filter capacity. though many concrete plants do. displacing a corresponding amount of air. if possible. equipment that pulls from various silos. At concrete plants. Never run fill lines at an angle. In filling a silo. always run them vertically. note how these systems are integrated into the entire silo air-exchange and balance scheme. . in both cases. a particular amount of product is moved. than any other means. While an over-pressure silo is dangerous. More silos are damaged by under-pressure. Making sure these air filters are sized large enough to allow the correct amount of air to escape is vital. an underpressure silo constitutes an even greater hazard. causing expensive product to get pulled into the scavenger system rather than deposited into the storage silo. by vacuum. Collapse. some designers have long warned of pulling too much air out of a silo. Exhaust considerations The air that escapes is filtered in baghouses or filter cartridges in dust collector systems. Over-pressure alarms and careful attention by users are in order.. pickup velocity (how much material moves compared to how much air is exchanged). a silo becomes a huge pressure tank — a very dangerous situation. Never use a scavenger system without a means of letting air into the silo for pressure stabilization or without an under-pressure valve or alarm system. Currently becoming more popular are scavenger systems comprising vacuum. Some are quite effective. Uncapped fill pipes typically do not offer adequate balance air for pressure equalization. and terminal velocity (the velocity of air/material impacting the silo) are all critical factors in properly designing a silo for the type of fill system utilized.Understanding saltation velocity. and implosion can occur. plant manufacturers place a baghouse atop scavenger-equipped silos simply to make sure the silo can breathe. When filling a silo with a bucket elevator — as often done at cement terminals — the air exchange is much less than that for silos filled pneumatically. negative draft.

too. and what can and cannot be taken for granted where these ‘simple’ storage tanks are concerned.Concrete producers. might breathe a bit easier simply knowing a little more about their silos' capabilities. .

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