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Mar 9, 2012

Steel Bin Construction, Use and Maintenance

The most important part of any bin purchase is proper bin selection and the construction of a foundation suitable for the bin structure and its use. To get the most for your money it is an absolute necessity to do your homework to ensure you get the features you want and the quality of construction you deserve. Before seeking bids from contractors make sure you are an informed buyer. Invest the time and effort to find the right bin and the best contractor. The following are some of the basics for completing your bin construction project successfully.

  • Determine the location of the bin. It is critical that a geotechnical survey, analysis and report be completed prior to the construction of bin foundation. The most important part of any corrugated bin is the foundation and without the proper geotechnical investigation the chance of structural problems increases dramatically.
  • Pick the right bin for the job. It is very important that you discuss with the bin manufacturer how you are going to use your bin. Additional design consideration needs to be given to high cycle bins. Typical design considerations for these bins are heavier structural components, larger anchor bolts, and the need for the utilization of three stiffeners per sheet bin construction. .
  • Pick a professional contractor to complete your project. One that has been vetted and that utilizes the services of licensed professional engineers during the design and construction phases of your corrugated steel bin project.
  • Construct a quality foundation. Utilize the services of a professional engineer familiar with bin foundations to design and oversee the construction of a quality foundation. This is an absolute necessity with large diameter bins, working bins, and bins that are loaded and unloaded at speeds of 10,000 bushels per hour and more.
  • Install the most effective anchor bolts. Bin manufacturers typically recommend cast in place J-bolts for anchoring the bin. American Concrete Institute's ACI 318-11 Pullout Design Strength for ¾ inch Diameter Anchor Bolt document, indicates that using a similar sized bolt with a fixed head has three times the resistance to pullout than a typical J-bolt anchor of the same size.
  • Anchor bolt placement. The proper placement of anchor bolts is critical to the life expectancy of corrugated steel bins. Make sure that the manufacturer's placement diagrams are used to assist with the proper placement of the anchor bolts in the foundation.
  • Utilize 3 stiffeners per sheet construction and install extra wind rings. This is critical for improving the resistance to uplifting of bin, deflection of the bin wall during high wind events, and to help keep the bin round and anchored during off center unloading activity (side draw and off center floor gate removal of grain). And, it is a necessity for high cycle bin use.
  • If possible do not install outside truck side draws, especially on large diameter bins. All off center unloading can affect the life expectancy of corrugated steel grain storage bins.
  • Utilize higher weight roof construction. Increase the ability of your corrugated steel bin to withstand wind, snow and equipment roof loading by choosing a 20,000 pound or more roof structure. These roofs also stand up better against damage caused by implosion and explosion from high capacity aeration systems.

Operation and Use
The bin manufacturer's "Owner's Manual" should be reviewed for the correct procedures related to loading and unloading of a corrugated steel bin. Improper loading and unloading continue to be a major cause of damage to corrugated steel grain bins each year. Every bin manufacturer has specific directions and procedures for loading and unloading based on the type, size and features built into the bin. Loading and unloading requirements are based on the fact that free flowing grain is being loaded or unloaded. If there are any questions about the operation and use of corrugated steel bin it may be necessary to review the owner's manual or contact the manufacturer for further information.

  • Loading. All bins must be filled uniformly at the center of the bin. If a down spouting is used it is highly recommended that a dead head or cushion box be used to ensure uniform filling from the center. With less and less grain cleaning equipment being utilize before grain is being put into storage the use of spreaders or splash plates can help distribute fines, promote uniform air flow during aeration and prevent damage from spoilage and heating.
  • Unloading. All bins must be unloaded through the center discharge only, until grain no longer flows by gravity. If intermediate discharge gates or wells are installed they must not be opened until all gravity flow of grain through the center discharge has ceased. If there is a sweep auger installed in the bin it must be centered in the bin to ensure unobstructed sweep rotation.
  • Corrugated steel grain bins are not designed for the storage of high moisture grain. High moisture and damaged grain should be removed from a corrugated bin as quickly as possible. The bin should then be cleaned of all remaining debris to prevent corrosive type damage to bin parts before refilling the bin.
  • Side wall or side draw unloading system. The use of the bin manufacturer's side draw system is the only approved system that should be allowed. The installation of a side draw system typically requires additional wind rings, side wall flumes and larger anchor bolts as part of the complete installation package. Bin manufacturers require that after no more than three unloading and loading cycles through a side draw that the bin be unloaded through the center discharge to prevent permanent distortion of the bin sidewall.
  • Do not use a damaged bin. Using a bin that has obvious damage can create the potential for a catastrophic collapse. These bins are designed with very little tolerance for changes related to load bearing capabilities. Contact the bin manufacturer immediately if you observe or suspect damage to the structural integrity of the bin or its component parts.
  • Do not substitute bin parts and bolts. If any repairs are needed to a corrugated bin make sure that the original type, size and weight of material is obtained. Do not install any connecting bolts other than those recommended by the bin manufacturer. The use of material and bolts other than provided by the bin manufacturer can void the bin warranty and affect the structural integrity of the bin.
  • Roof vents icing over. Do not operate aeration systems when conditions are favorable for icing/freezing of roof ventilation devices. Running fans during high humidity/freezing temperature conditions can cause air exhaust vents to ice up and freeze over. Severe roof damage can result from any blockage of air passages during the aeration operation. Always utilize positive aeration to reduce the chances of catastrophic roof failure.
  • Attachment of other structures to corrugated steel bins. Prior to attaching any piece of equipment or support structure to a corrugated steel bin the manufacturer should be contacted and written instruction and permission obtained from the manufacturer. Cables for the support of bucket elevators, support tower or other devices should never be attached to a corrugated bin sidewall or roof structure. The bin structure was not designed for that type of force or loading.

Asset Management
Every organization keeps maintains an asset list for accounting, tax and insurance purposes. Unfortunately, most of the time there is very little information on the list other than a description of the property, the purchase price and that purchase date. Most organizations are not looking at a more in depth program or asset management. For the purchase of a corrugated steel bin here are some suggestions for management of this asset.

  • Purchase documentation. As part of any major purchase or capital improvement make sure that all the contracts, purchase agreements, construction or operation manuals, supplier and sales representatives names , design and construction drawings, and any other documents are retained in a construction folder. Chances are that at some time during the life of the structure it will be necessary to access and refer to some or all of these documents.
  • Construction oversight. Construction oversight is the key to getting a quality result for a steel bin project. With many critical construction factors that can affect the life expectancy of the bin and support foundation it is necessary to look regularly and carefully over the shoulder of your contractor and subcontractors. The oversight should consist of construction observation and contractor interaction at times when critical jobs are being completed. The construction of the concrete foundation and placement of foundation reinforcement steel, and the proper installation of the bin anchor bolt system are some of the most critical parts of new bin construction. Use an expert and obtain numerous photographs of the work throughout the project.
  • Initial asset inspection. With the collaboration of your on site employees create a formal bin inspection checklist for the initial inspection of the new construction. Upon completion of the inspection review any concerns with the contractor or materials/equipment supplier. Get a written agreement from the contractor on how issues will be addressed along with completion time. For example, walls should be straight, anchor bolts correctly installed, proper support supplied for stiffeners that set over a tunnel or aeration transition opening.
  • Regular visual observations. Based on the work that was completed for the initial asset inspection document ask your employees to make visual inspections of the structure on a regular basis. If there are any concerns indentified they should be immediately addressed with management and maintenance. This is just good business practice to identify and correct issues before they become bigger problems.
  • Yearly asset inspection. A yearly inspection of every corrugated steel grain bin should be completed and filed in their individual asset folder. It should include an external and internal inspection of the foundation, tunnel, aeration tunnel openings, anchor bolts, stiffener to foundation connections, stiffener to stiffener connections, exterior wall openings, side wall to roof connection and roof structure. Look for evidence of cracking, bulging, settling of the bin or concrete foundation, sheered bolts or stiffener deformation, side wall sheet damage, condition of the roof including any penetrations through the roof. Photograph the bin and foundation, especially any concrete cracking for historical reference, and caulk any cracks 1/16" in width or larger to prevent moisture intrusion.


Basic Bin Inspection

Design your bin inspection form, procedure and timing
Complete regular visual bin observations throughout the year.
When the bin is empty complete a formal internal and external yearly inspection.
Internal floor
  • Aeration tunnels
  • Floor condition
  • Floor gates and unload equipment
  • Internal stiffener base plates and anchor bolt connection for tightness
  • Internal wind ring uniformity and connections
  • Sidewall openings – internal connections and wall flumes
  • Internal stiffener vertical observation
  • Unwanted holes in the roof structure
  • Temperature cables and temperature cable attachments
  • External Foundation/Slab
  • Anchor bolt
  • Aeration tunnel openings
  • Sidewall openings – access doors and door frames, side wall spouts
  • External stiffener and sidewall integrity
  • Internal stiffener base plates and anchor bolt connection for tightness
  • External wind ring and connections
  • Roof attachment to side wall
  • Condition of roof
  • Recordkeeping
  • Keep written records of all formal yearly inspections
  • Take photographs to document special conditions
Safety and Maintenance 

Here are some simple safety and maintenance tips taken from the Owners and Operators manuals of a number of corrugated steel grain manufacturers.

  • Regularly check bins for loss or missing connecting bolts.
  • Inspect concrete walls/slabs for cracking, especially at anchor bolts, tunnel and aeration cutouts.
  • Keep all bin parts and equipment in good condition and properly installed. Fix damage immediately. Replace worn or broken parts. Remove any built-up grease, oil, and debris.
  • Do not enter a corrugated steel grain bin without obtaining proper authorization.
  • Utilize lock out tag out when working around machinery and equipment.
  • Maintenance personnel must be trained and understand safety and service procedures before initiating work.
  • Prepare for potential emergencies prior to beginning a maintenance/repair procedure
  • Keep work areas clean and dry.
  • Wear protective clothing/equipment.
  • Never lubricate, service, or adjust machine while it is in operation.
  • Keep hands, feet, and clothing away from rotating parts. All equipment guards must be in place when equipment is operating.


 *As presented by Sid Fey at GEAPS Exchange 2012

Speaker Contact Info

Contact info for Sidney Fey:
Phone: (515) 508-3570 
Email: sfey@nationwide.com