questions are a compilation from over the years.
If you have another, contact sales@Flowcon.us
and we'll do our best.
Thanks for considering Flowcon, where our goal is to make it painless for you .
Q: How much of the process is
displayed, and how does it indicate alarms ?
Every input and output is
graphically displayed, using character graphics and color where desirable. Not only does
it simplify following the details, it quickly draws attention to alarms through the use of
urgent colors and flashing status.
Q: Is there an operator panel
to override problems, or see exactly what is happening?
There is a "soft"
manual panel screen, where every output can be manually overridden, and every input is
displayed. Every scale or totalizer value is shown, so the operator can take corrective
action, or override any process step. The ingredient in error is flagged, and the target
and actual amounts are clearly shown, so the operator does not need to refer to other
documentation. Bump in a measured amount of material with a single tap on the ingredient
key. Analyze any failure by observing every indicator and activating individual
Controlling the Batch Weighing:
Q: How do you
indicate the weighing sequence of the ingredients?
Each scale process searches
for the first ingredient that is assigned to it. If the process allows, scales start
weighing as soon as they are available. The ingredient weigh sequence follows the ration
Q: How are "process commands" included among the ingredients in the
formulation ?While most operations are
determined by your equipment configuration, it is useful to have certain steps that can be
inserted among the ingredients as control instructions, like opening the scale or mixer
early, mixing between ingredients, delaying for other process steps to complete, running a
leveling auger, etc. -- as a specific sequence for just that formula.
Q: How do you treat ingredients that are not weighed automatically, or that
need to be hand-added to the process at a later step? "Not-weighed"
ingredients are calculated and printed as a desired amount. An operator will add this
material into the batch by a step unknown to the system.
"Hand-add" ingredients can be prompted and monitored at a
remote weighing station, but they are usually held, and dumped into the mixer when the
system illuminates a hand add lamp. The operator adds the batch, and so indicates with a
button push, which cancels the request light, and releases the process to continue.
Finish Feed and
Q: Describe full routing control on a system with finish feed storage. Full routing control
waits for the last ration to purge through the system, moves the destination
gates / turn-heads, confirms all augers/belts are on and proofed, and dumps product holding
at the mixer -- into the surge for routing to the new destination. If there are other
steps needed, they are added where appropriate. Monitoring for high bin levels can either
cause an automatic switch in routing for the next batch, automatically terminate this run
of batches, or alarm an operator and wait for intervention.
Q. What if my controls are not installed, can I still get
monitoring?Sometimes a new installation
may not have the automatic controls in place. You can simply leave the outputs
disconnected, and connect them as you install equipment at a later time. When an output
needs to change, the operator can manually route to match the request indicator. When the
system finds that the limits match the request, it will automatically continue. If a
routing request times out, the operator will receive an alarm.
Q: What routing scenarios
Full automatic control; manual
control with fully monitored inputs; and an operator alert of a new routing requirement,
with an automatic process hold for the operator to complete the routing and verify it is
complete, and available for the mixer to dump (or the surge auger to start).
Q: Can you print batch tickets? We can add a ticket printer
showing, time and date, product names measured, quantities delivered, discharge location
and the name of the operator.
Q: Can you save all batch information on the hard drive for use by a host
system? These tickets can be saved on
the hard drive to allow for future reprints if needed, or for use by a host system.
Q. Can we change what reports print on a daily basis ?
The system file allows you to
configure almost any combination of reporting. As your needs change, you can modify those
parameters to change what prints. We automatically print every alarm, and can log any
operator manual overrides of ingredient filling to the hard drive, for later monitoring.
Extra printers can be added
for special printouts that are torn off and used by operators. We also save batch
information on the hard drive for 30 days, and if not used, it is overlaid automatically
without any operator intervention.
The end of day reports
are also saved on the hard drive, and any day in the last 30 can be requested at any time.
Q: Can we keep full
inventory for some ingredients, and simple usage data for others ? Each ingredient can keep
inventory by usage only; actual inventory on hand (target,
actual, difference and delta %),
or by tracking the moisture, and keeping a dry weight record.
Q: I make single loads, which dump to a truck. How do I move my bunkreader data
to the batcher?The manual shows the format of
the data to electronically transfer calls to the batcher stack. Lextron's bunkreader
works, and several others do as well. The transfer uses a spare serial port on the
Q: Can the operator override the entrys from the bunkreader?An operator can change or hold
any ration at any time. As long as a ration has not not already started weighing, he can
edit the entry. All inactive entries can be moved, deleted, edited or added in front of
with new ones. Our BLOCK MOVE lets you mark and move many entries to another part of the
Q: I am using 150-175
custom blends, and need to make daily changes
We have operational systems
using over 2000 blends and 2000 ingredients. The customer may add, edit, print or delete
parameters at any time, even while batching.
Q: I need rations of different
sizes. How can I do this from one master ration?
If you create a 1000# master
ration (feedmills say "formula", feedyards say "ration", others call
it a "blend"), the batch size multiplier in your production list will allow you
to specify a batch of unlimited size within a 10# increment. All referenced ingredients
will automatically re-size to the final batch size.
Q: If I enter the total amount of
feed I need, what values does the system use to figure out the number of batches and the
optimal batch size?Respecting the largest batch
size you allow in the formula header, it divides the total by an even number of equal
batches. Alternately, you can specify the number of batches, and let the system default to
a batch size.
Q. Can data files be read by a host system?
Yes. See the page of data
formats on this WEB site.
The next question addresses use of Windows networking for accessing data.
Will your DOS application run under Windows. What versions, and why would I need it?
It runs fine under Windows
98SE or ME. It adds complexity to keeping the computer running, but the advantage, is you
can put it on a network to retrieve the data files as the system runs. You can also
remotely replace the program while running. The new version will load on a re-start. We
have a number of systems that do this effectively. It does add much complexity to keeping
it running 24/7. DOS based is super reliable, while still giving you a graphical style
Q. What Scale
Indicators do you supply?
We use scale indicator(s),
from Rice Lake Weighing Systems. Currently we use a NEMA 4 Stainless unit (IQ355) with a
microprocessor calibration sequence. They are highly reliable and very reasonably priced.
We find that most if not all scale companies are familiar with these units.
Q. Where is the
electrical control relay panel located?
The control relay panel is
usually located near the computer system, since it is handy to have them together for
diagnostics. Or it can be located in the relay room, several hundred feet away. We
use a steel, NEMA rated enclosure that is typically 2' x 3' by 8" deep. Ideal
mounting is wall mounted at a visual level. It contains all of the OPTO-22 relays, the
screw attachment points for the AC control wires, an AC fuse, a disconnect switch, a pilot
light, a power supply, and wire way for the control wiring.
Q. Do you
recommend an electrical switch box to a existing system controls?
Absolutely. While the batch
system provides full manual control of every relay, your electrician should preserve your
manual station, by providing toggle switches to individually select between the Flowcon
outputs and your manual controls. These toggles can easily fit in a 12" x 12"
box. Inputs can go to multiple locations without any isolation. We provide
documentation for methods which allow for any line to be switched away from the Flowcon
for testing or service.
Use of a manual panel switch which has a Manual / OFF / Auto position is an even better
solution. Any method that provides a positive disconnect between the manual and the
automatic outputs is desirable.
Can Remote terminals be supported?
Absolutely. They take a number
of forms, depending on your needs, from a simple remote display/keyboard for data entry,
to a loader mounted laptop with a radio link.
Q. Do you supply a surge
protector and un-interruptible power supply?
We provide a 450 watt
Supply (UPS) from TripLite, intended to hold up the system through momentary power
glitches or for 5-10 minutes while you do an orderly shut down. We don't usually provide a
surge protector (but we could), since the UPS does some of that, and because our optically
isolated relays and scales have eliminated most problems. If you use an outlet strip to
expand your plug-ins, Those usually have some form of surge protection as well.
Q. How do you finalize the electrical requirements with the
We will provide a
suggested wiring list of inputs and outputs. The electrician verifies the validity of that list, and
identifies any changes, for example, doors -- do they need one or two signals for
control? We will provide all control to the barrier strip, using the solid state relays.
The electrical will wire from the barrier strip to the contactors or motor starters. Each
output relay is rated at 2-1/2 amps.
Q. Do you supply an
We do have three versions of
* Our "Truck" system is geared to a feedyard that mixes to a truck.
* Our "Routing" system is for feedmills and feedyards with finish feed storage.
* Our "Blending" system is for other operations that use analog controls for
control loop processes, like plastics blending.
Q: Does the operator manual show
the available reports?
We have a user manual with
examples of some 30 reports, available on request. When we put this on-line as a PDF file
will be able to download it and print.
Q. Who needs to do
what for Installation and Startup?
There is a complete document
in the sales section that spells out the equipment we provide, our responsibilities, and
customer responsibilities. In outline form it looks like this:
** We send equipment that is ready to go.
** You put it on a table
** mount the relay box on the wall, mount the scale(s) on the wall
** connect the supplied cables to the computer
** attach your loadcell cables to the scale, and calibrate it.
** attach your electrical to the relay box per our supplied drawings
** run the system diagnostics to verify your connections.
** run the system and operate all devices from the soft manual panel.
During this process, we will
provide unlimited phone support. Chances are good that you can get electricians in the
area that have done this install before, though none of it is difficult.
** Once the above is working,
we time our arrival, usually for a Tuesday morning, and you should be operational
within a few hours. We stay on site for 3-4 days optimizing the process, since we have
full development capability on site with us. We also provide the operator training for one
key operator, who then learns by training others while we stand by for questions.
In summary, you provide the
install, and we oversee the startup.
Before the install date,
because the computer comes with a full simulator of the process, you can run the
application, enter your data, and run simulated batches. It is a fully functional
simulation, because we use this tool to get everything ship-shape and minimize testing in
the field, which is why our startups are usually very quick.
You can have all of your data
entered before we ever arrive, and you can run simulated batches, and alert us of any flow
problems before we arrive. We will e-mail you revisions and you can repeat the testing. If
you discover a problem after we leave, we can e-mail you a change, which you put to a
floppy, and the system opening menu will give you the option to load the revision. This
same menu allows you to backup and restore all of your data and program files to a floppy.
Q. How about
operational changes (especially optimizations)?
While outright software
failures are rare, sometimes changes will become apparent as you run the process for a few
weeks, and discover that it needs to run a little differently to work better. These
changes, as long as they generally conform to the intent of the original specification,
are made at no charge for 6 months. After that time, they are made at reasonable rates
i.e. a typical change takes 3 hours @ $85 = $255. Simpler changes are free, and even
moderate changes are free if the customer maintains a support agreement once the 6 months
expire. 93% of our customers find that a support agreement, over the long haul, makes
Q. How closely does your quoted
price match your final bill, since "things happen"?
In our system pricing, we
allow a reasonable factor for misunderstandings. As long as the general intent of the
specification has not changed, we accept responsibility to correct any confusion. I do not
believe we have ever billed above the quoted price, except where the customer has
knowingly expanded features and been quoted an added price up front. We follow the
supplied input/output list, and as long as we can accomplish the task without
significantly adding to that list, we absorb the variances. If it's two or three relays,
sometimes the electrician will buy the relay and we will donate the software.
We recognize our responsibility to notice
potential snags before they happen, and to do whatever we can to bear the burden of any
task overruns without charge. Truthfully, almost every installation has something -- we
just hope they aren't too massive. References available on request.
Q. Can you simply
explain the Warranty?
On all Hardware: 6 months or manufacturer's warranty, whichever is
longer. On Software: Should you have an operational error, we will
make it right. Rarely does the software outright fail. Once the 2-4 day install
process completes, most of the operational issues should be worked out. Should you
experience "workmanship" errors i.e. lockups, entry bugs, whatever, we
free fixes for at least 2 years, but if at 5 years you suddenly encounter a workmanship
bug, we will make an honest effort to fix it at no charge. No one should have to "live" with buggy
software. . . ever !
Q. Terms of sale?
** 35% deposit. Our delivery
time starts from receipt of the deposit. We cannot ship any equipment until we have the
deposit, but we can work ahead, and be ready to ship the initial parts when the payment
** 50% is due on delivery of all equipment. Typically this gets paid at time of
installation, unless we have delivered the equipment for several months, and the install
drags for reasons beyond our control, then we ask for you to verify the function using the
simulator, and make payment.
** 15% that you hold for whatever period of time you choose until you are completely
Q. What happens once the deposit is
Once we know a deposit is
en-route, we create the drawings and build the electrical box. Once it is in hand, we ship
those within the week, so within 5-10 days the electrician can start. Meanwhile we
drop-ship the UPS and Scale, and during the next two weeks, we complete our software, and
ship the computer. Once the customer gives us cable lengths, we ship the relays and other
Typical deposit to startup can be as short as 18 days, but is more typically about 35
days, though we are almost never the ones holding up the schedule. Typically, the
electrical contractor determines the install timing.
Q. Time line for delivery after
order is received?
Time of delivery for feedyard
systems, is typically quoted at 4 weeks, but it varies with the complexity of the job, our
current work-load, and vacations/holidays. Complex systems could take 12 weeks, but those
are very unusual.
How much is a spare computer system?
A spare system is
$1500 including the Flowcon board that communicates with the relays and scales etc. That
means that a backup solution is very reasonable, so switching, and fixing the problem
off-line is very practical.
Q. Do you need to make periodic
on-site visits to maintain the system?
We could come by and clean the
systems, but we can sell you a brand new system cheaper than we can come on site. And a
new system is more reliable than spending money cleaning one.
With the PC based systems cost of replacement at $500(replace computer, use monitor,
keyboard, Flowcon board), it makes no sense to travel.
Officially: the cost to travel is expenses
+ 10%, plus labor. On-site is $85/hr. Travel labor is $800 flat rate. In reality, we
hardly ever make service trips, (maybe one in the last 3 years) so we really don't have a
practical baseline, and if we did, we would try to share expenses with another sales or
install trip. Working through local talent has really eliminated our on-site requirements.
We might spend 20 hours in phone support, but that is free to the customer and far
preferable to the expense and time of travel.
Describe Support Agreements:
Every July 1, we renew
support agreements that typically cost from $750 - $1300 a year ($900 average), depending
on support levels for the past year. It covers unlimited telephone support (even if the
problem is not in our system i.e. an electrical or mechanical problem). It also covers bug
fixes. Further, if we discover a bug in a similar customer, we will provide a no charge
change to your software, even though you are unaware of the need to make the change.
Obviously we take these kinds of problems very seriously, because it does not bode well
for us if you are having system problems.
It covers repairs at
our facility, like if you send us a computer for repair. It provides reduced labor rates
for add-on software tasks -- system enhancements etc.
On-site support at reduced
rates -- We have not had to do this in many years, because of our success in working with
local electricians, scale people, and computer shops, and the occasional parts that are
mailed to us for repair.
Q. How long has Flowcon
been in the process control business? What about your key people?
Flowcon began in the late 60's. Two of us have been
with Flowcon since 1978 . . . we have built and very successfully installed a whole lot of
Thanks for reading,
Bernie Bergen, Pres.