BY TOMMY HORTON
When visitors attend the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association Trade Show on April 3-4 in Lubbock, they’ll see firsthand how far technology has taken the ginning industry. As they walk around the exhibit hall at the Civic Center, they can observe numerous examples of technology development. Suffice it to say, this isn’t your grandfather’s industry anymore. It is not a question of how much automation and technology is part of today’s ginning. It’s how far will these new developments take the industry?
That’s the reaction you might receive from Ross Rutherford, product general manager for Lummus Corporation in Lubbock, Texas. Rutherford has been part of the cotton ginning industry for 28 years and has seen his share of changes during that time.
“We have to be vigilant in the use of any technology out there,” he says. “And it certainly pertains to ginning. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in just the past decade.”
Rutherford says it was inevitable that technology would advance quickly for ginners. How else could gins increase capacity without these advancements? For today’s gins to reach maximum capacities, they had to abandon old technology from 20 years ago.
Special Monitoring Inside The Gin
What about computerized sensors located throughout the gin or smartphone technology that allows a gin manager to monitor his operation 24 hours a day? And what about moisture control systems and the ability to handle different sized bales delivered to the gin?
The list of technology breakthroughs goes on and on. “You might say that gin capacity has trumped the pure art of running a cotton gin,” says Rutherford. “You can’t rely on the old method of one person hearing something and sensing that there is a problem in the gin.”
That kind of approach won’t work today.
As Rutherford says, “It’s bad enough when you choke a 20-bale-per-hour gin. But when you happen to choke a 90-bale-per-hour gin, you are talking about huge amounts of down time. But that’s the environment we’re in today. Technology has brought us a long way.”
One of the most significant breakthroughs, according to Rutherford, is the remote troubleshooting for today’s gin. Managers can monitor a gin operation from faraway locations by merely watching their smartphones.
For example, Rutherford has a customer in South America who can watch a gin operation on another continent while sitting in a restaurant eating dinner.
“I keep telling this person to relax and enjoy his dinner,” he says with a laugh. “But he’d rather sit there and watch his smartphone. We have become a society that needs instantaneous feedback in our information.”
Texas Industry Has Dramatically Changed
The long-term technology impact for Texas ginners is significant. Obviously, there are more gins in the largest cotton production state in the Belt. And since many ginning operations have consolidated in recent years, the need for increased capacity is important.
“Any expenditures by Texas gins are directly related to automation and technology,” says Rutherford. “If gins aren’t invested in these two areas, they can’t expand and move forward. In the end, it’s all about increasing capacity, achieving quality and maintaining efficiency.”
Kelley Green, TCGA’s director of technical services, echoes Rutherford’s comments. Some of TCGA’s recent research, in fact, reveals that automation is allowing today’s gins to use only a fraction of the workforce that was needed just a few years ago.
“It is obvious that we have automated the heavy work areas in the gin,” says Green. “These inside jobs are being made simpler. And it has allowed gins to use fewer people to do those jobs.”
Contact Tommy Horton at email@example.com or via telephone at (901) 767-4020.