A successful seed treatment application depends on several factors – and one of them is timing. Once seeds have achieved a perfect coating of the seed treatment, they should be immediately discharged from the treater. Too early and they will not be properly coated; too late and they will start to re-abrade. This is where Seed Treatment End Point (S.T.E.P.) Technology comes in: a solution for automating the end point process and getting it right every time.
Frank Laubert, Head of Global SeedGrowth Centers, tells us what has happened since the technology’s initial launch, and how – and why – treaters can install it and start to benefit for themselves.
Firstly, can you summarize how S.T.E.P. Technology works?
S.T.E.P. Technology is an innovative solution developed specifically for the accurate determination of seed treatment timing. Using sensors and algorithms, it works out the ideal point to discharge treated seeds. Getting this right is important, because missing it by even a short amount of time leads to potential reductions in quality as well as time wastage.
It works by detecting solid-borne noise using a sensor that needs to be in direct contact with the seed treater bowl, and therefore is usually positioned under it. During treatment of a batch, there are several recognizable stages, from initiation to liquid injection to powder application to drying, all of which cause changes in the borne noise level.
The final stage, drying, is where the S.T.E.P. Technology algorithm really works. It analyzes the increasing noise level and instantly determines when the seeds have reached their optimum dryness – close to, but not at, the point when all the water that is part of a typical seed treatment recipe is gone again.
This would be hard to pick out manually. You can see this from the noise graph – the automatic endpoint is not at an obvious point where the gradient changes. But this is when the seed is ready to be discharged, and if you keep it under mechanical stress any longer, it can negatively affect your results.
A graph output from S.T.E.P. Technology of the solid-borne noise variations in a treatment cycle. ‘Automatic endpoint’ is where the technology determines that the seeds should be discharged.
What are the main benefits of this for treaters and end-users?
We have learned that S.T.E.P. Technology tends to reduce the average mixing time. This means the optimal end point is typically earlier than a manual operator thinks it is. So, if you are determining the seed treatment end point manually, you could inadvertently be allowing seed abrasion (leading to loss of active load on the seed), not to mention losing capacity because the machine cycle went on longer than it had to.
In fact, if you combine all the sequences within seed treatment, we calculated that using S.T.E.P. Technology can reduce your process time by about 10%. That’s time that treaters are winning back, and can be used to process more batches per shift and increase profitability.
It’s also worth mentioning that the S.T.E.P.-determined end point varies significantly from batch to batch, as seen in the timing graph. This demonstrates the difficulty in getting it right manually – you wouldn’t just be able to use the same end point every time!
In fact, optimum mixing times depend on several factors: different recipes, ambient conditions, seed variety and batch, kernel size (especially for corn), batch size, where the seed has been stored (cold silo or indoors), and so on. S.T.E.P. Technology can handle all the different parameters in this ‘equation’, instantly and powerfully, and master the complex task of getting the right mixing time.
Results graph from a day of seed treatment application using S.T.E.P. Technology. The red line is the mixing time, showing how much it can vary from batch to batch.
How has S.T.E.P. Technology evolved since being introduced?
We have had some significant developments, including a change of name and distribution model. As we became fully convinced of its benefits, we started thinking about how we could reach as many treaters as possible with it. The obvious answer was that we should not be doing this all on our own. If every treater bought S.T.E.P. Technology, we would not have the capacity to serve them all with the support they need.
That’s why we signed special contracts with two partner manufacturers: Willy Niklas and Cimbria Heid (now under the umbrella of AGCO). These two companies are engaged to sell S.T.E.P. Technology, but that’s not all: they also have exclusive licenses to work on the devices and develop them further. In other words, they have full freedom and flexibility to build S.T.E.P. Technology into treater offerings and bring them to market in the best possible way.
To make this change clear, we renamed it S.T.E.P. Technology (from the previous name, BayS.T.E.P.). This makes it clear that we have reached a new stage, with an evolved device marketed by a different company.
What has the feedback been like from treaters?
Our existing customers are happy, reporting good results and no problems. They are convinced that it is the way forward! Their feedback gives us confidence that now is the time to take S.T.E.P. Technology to the next level, with our distribution and development partners by our side, and encourage new customers to come on board and experience its benefits.
This is backed up by the data we take from samples of batches processed at customer plants. In a recent corn batch, the treated seeds had a mean of 96% seed load from a manual process, and 98% from an automatic process governed by S.T.E.P. Technology. Everything else was the same, including seed batch – it was just the addition of S.T.E.P. Technology that gained the extra 2%.
How can treaters acquire S.T.E.P. Technology for themselves?
S.T.E.P. Technology is available to industrial treaters through either Niklas or Cimbria, on a wide variety of treater models. It can be supplied as a built-in feature on new treaters, or retrofitted to existing machines – meaning it can essentially be used on any make of treater. Please note, however, that it is only for batch treaters, not continuous treaters.
Currently, S.T.E.P. Technology has been proven to work well on corn and wheat. Bean and pea crops are under development; I am confident that our manufacturers will be able to master these crops in time.
What would you say to any treaters who are still unsure about investing in S.T.E.P. Technology?
S.T.E.P. Technology was designed as a stewardship initiative – part of our commitment to high industrial seed treatment standards. Therefore, its purpose is to confer as many performance, safety and standardization benefits as possible. This includes:
• Reduced dust emissions (through preventing abrasion)
• Improved efficiency in the seed treatment process
• Process automation, reducing risk of human error
• Optimized use of chemicals (better seed load, less wastage)
• Improved monitoring capability of the seed treatment process
• Supports compliance with ESTA regulations
All this makes S.T.E.P. a revolutionary technology, which changes the seed treatment process for the better. It is really something for treaters to consider – yes, there is an upfront investment, but the quality and time-saving benefits mean that in the end this will pay off.