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Technical Articles

Explaining Dry Bulk Material

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Kevin R. Peterson, Business Development Director, Vortex Global

After 70 years on this earth, I am joining the ranks of the retired this January (2021). As that time draws nearer, I find myself reflecting on the different industries I have been involved with. The realization is that I have been working with dry bulk material all my life. I just did not know it at the time.

Right out of college, I represented a company that manufactured grain augers and self-unloading grain carts. We handled all different types of grain. From there, I represented a company that marketed hybrid seed corn. We handled corn. I spent some time in the automotive parts and hardware industries. There were items we handled that were identified by names like oil dry, tires, sand tubes, fertilizer, decorative rock, and cement.

Moving on, I was back in the grain industry, first as an owner of a grain marketing company and then as a trader (I always hated the word “broker”) for a regional grain company. I was again handling wheat, corn, milo, barley, and soybeans.

In 1995, I made a career change to director of marketing for a company that manufactured “slide gates and diverter valves for handling dry bulk material.” It was an interesting change, especially with trying to convey to friends and family exactly what this company did. What was “dry bulk material?” The explanation of the new job created a blank stare and fostered more questions. Living in the middle of Kansas, the standard reply was, “oh, you mean like flour and grain?” Yes, but dry bulk material encompassed so much more.

I quickly realized that coworkers frequently had problems with the same issue. As I became acquainted with people from other companies that worked in the dry bulk material industry, I found out that they too encountered this frustration. How does one really explain what our companies actually do? In an attempt to answer that question, our owner created the following explanation:

“Many people ask: ‘What does our company do?’ The answer can create more questions than it answers. The following narrative will help you understand what we do and how we are a part of your daily life.

We help our customers make their products more efficiently, with less cost, providing a cleaner environment and a safer work place. We manufacture gate valves and diverter valves for controlling the flow of dry bulk materials ranging from valves as small as 1½ in. in diameter to as large as 30 sq. in.

What is dry bulk material? It is a part of your daily life. When you awoke this morning you probably slept on a mattress filled with fiber fluff using our products. You jumped into the shower and turned on a faucet made by a company that required large dumper valves made to control dust in their foundry. You reached for that bar of soap that was made using gate valves to meter the flow of phosphates into their manufacturing process. After that refreshing shower you put on your shirt without the ring around the collar thanks to a company that uses valves for processing their detergent. You then walked into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee specially blended with the use of gate valves with dribble feed controls. You don’t like your coffee black so you stir a sweetener into your coffee, take a bite of your Danish roll, and smell the aroma coming from your hot oatmeal, all processed using gates and diverters.

As you walked out the front door you noticed how nice your new floor looked, not knowing that gate valves played a part in its manufacture. It snowed last night and you noticed the side walk was slick, not thinking about the fact the cement needed a gate valve to shut off the flow of potash used in its manufacture. The cold morning air hit your face and it made you glad you took your antibiotic last night, not knowing that a special all stainless steel valve was needed in its manufacture.

You hurried out to your new car and admired its paint job and wondered how they can make it look so good and maybe wondered if the painting process was environmentally safe. It was made safe by a paint overspray collection system made possible by unique valving specially manufactured to handle this dry bulk material. As you got into your car you think those tires should give you plenty of traction on the wet streets this morning–their manufacture made possible by special valves for handling carbon black.

Driving to work you thought about your full day as you listened to your new compact disk (remember, this was 1995) not knowing the aluminum disk and its polycarbonate coating were processed using diverter valves and gate valves. Before you arrived at work, you pulled several photo copies of today’s itinerary from your brief case, not knowing that the copy toner was manufactured using a gate valve. You pulled up into your parking place at work, stepped out and breathed in the morning air, thinking it’s great to live in Kansas with its fresh air and not noticing an Environmental Protection Agency aircraft passing overhead with a diverter valve in its nose cone collecting air quality samples for testing.

That will give you an idea of what dry bulk material is, and we manufacture the valves and diverters to handle it!”

This story was the perfect answer for anyone who truly wanted to know what our company did and would take the time to digest its message. Unfortunately, most acquaintances will not devote that much time to an answer. How could we shorten the answer?

Years later, industries were tasked with creating what was referred to as “the elevator pitch.” This was a 30-second speech that conveyed to a new acquaintance what your company did and why it was important. It was a daunting, almost impossible task. “Our company manufacturers slide gates and diverter valves used by industries that handle or process dry bulk material.” This “pitch” was immediately followed by the deer in the headlight look. That was followed by “what’s a slide gate?”, “what’s a diverter valve?”, or the inevitable question, “dry bulk material?” More times than not the reply was “that’s nice.”

People involved in the dry bulk material industry know what dry bulk material is. This made it easy to introduce our company to them, explain our corporate capabilities, and how our products will solve any material handling issues (that’s dry bulk material handling issues) they may be experiencing.

How does one explain dry bulk to the general public?

Investopedia says: Dry bulk materials are unpackaged goods shipped in large parcels destined for manufacturers and producers.

Wikipedia says: Bulk materials are those dry materials which are powdery, granular, or lumpy in nature, and are stored in heaps.

Webster says: Dry is free from a liquid and bulk is material that is not divided into parts or packaged in separate units. Confusion.

After 50 years in the workplace, I am realizing that I have represented and worked with dry bulk material all my life. I just did not wrap my head around the proper terminology until later in life. I am on the verge of retirement and am still trying to find a simplified way to explain to friends and family what dry bulk material is. I have learned that the explanation is easier to digest if examples are used: “We manufacture equipment for handling and processing dry bulk material. Examples of dry bulk material include flour, coffee, plastic pellets, cement, and rocks.” That answer seems to work very well.

The interesting thing is now that I have established a way to answer this question, very soon, when someone asks me what I do, my short, simplified, direct, to the point, non-complicated answer will be, “I’m retired!”

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