Dordt College News

Ag seniors' dust simulator used by farmers organization

August 16, 2010

For five Dordt College agriculture students, the result of their senior project moved out of the classroom and traveled to South Dakota.

The South Dakota Wheat Growers are currently using it in their safety training sessions.

The seniors developed a working dust explosion simulator, for which the agriculture students had done several semesters of research and work.

The simulator project started in 2009 when Ben Werkhoven, Jon Vankeulen, and Jason Prins decided to build a dust explosion simulator to teach and promote agriculture safety within the community.

“The goal of the department’s agriculture directed study requirement is to do research, design a project, and meet a need,” explains Agriculture Professor Duane Bajema. “These students recognized the need to address the problem of agricultural dust explosions.”

Dust explosions can occur within grain elevators for many reasons. Proper cleaning and maintenance are one important way to prevent accidents. Safety training sessions that make use of simulators are another. But although other simulators exist, most are so large in size that they are difficult to transport and so their value for demonstrating the dangers of dust explosions is limited.

After the first group of students had completed a semester of work and research in 2009, both they and their faculty advisor concluded that the simulator needed a few improvements in order to run effectively.

So James Korver and Lane Maars resumed work on the project in the spring of 2010. They were able to make further improvements and ultimately completed the simulator, which now successfully creates small, contained dust explosions.

Korver and Maars traveled to local high schools, fire departments, and grain elevators to demonstrate the hazards of dust explosions. They also created a demonstration video and posted it on YouTube, which quickly caught the attention of the South Dakota Wheat Growers (SDWG).

SDWG is a large network of grain elevators that stretches across North and South Dakota. The association’s management is hoping to change employee practices in order to reduce the number of grain dust explosions within the cooperative elevators. In exchange for the loan of the dust simulator, SDWG has given Dordt’s agriculture department a $1,500 scholarship.

“I am very glad to see the simulator being used by others,” notes Korver.

Bajema is also pleased with the students’ success. In fact, this summer he presented their work at the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture conference at Pennsylvania State University.

“This was a great opportunity for both Dordt and the students to have their work acknowledged at an academic conference,” explains Bajema. “This project met a need in the world of agriculture, so it’s exciting that the students can see its definite value and application.” 

Korver notes, “If the work we have done prevents just one grain explosion at any small grain factory, then it was well worth it.”


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