Learn more about three technologies to optimise the logistics of the sugar-energy sector

Innovative tools allow all transportation of sugarcane to be done nimbly, without waste and with increased profit.


28 June 2021

Agribusiness operations go far beyond planting and harvesting, involving a large production chain — purchase and distribution of supplies, storage of products, movement of raw material, transportation to industries or consumers, among other processes. In this scenario, good logistics is indispensable, considering that almost all products in the sector depend on specific conditions.

Sugarcane, for example, has a great association with industry, which consumes the raw material to reach the final product, such as sugar and alcohol. “Since it can perish and suffer contamination, it must be delivered as soon as possible to the industry. That is, to maintain the quality of the product and avoid waste, it is necessary to have agility, unlike what happens with grain transport, for example, which is less critical," explains Alexandre Alencar, director of Research and Development at Hexagon's Agriculture division — a company that develops and provides technologies for the field and is involved in the processes of 46% of national sugarcane production.

With good logistics planning, it is also possible to take a larger amount of raw material in less time, efficiently and economically. "This is essential, especially in Brazil, where we still rely heavily on road transport for cargo transport," says Alexandre. According to research by Fundação Dom Cabral, about 75% of all products transported in the country are loaded by highways.

In this context, relying on the support of advanced technologies to improve logistics in sugar-energy operations is a great alternative for producers and managers who want to ensure increased productivity and profits. Check out three processes that can be optimised in this area using innovative solutions:

Synchronisation of operations in the field

Still at the sugarcane farm, it is already possible to optimise logistics with technologies for the local cycle of activities, such as the dynamic allocation of transhipments. The idea is to synchronise the cutting rhythm of the harvesters with the movement of the haul-outs. "The system predicts when the haul-out in use will reach its limit and, from that, automatically and optimally calls a new tractor. The full haul-out, in turn, will unload the raw material in the transport truck and resume the queue to meet the harvesters in action", points out the director of R&D at Hexagon's agriculture division.

The choice of equipment that will meet the call considers criteria such as the distance between the harvester and haul-outs, positioning and orientation of machines, queue size etc. Synchronisation is done by machine-to-machine (M2M) communication between work front and haul-out queue.

According to Alexandre, "this type of technology prevents the harvester from interrupting the cutting of sugarcane, reduces the waiting time for a new haul-out to continue the operation and helps standardise decision-making across all work fronts. Not to mention that, with the data generated, it is possible to optimise fleet management".

The gains are even more significant when compared to a manual operation, which is dependent on the experience of operators and at the mercy of communication failures and can even generate accidents by collision between vehicles. There are records of a reduction of up to 20% in the number of haul-outs required in a crop with the adoption of this type of semi-automated operation.

Transport optimisation between machinery and trucks

With the completion of the local logistics cycle, the synchronisation between the agricultural machinery and the trucks that will transport the sugarcane to the plants begins. The challenge solved by technological systems, in this case, is to organise the routes so that there is no waste of time.

“The software works so that the truck arrives at the work front at the ideal time. That is, neither delayed, because this would make the harvesters need to stop cutting to wait for the emptying of haul-outs, nor before the raw material is available to be loaded, because that would mean standing still waiting for the cane," explains Alexandre.

This system also takes care of transport optimisation so that the directing of the dispatch of trucks is carried out in the best way. As such, several factors are considered, such as the number and speed of harvesters, the cutting rhythm of sugarcane, if there is any broken tractor, the average travel time, the availability of trucks, the working hours of drivers, and so on.

"The technology works through an intelligent algorithm that analyses all this data and indicates the best destination for truck dispatch, according to the delivery capacity of the farms. At the end of the day, the idea is to have been able to transport as much raw material as possible with the least number of movements", reinforces Alexandre. The largest plants even dispatch up to 800 trips per day — any percentage gain in this transport optimisation already results in a significant increase in the efficiency of the operation as a whole.

Tracking raw material to industry

The return of trucks with raw material to the industry is another phase of logistics that can be optimised with the aid of technology. One of the main solutions, in this case, is the tracking of raw material, which serves to record the origin and route of sugarcane, from the field to the plant.

"In the old days, this was done with manual notes and identification labels. But imagine in the scenario of a giant production area, with hundreds of machines working on intense commuting and transfer activities on the same day. It is very easy to get lost in this screening," says the R&D director. In the automated process, tracking is done through advanced communication capabilities — first, passing the information from the harvesters' displays to those of the haul-out tractors during the cutting process, then to the trailers and trucks in the overflow operation, and finally, from the latter to the receiving system upon arrival in the industry.

Data such as the ID of the equipment and the operators of the machines, accompanied by complete details of the harvesting telemetry, are made available by the solution. "Today, this traceability is fundamental for a productivity diagnosis: knowing exactly which area of the plot came from, it is possible to verify whether the investment made, and the techniques applied generated results or not, which helps management to define strategies for the next harvest," explains Alexandre.

This tracking is also valid if we think of the search for quality certifications, since it makes it possible to prove the complete tracking of the raw material used from the planting history and applied cultural treatments, to its harvest and processing batch in the industry, for example. "In addition, in the case of working with third parties, it is possible to make the payment with the confidence that the cargo received came exactly from the registered location," says the director of Hexagon's Agriculture division.