Student-built grain entrapment simulator aimed at saving farmers' lives

May 18, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An apparatus built as a capstone project by a team of senior biological engineering students was created to save farmers' lives by demonstrating extreme danger.

The Penn State Grain Entrapment Simulator, which was demonstrated at the University Park campus today (May 18), is a trailer-mounted section of grain bin used to show the danger of grain-flow accidents in farm structures. The device also is intended to train emergency responders.

The students hope demonstrations will increase awareness of the dangers of flowing grain in grain bins, according to Ean Julius, of East Berlin, team leader for the project. Other team members, in the agricultural engineering option of the biological engineering major, were Daniel Lutz, Samantha Goldberg, Jordan Fair and Rachel Sacchetti.

"Too often farmers and agricultural workers are unaware of what could happen and get entrapped in flowing grain, and some die," Julius said. "We hope that farmers can see the dangers of being in a grain bin from demonstrations using our simulator, but we also hope to train emergency personnel proper rescue techniques to use when there is an entrapped victim."

There is a stark and pressing need for the simulator, said Davis Hill, senior extension associate in agricultural and biological engineering, who oversees Penn State Extension's Managing Agricultural Emergencies program. He noted that an average of just over 30 deaths occur each year across the United States due to grain entrapments.

"Part of the reason for this is that farmers don't understand how quickly they can become trapped in grain that is flowing and, once trapped, how difficult it is for them to get out," he explained. "Also, emergency responders often don't know how to perform effective rescue procedures. This tool will help in both of these areas."

simulator supporters

Sponsors of the project: Jeffrey Catchmark (far left), associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering; Clair Vollmer (second from left), territory manager for Sudenga Industries; Ean Julius, recent graduate who spearheaded development of the simulator; Davis Hill, rescue instructor; and Len Lobaugh, owner of TAM Systems.

IMAGE: By Hai Nguyen

Julius -- who grew up on a family farm and spent considerable time in grain bins and around flowing grain -- noted that the project "hit close to home" for him. He pointed out that TAM Systems, Brock, Sudenga Industries and GSI Group donated materials and money for the simulator.

"We figure that the materials used in the simulator amounted to more than $15,000 -- but if the demonstrations end up saving even one life, the thing is priceless," he said.

"Designing and building the trailer was a lot of fun and a challenge to finish in two semesters, but our team did a great job to pull everything together. We did most of the building in the Agricultural Engineering building on the University Park Campus."

Penn State Extension plans to use the simulator and offer grain-flow-danger demonstrations and emergency-responder training around the Northeast for years to come, said Hill.

"It is a fantastic learning tool to help spread safety lessons across the region. This new simulator surely will help save lives."


  • Hill demonstrates rescue techniques

    Davis Hill, senior extension associate in agricultural and biological engineering, who oversees Penn State Extension's Managing Agricultural Emergencies program, demonstrates rescue techniques.

    IMAGE: By Hai Nguyen

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 18, 2016