Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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Fourteen VAA employees volunteered to build a house in North Minneapolis with Habitat for Humanity (Habitat). With a range of construction skill levels, the team was divided into groups to work on various aspects of the four-bedroom home. Employees mainly contributed to the framing and construction of interior and exterior walls, stairs and front porch.

Mounir Najm, one of the VAA outreach event organizers, said these builds are valuable volunteer and educational opportunities. “It is gratifying to see the application of design in the field – obviously the positive impact on helping others, but participating in the process improves our drafting and designs in the future.”

Locally, Habitat helps low income families in the Twin Cities community through programs like Habitat Homebuilding, A Brush with Kindness and Family Support Services. The organization as a whole operates worldwide, dedicated to empowering families by helping them “acquire the access, skills and financial education necessary for them to be successful homeowners.” Learn more about the organizations work or volunteering on the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity website.

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“Safe!” An action shot from a recent Armstrong Falcons (red jerseys) baseball game captured VAA’s banner among others on the fence line.

As a community field sponsor, VAA is supporting District 281's construction efforts for a full-field replacement at the Armstrong High School. The District's two-year investment and Baseball Booster Club mission is to provide a safe, playable field for teams. There are a few Armstrong sports program alums at VAA who learned first-hand the value of team sports. VAA is proud to support Armstrong's field of dreams slated to open for the upcoming season. Go Falcons!

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These common issues are often overlooked at grain facilities. Addressing problems with the right solutions can make your operation more efficient.


1. Truck Scaling, Probing and Staging

Problem: If you can’t get trucks in and out of your site fast enough the pit will sit idle.


  • Make sure there are enough scales to service the facility.
  • Have enough room between the truck probe and the inbound scale and enough room between the inbound scale and the receiving pit. This allows trucks waiting for test results to not tie up the receiving pit, probe or scale for others.

2. Receiving Pit Hopper

Problem: An undersized receiving hopper can limit the speed at which materials are brought in. Any time the hopper is sitting empty is lost capacity.


  • Size the hopper to hold enough material so it is not empty when switching from one truck to the next.
  • Put in larger receiving grates and/or hoppers. This allows trucks to open multiple discharge gates at one time.

3. Rail Reclaim

Problem: Rail cars are occasionally overfilled in the loading process. Without a quick and easy unload system, this can slow down the train filling process and take longer to get a train off site.


  • Having a portable unloader that slides under the rail car to unload the product to a truck is a fairly simple way to handle reclaim spilled product at an existing elevator.
  • In new elevators, put a reclaim pit under the rail. Depending on the site layout, doing this may also make it easy to add an extra truck receiving pit on the same conveyor for use during harvest, or if the main receiving pit is out of service.

4. Ability to Turn Your Product

Problem: When grain storage is an ancillary part of a process facility, often times the ability to move product from one bin to another is not available, which can make cleaning out a bin more difficult.


  • By adding two-way valves at the head of the reclaim conveyor or the head of the reclaim leg, it may be possible to send the reclaimed product back to the distribution system. With certain products, depending on the availability of aeration in the bins or the moisture level, this will provide the ability to turn the bins to help prevent the product from setting up.

5. Bulk Rail Loadout and Receiving

Problem: With decreasing time allotted by the railroads for shuttle train loading / unloading, many facilities do not have the ability to get trains processed fast enough.


  • Loop tracks are usually the easiest way to manage shuttle trains, as the train can be left in one continuous string; however, this type of track requires more land. If land is not available for a loop, consider a ladder configuration. This will almost always require breaking the shuttle into multiple strings for switching operations. If a train needs to be broken into multiple segments to be loaded, try to keep the train in as few segments as possible, and have as little travel time as possible between switching strings.
  • Consider the track and rail car movement on the site when sizing the loading equipment. Facilities where trains need to be split into multiple strings will need faster loading equipment to fill a train in at the same speed as a loop track facility.
  • Make sure the upper and lower garners on the scale system are sized large enough. This will prevent frequent stops of all the reclaim equipment when switching between rail cars - keep the system moving.

Interested in learning more about improving your grain facility? Talk to Bernie Jansen, Doug Rohkohl and Paul Murphy who regularly serve VAA’s Agribusiness clients.


Planning is underway for VAA to participate in the Minneapolis Canstruction® competition at the MOA on September 16. What is Canstruction® you ask?

Design professionals within A/E/C industry design and build structures out of non-perishable food items. The temporary art exhibits are judged in several categories, admired by mall passersby and later dismantled – all goods are donated to Second Harvest Heartland. What will be VAA’s muse? The results of this year’s brainstorming are coming soon to help our hungry neighbors. To see the process in action, view a time-lapse video of VAA’s 2016 Canstruction® build.

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Gene Haldorson was recently recognized as the longest tenured employee at VAA with 35 years of service. His influence on company culture as a mentor to the next generation and with almost four decades of experience in the engineering industry has not gone unnoticed.

A graduate from Minneapolis’ Dunwoody College of Technology and a former Partner of VAA, Haldorson’s career began at a design-build firm drawing grain handling facilities and feed manufacturing plants. Eventually he joined VAA’s then sister company, Grain Facility Design (GFD) in 1981. Pushing to establish GFD’s reputation in the industry, Haldorson helped propel GFD’s name into the agricultural spotlight. Within four years of joining VAA he was managing projects from Iowa to Montana. With the closing of GFD in 1990, he joined VAA to focus on facility design and process/equipment layout. Today, Haldorson’s approach to establishing and maintaining long-term client relationships has contributed to the firm’s business philosophy.

“You meet a lot of people in the industry and you want to be in a career where it is not just about the work – it is about the people and the value of relationships you have impacting the work you do together. It is more rewarding when you truly feel you have accomplished something together,” said Haldorson.

In honor of his 35 years at VAA, the three CEO’s (in photo L to R: current CEO, Jeff Schrock; former CEO, Scott Stangeland; and founder, Dick Van Sickle) shared their gratitude working with Haldorson and presented him with a custom plaque featuring one of his hand-drawn projects, a grain unit train facility in Dickinson, North Dakota.