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Taking soil samples will now be easier

Augers are known as devices used to take soil samples for chemical or physical analysis, now there is a new competitor on the block and already with a patent.

The new tool was produced by Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal-Palmira) researchers and was incepted from an industrial design project which was slowly conceived through an arduous and constant interdisciplinary task, producing what they christened as the VAMC-001.

To the naked eye, it looks like a backpack sprayer, which speaks volumes of the easiness of using the device in the field and also improves the occupational health of workers in comparison of the traditional tool, which requires physical effort to use.

“This is similar to when instead of auger workers use shovels, which has the inconvenience of providing a larger sample than needed for the laboratory,” said Martha Henao, Professor, and Coordinator and the UNal-Bogotá Faculty of Agrarian Sciences’ Laboratory of Water and Soil.

For Eliana Castro, Dean of the UNal-Palmira Faculty of Engineering and Business Administration and one of the inventors of the device along with Professor Raúl Madriñán Molina and Industrial Designer Jorge Andrés Vargas Monedero, getting to the final prototype meant complying with phases of recognizing the issue, research and analysis and determining the requirements for the design and building of models for verification processes.

The conventional auger is a metal bar which height from the ground reaches the chest of the user and generally ends with a pointed tip or a screw with one of several rings for sample taking; for the metal bar to penetrate the soil it is typically hit by a hammer, while the VAMC-001 uses hydraulic and mechanical power to overcome the resistance.

Precision, validity, and trustworthiness

One of the suggestions of the agronomist when it comes to cropping is to carry out a physical analysis of the soil. Despite this, small farmers prioritize chemical analysis over physical analysis, which refers to nutrients and biological parameters; the physical analysis helps determine the properties of the soil, which influences its fertility.

Henao says, “A soil with good physical properties guarantees and good crop”, as they refer to the water filtration, soil compaction and apparent density, which is basically the relationship between the soil mass and the volume. These analyses also show the levels of water infiltration or soil degradation. She also adds that development issues of a crop may be linked to its physical properties, as a very compacted soil, for instance, leaves little space for porosity, hence poor aeration and the capability to store water.

When samples are taken for physical analysis the soil must maintain its architecture, in other words, it must be undeformed or as experts say, not disturbed, invariable. Different from samples for chemical analysis, which are made mixing several samples from different parts of a land plot.

According to this consideration, the device designed by UNal-Palmira researchers gathers all the characteristics required for taking undeformed soil samples and allows knowing its physical properties with precision, validity, and trustworthiness my means of a standardized process.

Equipment subsystems

The first thing to do before taking a sample, the same as in a conventional manner, is to prepare the land, removing approximately one inch of topsoil with a shovel and soak with abundant water for the soil to absorb the water and facilitate the activity.

After they place the equipment over the ground, anchoring it with wooden stakes, they turn on the hydraulic system using a lateral lever to start digging the sampling system. After the device has penetrated the soil to the required level, a release valve opens so it can return to its original position and extract the sample at the same time, thanks to the action of springs. The following step is to remove the locking pin and the sampling system from the equipment, removing the internal rings from the cylinder and cutting the excess soil from the central ring. Finally, the plugs need to be placed on the ends of the central ring.

In regards to the cost, the creators of the VACM-100 have yet to figure out the price, but they trust it will be a very competitive price for potential customers.

The inventors say that the subsystems that are part of the equipment are: a hydraulic system, which conveys the power required to bury the device through a lever. The displacement subsystem which delivers movement from the hydraulic system to the sampling system, besides improving the performance by the use of springs, eliminating the blows placed on the auger to take samples.

The creators are working on an industrial production proposal, as the concern for UNal-Palmira is for this initiative not to remain as a patent, but to continue to the technological transference phase.

For the researchers it is difficult to express with words what it means to obtain a patent for the VAMC-001, Professor Eliana summarizes the achievement with a short sentence: “Authentic UNal Pride.”

 

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