Weighing In

Nov. 1, 2010

Being little noticed does not mean unimportant. Scales might not be the first thing on every MSW manager’s mind, but they help ensure that accurate records are kept and that operations go smoothly and as quickly as humanly (or technologically) possible. And they also increasingly serve in keeping hefty fines far from busy drivers and operators.

As those who are using, developing, and marketing scales and software across the continent will attest, though silence may be golden, such devices are well worth their weight in gold.

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No Matter What the Weather
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is an hour drive north of Anchorage, AK. Solid waste division manager Greg Goodale uses WasteWorks, from Carolina Software, in conjunction with two sets of 80-foot UniBridge scales for the main scale house. The division also has an unattended 80-foot scale that uses the WasteWizard, also from Carolina Software. The solid waste division has been using these Carolina Software products since 1993, when the scales were first installed at this location.

“Our unattended scale, used primarily for commercial operations, has a keypad and enables the operators to reach their hand out the window, key in their number, and get a ticket right on the spot,” explains Goodale. “For any of our commercial haulers, we enter their tare weights; they weigh in one time and are done. Then we update the tare weights periodically.”

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The winter operations prove especially challenging for the scale systems, as during a typical winter, the facility usually has a few straight weeks of 10- to 20-degrees below zero. Scales must be kept heated with electric heaters buried beneath them. If ice gets lodged between the plates, the scales aren’t able to move freely when vehicles drive onto them. The facility’s unattended commercial scales, however, are up out of the pit and do not have to be heated. The small box containing the keypad and printer contains a strip heater to keep the keys from getting too cold and slow.

The facility uses Mettler Toledo indicator boxes. “Mettler Toledo makes their own software, but we find that the Carolina Software combines all our billing functions, for everything from our residential to our commercial,” he says. “It works especially well for our billing program and will run out invoices so we can print them all up and send everything out. It’s an all-in-one deal. It runs different reports and is able to import everything into Excel spreadsheets. You don’t have to have multiple types of software packages. It’s been good for us, and their customer service has been good.”

Long Success in Family Firm
Dem-Con Companies in Shakopee, MN, is a third-generation, family-owned-and-operated facility dealing primarily with construction and demolition waste. The original company started in 1965. Located just south of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, Dem-Con runs a construction-and-demolition landfill as well as 40,000 square feet of covered processing for C&D materials. The business typically handles some 90% C&D waste and 10% MSW, having become heavily involved heavily in the C&D waste handling in 1985.

Dem-Con has three Cardinal Scales, two for weighing customers in and out, and one in the transfer station, which is used basically for loading outbound materials to a maximum of 80,000 pounds. Dem-Con has used WasteWorks for 10 years or more. The software integrates easily with the scales.

Before using the software, everything was done manually. Up until 2003 the company would have, on average, 300 trucks per day, and every one of the tickets produced was a manual ticket as the trucks proceeded in and out. A worker had to write out the tickets, manually processing each of them in the office and then summarizing them every month prior to billing.

“Three hundred tickets over 20-something days per month resulted in a labor-intensive operation,” explains Jason Haus, who with Mark Pahl is co-owner of Dem-Con Companies. “Whenever there is a human involved, there is also an opportunity for error. What we’ve done is speed that process up dramatically, reducing the chance for inaccuracy. At the end of the month now, instead of summarizing manually all of those tickets, we basically press a few buttons and it is printing invoices for us. This has worked out very, very well for us.

“It also speeds up our processing for trucks. During the summer months, we can have up to 500 vehicles per day coming in and out of our facility. The WasteWizard automated process has helped us to put customers into that system where they can come in, log themselves in, tip their material, and log themselves out. That’s worked really well.”

For those who are not fully automated, Dem-Con has been able to weigh customers in and out without them having to stop again at the gatehouse to finish the transaction. Instead of having them stop, photos are taken of their vehicles; a printout is done right on the scale, and the vehicle then leaves. This helps speed up the process for the transporters of material.

“Our goal is to try to minimize the amount of waiting time for the vehicles while at our facility, and this software has really helped us to be able to do that,” says Haus. “We transfer about 175 to 200 tons per day of MSW waste, and we just tip that in our transfer station. We have all these materials that we code differently, and WasteWorks has the ability to do that. The WasteWorks folks have been great to work with. This has improved our ability to provide service to customers, and our ability to manage our business has dramatically increased due to the information that the software gives us.

“As we scale vehicles in, the weight is recorded. If they come in at 85,000 pounds there is a risk for that hauler, as the state department of transportation has the ability to request those weights and cite them for being overweight. This is one of the challenges in our industry. On outbound loads, we don’t allow them to leave our site if they weigh over 80,000 pounds. But on inbound, we have no control over them, as all we do is scale trucks in and out.

“I know of some sites where the records have been requested and the haulers were cited for overweight vehicles.”

Software for many Types of Equipment
Carolina Software’s core solid waste management product, WasteWorks is a PC-based ticketing, billing, and reporting software system in use at many locations across North America. Among the things people know Carolina Software for are the company’s affordable, off-the-shelf products, according to Jon Leeds, company vice president.

“When you buy WasteWorks, you’re getting a national product known for simplicity and reliability, and it’s a product that is widely used,” says Leeds. “Users do not need a lot of computer experience. With an hour or so of training, they’re able to use the program and process vehicles, capturing all the necessary information.

“Providing the best service is something of a cliché these days,” adds Leeds. “But we go out of our way to make sure everyone’s happy, and this isn’t just for reference purposes. It’s our business model. Any products in this industry, whether they are scales or software, are only as good as the folks that sell and service them. There are other good software products out there—with bells and whistles, et cetera—but those things don’t mean much if they don’t get installed correctly and there is no one there to support them.”

WasteWorks’s primary platform is Microsoft SQL Server (Microsoft also offers a free Express version of SQL Server on its Web site). Carolina Software has small “mom and pop” customer sites that process as few as 15 transactions per day on a single computer. The company also has bigger operations, such as Sacramento County, CA, and Metro Waste in Des Moines, IA. With WasteWorks, a site that has a single workstation and only processes a handful of transactions each day may still run an SQL-based product. An IT department and server equipment is not required. The system remains PC-based, but offer plenty of room to grow. For large, multisite organizations WasteWork-SQL can handle very large data sets and many users with ease.

If an operation has someone positioned at a window, basically a point-of-sale situation, this is the program used to process trucks across the scale. The company also offers a range of automation solutions for unattended or unmanned situations, as well as handheld devices for mobile transaction processing.

The WasteWizard automation system is Carolina Software’s second most widely used product. “The automation side has been huge for us,” adds Leeds. “This system consists of a weather-tight, stainless-steel enclosure with an interface for the driver, akin to the express lane at a toll plaza. After the vehicle is identified and any necessary questions are asked (such as material type), a record of the transaction is produced automatically. Since the transaction is completed without interaction with a scale attendant, and with a minimal number of steps, it is quicker and more efficient and typically means a larger number of tickets are being processed in a shorter amount of time.”

WasteWizard is also useful for after-hours processing. At some sites, vehicles may run 24 hours a day, and by utilizing the WasteWizard automation system for these after-hours vehicles instead of manning a scale house, this system typically pays for itself in a short period of time, according to Leeds.

At a site with inbound and outbound scales, typical weekday traffic can probably be handled without backups in traffic. But for most county and city facilities, the busiest day is Saturday. This is when most residents have time to come to the facility, and in many cases this means long lines and long waits.

“Instead of making those extra customers wait to weigh in and out, a flat rate charge, such as $5 for a car or $10 for a pickup truck can be used to speed things up,” says Leeds. “And with a handheld device like Carolina Software’s WasteWalker, a worker can walk down a line of cars and easily ring up all these transactions and knock out the lines in a hurry.”

Handhelds also come in handy for side area transactions such as paint cans (HHW sites), old refrigerators, tires, or any other odd materials that don’t necessarily need a trip across the scale to be dumped. By mobilizing the transaction processing, it is another way to increase site efficiency and saves those weekend cars and pickups from having to wait in line for the scales.

Carolina Software also has an integrated rolloff management module, WasteWorks for Containers. This takes care of the busy work of renting and managing rolloffs. In addition, the company provides lane-control systems, which work in conjunction with scales and a number of peripheral devices to control scale traffic. If there are four or five scales onsite, along with gates, traffic lights, and all sorts of other items, they are able to work with all those tangential pieces and help keep traffic flowing smoothly.

“I tell people the WasteWorks software can basically be used anywhere material is being weighed in, and/or, being weighed out,” says Leeds. “It’s for trucks full of something coming in and trucks full going out—landfills, transfer stations, recycling facilities, rock quarries, you name it. And reporting-wise, we can produce just about any report somebody would need, including financial information, tonnage, government, or any other custom reports.”

Wet Weather and Other Issues
Clayton Hearne, fleet manager for the city of Durham, NC, uses Air-Weigh onboard scales for fleet management of the city refuse trucks. They were placed there for various reasons. If it’s raining during a pickup, trash will get wet, and a wet load versus a dry load is much different when it comes to weight, explains Hearne. “We want to cover our drivers and make sure they don’t overload the vehicles for safety reasons,” he says. “That’s our biggest concern. If you get an overloaded vehicle and try to stop in a short distance, it doesn’t stop as well. Having the Air-Weigh onboard system, we can make sure the truck’s not overloaded. We’re taking the precautions to eliminate safety violations, and the readout is mounted on the dash for all involved to see.”

Hearne also likes how this system is able to maximize the efficiency of a truck being driven. If a truck’s GVW is 60,000 pounds, and the truck weighs 30,000 pounds, then it is able to haul nearly 30,000 pounds of material.

“Bringing the load up to the limit only increases efficiency,” adds Hearne. “And that is something everyone is concerned about today with the economy being as it is. You try to find every place you can where there may be a savings in time and money. A truck with space to spare may be able to make pickups at another 35 to 40 more homes on a run.

“Our area is 26 miles from top to bottom. Roundtrip distances to the landfill add up, as does the time. The trick is to minimize the amount of time and distance traveled. A rerouting of the system for an underloaded truck can be much more efficient. It is simply optimizing the efficiency of what your goal is, and our goal in solid waste is to pick up trash.”

The city is working on the third year of having the Air-Weigh system on some 15 of its trucks. “We were getting tired of being ticketed for being overweight, and were trying to find the best way to optimize the whole nine yards and stay legal at the same time. Using a scale system of this type is the best way to do it. Air Weigh has been out there awhile and has a great name and reputation in the industry. We’ve been extremely pleased with the product. Operators easily re-adjust or recalibrate with this simple, well-working unit.”

The first three units were placed on trucks already with the fleet, and the rest were placed on trucks new to the fleet. Other than installing the units, Hearne has never seen them back in the shop for any maintenance issues. “It’s a simple product that works. In the trash industry, having something simple and easy that works is rare. The toxic elements trucks must put up with are hard on all equipment. But the unit’s durability and simplicity makes things really nice.”

Company Warns of Haunting New World
A company spokesman recently said that Air-Weigh had more activity in the first two hours of a recent trade show in Atlanta than it had the entire previous year. “That comment reflected the growing awareness of Air-Weigh’s scales for use in the refuse segment,” says Martin Ambros, president and chief executive officer.

“Part of this awareness relates to the fact that CSA-2010 is driving folks to look at both axle weight and overweight problems when considering onboard scales for their refuse vehicles or for over-the-road trucking in general. CSA-2010 is the new safety rating system being put into place this year by the federal highway system that will now allow overweight citations to be carried on the fleet’s record for two years and the driver’s record for three years.”

Now if an overweight fine is incurred it goes on the driver’s record and can affect the individual’s ability to change jobs, not to mention general employability. “Because systems are becoming automated, no longer is there simply a matter of paying a fine and having it disappear,” says Ambros. “A lot of places have told me they haul overweight all the time but have no way to manage it. If they get into trouble, they just pay the fine and everyone forgets about it. The comment was always that this was the cost of doing business. Well, not anymore.”

Even drivers themselves now approach Air-Weigh to ask about scales and the many issues involved. The Air-Weigh onboard display enables drivers to have information directly on their dashboard showing axle weights and GVW. As routes are being run and pickups made, the total weight is clearly visible in addition to on-the-ground axle weight.

“We will literally tell the driver when he is noncompliant as far as the DOT carry,” adds Ambros. “All DOT cares about is how much weight is on each axle. We measure the mechanical flex of the axle or suspension, not as is done with a load cell. Our products require no modification of the body and are something of a ‘parasitic’ sensing technology, monitoring the strain in existing components, and then our computer turns that into a very accurate on-the-ground weight for that axle.”

With a variety of brackets, it can be attached onto an axle or a walking beam. Depending upon the type of vehicle, there are different locations at which it can be mounted. It then bends along with whatever it is attached to, and the sensor-processor in turn transmits the information to a display on the dashboard of the vehicle. The driver views an LCD with actual pounds of on-the-ground weight, just as if he were rolling over a scale at a transfer station or landfill.

“This takes all the guesswork out of whether or not you are legal,” says Ambros. “This technology was developed with some of the major refuse fleet operators as we’re seeing more and more a need for axle weights. It’s one thing to know how much tonnage you’re going to put in a landfill; but that doesn’t help you make sure when you’re on the highway to the landfill or transfer station that you’re not overloaded on an axle. You can even have a legal load, but be too heavy on the steer or the drive axle and be in violation. The display on the dash will show any officer pulling a truck over what that weight on the axle is.”

Primary Focus on Scales
Vulcan On-Board Scales offers onboard weighing systems for the timber, refuse, general over-the-road trucking, and aggregate industries. In MSW, they’re used for rear and front loaders and there are scales for rolloff and hook-lift trucks. There is really no truck in the refuse industry that Vulcan cannot scale, according to Rick Talbot, marketing manager.

“There are huge safety issues involved with overweight trucks,” explains Talbot. “Companies do not want the legal exposure of having overweight trucks on the road. Due to budget issues, municipalities are looking at ways of clamping down on such factors as overweight trucks causing wear on their roads.”

The Vulcan system has a display in the cab of the truck. The fastest-growing area now is that of packers, either private or for municipalities, simply wanting to be legal on the road. “Those are simpler systems and are suspension-oriented,” says Talbot. “They could be air-pressure sensors on air-ride suspensions, or deflection transducers on mechanical suspensions. Although most scales are going on mechanical suspensions, we are seeing increasingly more packer trucks running on air-ride suspension systems.

“We use deflection transducers mounted on the suspension parts to measure deflection in the suspension so we can monitor how much weight is on each axle and how much the gross vehicle weight is. These are less expensive. They function solely to make sure your vehicle is legal. They’re less exacting than a load cell, typically within a few percent of the actual weight.”

Trucks have always had to deal with maintenance issues when weight issues are involved, according to Talbot. “I’ve had people come to me in the refuse industry ever since I started years back and explain how they had half of their vehicles scaled and half without and were paying for the scales with the maintenance cost savings. Though they aren’t purchased for that reason, they can be paid for with the cost savings. Maintenance managers continually tell me how they have less brake work, less engine work, and less body work if the vehicles are not overloaded.

“I think we’ll see an overall increase in programs to address truck safety. Scales will play an even more important part in keeping trucks legal, part of a whole broader picture involved with this issue. We don’t want overweight fees and fines, and we don’t want the overall liabilities and legal exposure issues.”

Interfaces with scales and other onboard computers or GPS equipment will actually monitor these weights and provide them online to the dispatchers and operations managers, according to Talbot. It won’t be based on the word of the driver alone. Speed, driver behavior, destination, length of stops, and other factors in addition to weight are all now under scrutiny as one package.

Getting the Recipe Right
Based in Laval, QC, RMT Equipment is the North American headquarters for VEI loader scales and is involved through some of its clients in the activities of transfer stations and landfills engaged in the burning of waste to create energy. Since there is a “recipe” for creating biomass fuels, material is separated into different categories and weighed before being placed in the burners. Whenever there is a recipe, it is important to know that the right amount of material is being used for the process. RMT Equipment’s VEI loader scale can be used to maintain the ingredients at the right proportion needed for the mix. Co-owner Marc Lefebvre says this is a field they got involved since many years already.

The return on investment for the VEI loader scale system is pretty fast, according to Lefebvre. “We’ve found that this product has a minimum life span of 10 years. We have customers who have loaded 20,000 to 30,000 trucks, and their scales are still accurate within 1%. This is quite a statement in that, if you are looking to load trucks accurately, it’s possible to do it, all while sustaining that level of usage.

RMT’s biggest market to date is the aggregate industry. Salt and gravel for municipalities are a growing part of its business. The company has a unique Track-Weight Mobile cellular data-transfer technology that RMT pioneered in 2007, according to Lefebvre. It is especially useful in salt stack management. The technology remotely sends records of all company truckloads to a server, where the data can be accessed as needed, directly from the system or by using VEI iPot software. Many counties and contractors in the US and Canada are now using this technology, according to Lefebvre.

A main benefit is better inventory control of expensive road salt and sand being removed at night by the trucks. Inventory may be managed pretty much in real time by the loader scale. They know for a specific snowstorm how much salt or sand has been spread on the road. Previously that information had to be printed and operators had to wait until the coupon got back to the office.

With their server they can now send an e-mail to the manager and to the accounting department of the county every day at 6 a.m. with an Excel file showing all the loads that were done for that day, with the total at the bottom. The Excel files are entered into the system to control the inventory.

“For accounting, this is now not nearly as time-consuming as it was before,” adds Lefebvre. “For waste, if there are different products and they want to know where it is going, anytime there is reporting to do they can download and save information from anytime during the day. Track-Weight Mobile is something of a ‘blackbox’—and customers can’t seem to live without it anymore.”

Going High-Tech
Rice Lake Weighing Systems, originally a scale service company, began custom machining: grinding pivots and bearings for customers. In time the company added electronic scales and instrumentation to its growing catalog and began manufacturing the well-known Survivor truck scales, nearly 20 years ago.

Rice Lake’s Precision Loads On-Board Weighing Systems are often used on refuse trucks. The system is attached to the truck body, with the weight indicator located in the truck cab. Drivers can be sure they are not exceeding the legal highway load without accessing a truck scale.

“Our ticketing kiosks and truck data management software calculate the difference between inbound and outbound weighing, eliminating the possibility of human error,” according to Joe Grell, vice president of strategic development. “The software keeps a log of each truck’s tare and an archive of loads-per-truck and loads-per-driver.” Rice Lake also offers several truck data management kiosk solutions with wired and wireless interfaces to OnTrak data management software, providing a highly functional front end to any ERP or accounting system.

Rice Lake recently released iQube2, the fastest digital junction box on the market, for managing multiple-cell scale systems. The iQube2 can update up to 500 times per second, which greatly increases accuracy, precision, and profits. The iQube2 had onboard diagnostics that identify noise, test for linearity and zero reference, and monitor drift. It will diagnose a problem and send an alert to the scale person’s computer, while it emulates the failing load cell so the scale can continue weighing until a repair is made.

In It for the Long Haul
Cardinal Scale Mfg. Co.’s electronic, mechanical, and hydraulic scale systems are used in landfills, transfer stations, scrap metal operations, quarries, coalmines, and recycling facilities. The company also makes truck scales and railroad track scales, according to Ron Ricketts, national sales manager for Cardinal Scale.

For recycling, Cardinal produces many scales to deal with aluminum cans and other recycled products. The company also does many of the enforcement scales seen along highways in certain states.

Cardinal’s business consists of approximately 80% scales sales and 20% software. Though the company has updated and changed its software since 1980, the software consists of the same basic design it has always had.

“In the scale business, we’re doing a lot of wireless communication,” says Ricketts. “With such technology, there is no longer a need to bury lines.

“Our sister company, Detecto, gets us into food service, clinical, and medical scales, including medical waste. That gets us into the smaller retail markets. We do a lot of work with the government, military, and even for the NASA Space Center.”

The year 2010 is the company’s 60th year in this line of work. It is independently owned, and, as far as Ricketts knows, it is the last company manufacturing its own load cells domestically. “Everyone’s gone offshore to make their load cells,” says Ricketts. “We still make our own right here in the US.”

Unattended Weigh Stations
Jeff Andrioff, sales marketing manager for the vehicle scale portfolio and manager of industrial distributor sales network with Mettler Toledo’s US Industrial Business Area, points out that Mettler Toledo’s scales and software are widely used in the MSW industry. The technology is innovative, according to Andrioff. The Mettler Toledo products are the only truck scales in the market to utilize digital load cells with predictive diagnostic capability. The latest of their four generations introduced over the years is Powercell PDX.

Mettler Toledo has attacked the root cause of every one of the “spending buckets” associated with scales to drive them out of the equation, explains Andrioff. The company has removed the things with a potential to cause maintenance issues. Junction boxes traditionally have been a notorious point of contention, problems, and failures. With the Powercell PDX, the company has eliminated the junction box altogether from the design.

“Now the load cells talk in series right to the instrument directly, without having to go through the junction box or, as some refer to it, the gathering box, or hydraulic technology using a totalizer,” says Andrioff. “But all of those devices perform the same function of consolidating, summing, or adding up all the signals of the multiple weight sensors at the scale source and then sending a signal through to the weight display. We eliminate that entire step altogether.

“We actually convert the analog signal right within the load cell itself to keep down the tendency for errors to occur from many factors out in the local environment. The chance of errors may be leading a station to come up light in readings, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost profits.

“Because we deal with a digital system, ours will tell you in advance of any problems. We feel this is an area that the end user should look at proactively, as outfits typically have issues down the road. We also want customers to address issues when it’s most convenient for them, rather than when they have 200 trucks lined up waiting to get weighed.”

Government agencies allow scales to be as much as 60 pounds off and still be legal for trade for a 200,000-pound capacity truck scale, according to Andrioff. “But even with factoring in such a seemingly insignificant error, when processing 100  trucks per day that is still the equivalent of $28,000 dollars in profit loss when annualized.”

The technology has lightning protection and submersible water ratings due to the fact that truck scales are often out in the elements. “So now, two of the biggest problems associated with conventional analog technology—lightning and moisture—are not a problem for the equipment,” adds Andrioff. “The main thing for operators is to remove the downtime and keeping the total cost as low as possible.

“We have a whole host of software available for processing the transactions, too. These include unattended stations. Our weight display allows us to capture the weight and send that information out to either our own software package or to whatever other package the customer may already have. There is a lot of flexibility.”

The Powercell PDX was launched in November, 2009 and by early fall 2010 it was already launched into five new models of truck scales.

Stuart Thomas, global segment and service marketing manager for Mettler Toledo’s vehicle scale business, points out that the firm actually has truck scales, sales, and service organizations on all seven continents—including scales installed for use in Antarctica. The company’s customizable OverDrive software is ideal for data management of vehicle scales in waste operations but is popular in mining and aggregate applications, too. It is designed for compatibility with other systems and can fit seamlessly into any operation.

The program stores a database of vehicles, customers, products, and other information needed to complete transactions. It can be used to control multiple scales, traffic lights, and gates. The software will accept input from magnetic card readers and interface with video cameras to do data capture of license plates as vehicles cross the scale.

“There is a lot of flexibility there,” explains Thomas. “We do custom applications with this system as well. Our unattended hardware allows facilities to function without a scale house. These are sold around the world and are especially popular in France. Customers are particularly impressed with the versatility, speed, and efficiency of the unattended stations.” 
About the Author

Peter Hildebrandt

Peter Hildebrandt writes about construction, technology, and industry.

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