21 Jan

Updated 2018 end of year farm outlook and predictions for 2019

As 2019 begins, and those lists of the top 10 movies or top 10 television shows have been tossed onto the recycling pile, it’s time to look at 2018 year-end farm outlook reviews – and what to expect in 2019.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), an independent, non-governmental, voluntary organization which bills itself as “local, county, state, national and international in its scope and influence and non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-secret in character,” recently released its “Updated End-of-Year Farm Economic Outlook,” by John Newton, Ph.D., the AFBF’s Chief Economist.

The news for 2018 is sobering, indicating that the farm economy continues to struggle. Net farm income in 2018 is down 12% from prior-year levels – about the third-lowest level in more than 20 years after adjusting for inflation.

The author starts with a review of cash receipts, which are flat. Gross agricultural cash receipts in 2018 are projected at $423 billion, up 1.5%, or $6.3 billion, from prior-year levels; but when adjusted for inflation, gross cash receipts are down 0.8%, $22 billion below the 10-year average and nearly $80 billion less than the record-setting 2014 total of $501 billion.

Then there’s the high total 2018 agricultural-related expenses, which are projected at $369.1 billion. If that plays out as expected, expenses would be up 4.2% from prior-year levels – the highest level since 2014.

One final factor to throw in is that net farm income in 2018, which is higher than originally projected by USDA, has been greatly affected by including ad hoc disaster and trade-related payments to farmers and ranchers. If we exclude these payments, net farm income in 2018 is projected at $64.7 billion, down $10 billion (or 13%) from prior-year levels. That makes it the third lowest level over the last decade, behind 2009 and 2016.

Fortunately, while the outlook for 2019 is still uncertain, there are some bright spots to look out for. First on this list are the positive effects of the farm bill, which should give farmers and ranchers more risk management certainty. Also, many are seeing that trade relationships are moving towards normalizing, based on the administration’s desire to restore and improve access in key export markets.

Combining these positives with much-needed regulatory relief and tax reform gives U.S. farmers and ranchers what they need to compete in the marketplace and move U.S. farms into increased profitability.

Fairbanks is kicking off the year by participating in three agricultural shows, and we would love to talk with you about how we can help with that move towards profitability. Find us at the Iowa Farming Power (January 29-31, 2019); Southern Farm Show (January 30-February 1, 2019); and the World Agricultural Expo (February 12-14, 2019).

13 Dec

Preventive maintenance servicing ends up saving in the long run – neglecting your scale costs you profit

The goal of any service program should be to ensure that equipment stays in working order, with minimal downtime between service visits or the life of the product. What is preventive maintenance servicing and how does it differ from general servicing? Here’s my overall philosophy: General servicing puts out fires. Preventative maintenance servicing prevents fires. Let’s look into this a bit more closely.

A general service visit might be more specific in nature while preventative maintenance servicing should, along with upkeep of equipment, take into account such factors as heavy use periods, the value of supplying bench stock on difficult to acquire parts (so as to limit downtime), as well as strategies for repair if a breakdown occurs. In other words, preventative maintenance is a more holistic approach to service. It should not just look at the customer’s equipment in isolation from the operation, but should see the wider picture, including how the proper and efficient operation of the equipment (as well as breakdowns) affects the customers’ business.

In effect, general service is more specific hands on (“tool in hand”) service. Preventative maintenance includes that too, but also requires more interaction with a customer to understand the business and the role the equipment plays in it.

Why are preventive maintenance programs so important?

One of the first phrases a new Fairbanks employee will hear when starting their employment is “a customer’s scale is their cash register.” This speaks to the basic (and critical) notion of customer dollars. Strong support for preventative maintenance is one way we show customers that when they own our equipment we becomes a critical partner in their business operation – and that includes their bottom line dollars.

What happens if customers do not follow a preventive maintenance program?

Neglecting to account for the longevity of equipment can result in significant future repairs. Problems generally don’t stay static or improve over time – they usually get worse. When a small issue morphs into a significant problem, wholesale repairs need to be performed. These are often not budgeted for, so they result in unanticipated downtime. Any downtime is usually unexpected and often comes at a critical time.

Downtime can be minimized or eliminated almost entirely by doing proper preventative service. Here’s a recent example. Just this week we are working on a $38,000 full rebuild of a scale that experienced significant structural damage due to rusting of critical components. This customer does not get his scale checked regularly; had maintenance visits been performed, the issue would have been caught and small repairs could have been completed.

What to look for in a service program

Open-end service is the most typical type of service provided in the industrial weighing service industry. It is service that is paid for as required, or “pay as you go.” There is no limit to the total cost of repairs and it is impossible to know what your costs will be. Although you may know what your scheduled calibration costs are, it is problematic to predict failure of a component. It is also difficult to diagnose problems unless the cause is apparent at the time of any periodic pre-scheduled inspections.

With a closed-end service plan, when service is required, it can be ordered without purchase order, requisition, or approvals, so a technician can be on site quickly. This is the fastest, simplest way to initiate service. With a closed-end service plan, the extra costs are the responsibility of the service provider. Large service providers are better able to take this risk, so this type of service plan is less often an option with smaller scale companies.

The greatest benefit of a closed-end service agreement is reduced risk for the customer. Much like insurance, closed-end service agreements cover the cost of most failures. This allows the customer to spend less time making arrangements between purchasing and management when service is needed. It also builds a better relationship between the service provider and the end user of the scale because the service process is less cumbersome.

For example, the Fairbanks Scales Guardian Service Plan is a “no surprises” service program with multiple levels to fit specific customer needs. The highest level of Guardian Service can be all-encompassing to include parts, service visits and calibrations. Customers with little exposure to significant repairs might choose a more basic option just covering calibrations. The best agreement fits the customer like a glove!

The losses to revenue due to a scale failure can exceed the cost of maintenance. Preventive maintenance ends up saving in the long run.

30 Nov

Beware of Weighment Loss – How to safeguard your profits by eliminating inaccurate readings of weighment transactions

Weighment loss, the profit lost from inaccurate readings of weighment transactions, is a serious issue. Each loss may be small in and of itself, but they build up over time.

It can happen in any industry, but heavy capacity industries are the hardest hit. One great example is the waste management industry. Waste disposal is charged by the ton, so if scales that weigh those tractor trailer trucks transporting trash to a landfill are off even slightly, it can affect the bottom line revenue – a lot! Other affected industries include aggregates, raw materials, and large trees being sent to lumber mills for processing.

Here are two real life examples of how seemingly minimal errors substantially cut into profits over time. The first was an aggregate company that weighed 500 trucks per day, five days per week. The company had a weighing inaccuracy of only 200 pounds per load, which is really miniscule, since a typical truckload of sand or gravel can exceed 80,000 pounds. But at a product value of $26.50 per ton, the total lost annual revenue was – wait for it – $344,500!

Another example is based on a product with a value of $.05 per pound and 100 weighments per day (assuming 300 working days per year.) A simple error of only one increment (20 lbs.) led to $30,000 in annual product loss! The losses really mount as the estimated value or the increment error increases.

Tools are available to estimate potential revenue loss due to scale issues. For example, Fairbanks offers a Weighment Loss Calculator that can show potential revenue loss from even very minimal inaccuracies.

What causes weighment loss?

It can be a challenge to figure out just what is causing the weighment loss, but there are few usual suspects.

First up are equipment issues:

  • Continual wear on both the weighing platform and the electronic components of the weighing equipment can begin to reduce reading accuracy.
  • Using inaccurate or expired stored tare weights can affect the calculation of the net product weight.
  • Buildup of mud, ice, or snow under or between the pit and scale platform on outdoor scales.
  • Using a division size or weighing increment that is too large reduces the accuracy of the weighment.

Aside from equipment issues, the number one cause of weighment loss is not maintaining the scale properly. Generally speaking, the more the scale is used, the more frequently it should be inspected, maintained, and recalibrated. The maintenance program should include use of a state-licensed service provider; using state-certified test weights with written calibration and test report; a thorough testing process; visual inspection services and minor repairs; and thorough reporting.

Division sizes can affect weighment loss

Weights must be accurate only to within 20 pounds of the actual weight, so if you use a 20-pound division size, an item that actually weighs 190 pounds can be placed on the scale and may legally register as weighing anywhere from 180 to 200 pounds. To deal with this issue, Fairbanks recently began offering a 10-pound division size on some of its truck scale products.

Preventing weighment loss

To uncover specific causes and prevent weighment loss, the best approach is to use a factory trained service technician to inspect the physical weighing platform and components, and to regularly compare current calibrated values with those previously certified.

25 Oct

New Lower Cost-Of-Entry Scale Fills the Gap Where Full-Size Truck Scales Are Not Practical

Many operators want to better manage inventory and reduce their overload risks, but lack space or budget for a full-size truck scale. Farmers and co-ops want to manage crops, monitor inventory levels, and know that trucks are full — but not overweight — before leaving the farm. It’s important to prevent overweight trucks from hitting the highways and ensure trucks are safe and roadworthy.

Until recently, those looking for a cost-effective option for checkweighing loads had few choices. Now, there is a new slow speed axle scale system that arrives precast and ready to install. The AxleSurance In-Motion Weigh System, gives axle and gross truck weights that can be displayed, printed, and saved for easy record keeping. A simple backhoe is all that’s required to prepare the site and set the scale platform. The full system can be installed and calibrated in four hours or less.

The AxleSurance system calculates, displays, and captures each individual axle as it rolls over the scale. It sums the weights and prints individual axle and gross weights on the tickets. Tare weights can be stored in the database or recorded with an in/out operation.

The unattended AxleSurance console functions as a self-contained control unit that drivers can operate entirely independently. Transaction records can be saved and transmitted to the user’s management systems.

The standard AxleSurance scale is 11-feet wide and arrives in a precast base. The full system comes with an unattended instrument console, remote LED display, data and homerun cable, plus an information management software package that can be customized to the specific operation. The AxleSurance software is available in farm, aggregate, and base formats.

Full concrete approaches are not required, but will improve the accuracy of the system. Hard pack rock approaches provide accuracy of < 0.5 percent on average, while concrete approaches will improve accuracy up to < 0.2 percent on average.

AxleSurance scale system reduces install time, real estate, and operation time. While not a legal-for-trade scale, it can offer a quick return on investment for companies that want to maximize their truck loads while reducing their overload risks.

13 Sep

Keep up With Scale Technology Innovations to Stay Ahead of Your Competition

Working in the weighing industry without keeping closely abreast of the many recent innovations in scale technology is a sure way to fall behind competitors. Advanced scale technology expedites work and processing times, simplifies data storage and transfer, and ultimately saves end-users money.

One example of the type of innovative scale systems indispensable in modern weighing is Fairbanks Scales’ new and improved FB2550 scale instrument. Innovative in its simplicity, networking capabilities, and processing power, the FB2550 belongs in every weighing company’s arsenal.

The FB2550’s simpler operation makes it faster and more consistent, which in turn leads to a higher level of efficiency and cost savings. The full color, true graphic touchscreen display makes the instrument extremely easy to use. A powerful integrated web utility gives technicians complete access to all menu options, including calibration, with a user friendly, web accessible interface.

All configuration and calibration functions can be performed from a connected laptop or tablet with an Ethernet crossover cable or an existing network, using standard web browsers like Chrome or Firefox. When used with Fairbanks’ unique Remote Configuration Device (RCD), technicians can even calibrate the FB2550 right from the scale platform, eliminating the need to travel between the platform and instrument to test and calibrate the scale system. For weighing technicians, it all adds up to real savings in time and effort, and increased overall efficiency.

The FB2550 is also a highly connected piece of equipment, with a range of networking abilities that makes it perfect for today’s modern weighing systems. Up to five FB2550 instruments can be networked, sharing transactional data and traffic light controls from up to eight scale platforms. Users can also automatically email transactional data or trouble codes. This improves access to transaction data and provides faster response times if there is ever an issue. Transaction data can be automatically exported to a shared user-defined network folder at the end of the day, placing key corporate data at customers’ hands in a timely and reliable manner. Load cell diagnostics data can be viewed, printed, exported, or emailed.

With its high level of processing power, the FB2550 can handle the ever-increasing data processing and storage performance requirements for weighing operations. Equipped with standard short or long platform Axlematic software, the system lets customers secure axle weights along with total vehicle weight to ensure compliance with DOT requirements.

The increased processing power also enables integration with IP cameras. Powerful camera interfacing capabilities allow the FB2550 to capture and store images from up to two IP cameras as a transaction is processed – and email or print images with a transaction ticket. The robust processing power means weighing technicians complete their job faster and more accurately, and it helps enable a much higher level of communication between weighing companies and their customers.

Scale technology is evolving. Scales need the ability to store and process a large volume of data and the ability to network and interact freely with other scales and connected devices, all within an easy to use interface. The FB2550 from Fairbanks Scales delivers on all fronts, and is truly among the most innovative scales currently available.

 

 

 

16 Aug

Innovations in Scale Software

For all industries and businesses, the future is digital. With increased access to low-cost mobile applications available in recent years, coupled with technologies such as blockchain and cloud computing, more companies have the low-cost tools, and the increased knowledge of technology, to shift software into new paradigms. Additionally, cloud computing has reached consumer stability and maturity, setting a foundation for increased movement towards as-a-service software offerings. The benefits of SaaS (Software as a Service) include quicker implementation and deployment, lower overall total cost of ownership, and earlier product releases, as well as the flexibility to “try-before-you-buy”. This applies to a number of industries, and in the scale industry, the situation is no different.

A look at history. With the advent of electronic scales came the foundation for weighing with improved data collection. Information was now in digital form and this provided a path to graphical displays and spreadsheet calculations. Over time, as technology became less expensive and more familiar, integrated devices were developed to improve processes by collecting process data and storing that data in databases. These same databases provided a structured and common method of storing the data, in addition to a foundation for quick reference and sharing, which lead to integrated scales and all their ancillary databases communicating with business systems.

But in the past few years, they’ve come even further. Now, we can see that scale software has evolved from stand-alone scales to software that connects networked devices. The benefits of this evolution are far-reaching. Digital scale information is now available to be shared with many devices via databases, integrated APIs, and more common connectivity technology like ethernet. Scale data is now linked to existing and new software to provide applications that are considered business “smart.” Scale indicators are becoming more sophisticated and have improved speeds and capabilities. From simple weight displays to advanced process control and computing power, a well-designed system provides a method of improved performance, simple configuration, and ease of use.

The sharing of data made possible by software also has a multiplying affect. Different departments and personnel, within or outside an organization, can view the same data to improve areas of scheduling, purchasing, order fulfilment, process improvement, continuous improvement and managerial decision making. The net effect is improved processes, increased visibility, and greater profitability.

With new capabilities provided by software innovations, scale information can be validated, conditional decisions can be made, and as a result, operations are improved. The level of connectivity facilitated by modern scale software provides increased speed in monitoring critical weighments and processes, allowing businesses to make quick decisions and corrections that can maximize company profits.

This is all excellent, of course, and represents a huge improvement over scale technology of even a few years ago. But the best thing about software is that it will only keep improving. With AI (artificial intelligence) likely to be the next step in the software evolutionary chain, the software itself will begin making process decisions based on business rules.

Imagine the capabilities…As these types of connections mature, devices will have additional capabilities and applications — such as self-correcting processes, the ability to call for maintenance before a failure, becoming aware of the environment and users, — will result in an overall improved experience. And, of course, as more devices improve their capabilities, a more universal move to connected devices through the IoT (internet of things) will initiate improvements in monitoring KPIs and running businesses.

This all sounds nice, but what about measurables? What’s the ROI on this scale software technology? Fairbanks Scales does not keep specific client software ROI data. The reason for this is that there are several ways to evaluate ROI depending on the scope you adopt. Much of the time, our clients will use a straight comparison – process time versus time saved (column method). ROI may also be calculated on a project basis using CASE software (project method), or through measuring reduced risk in a process or method (risk reduction method), or by measuring improved quality (quality method). However the ROI is computed, though, the ROI of software in scales has been increasing continuously over the last few years. Research suggests that the average return on every dollar spent on software realizes an improvement of more than $13.01. (2014 Nucleus Research Study)

Scale technology has come a long way from it’s stand-alone, analog roots. The only way forward in scales is through the hyperconnected data landscape that software can create. Are you on board?

 

17 Jul

Scales for Recycling Applications

Regardless of whether you’re in a small operation with just a bench scale or a single floor scale, or in a huge, busy facility with multiple floor scales and a truck scale, weighing technology is the heart of any recycling facility. All of these different types of scales are used to weigh the cans, brass, aluminum, copper, steel, or other materials being recycled; these weights are used, in turn, to determine payments or credits. As the movement to stay “green” has swelled, the need for more – and more efficient – recycling technology has become greater. The following are some key tips for selecting the best weighing technology for recycling applications:

  1. Buy scales with heavy duty load cells. Thanks to the high traffic and spills common to recycling applications, stainless steel load cells are a must-have in recycling weighing. Load cells have to hold up over time, and in demanding applications like recycling, stainless is best – particularly in above ground, rather than pit, scales, due to frequent cleaning and maintenance needs.
  2. Just like load cells, get heavy-duty cables. Recycling facilities are dirty, with spills and the rodents those spills inevitably attract. Stainless steel sheathing on cables will prevent those cables from getting chewed through, as well as protecting them from weather, spilled materials, and cuts from forklifts or other hazards. Protecting cables protects plant uptime.
  3. Find software designed for the task. Regardless of scale type, the weighing software used for recycling plants should be capable of recording multiple customers, producing reports, and printing tickets with payout amounts included. When a truck pulls onto the scale, the computer can automatically tally totals and print the ticket. This advanced software significantly shortens transaction time, helping to avoid backups.
  4. Lightning protection is essential. All of the steel we just described makes these scales a prime lightning strike risk, and without proper protection, lightning can render a scale useless.
  5. Maintain scales carefully. A quarterly Preventive Maintenance Agreement is recommended to inspect and calibrate all recycling scales. Additionally, frequent maintenance to clean trash away and wash out scales, especially under the scales, is incredibly important, as recycling facilities are traditionally very messy.

A scale chosen correctly for recycling applications will result in less downtime and a lower cost of ownership over the lifetime of the scale. Interested in learning more? Check out information on our Intalogix™ Technology for lightning protection, FB2558 Digital Instrument with recycling-ready software, Aegis Floor Scales, and Talon Truck Scales.

07 May

Expert service protects you from the high cost of inaccuracy and unscheduled downtime

Your scale is your cash register if you buy or sell a product by weight. Whether the products you weigh are large or small are large, scale uptime and accuracy is key to remaining in business. If you lose even a few pennies per transaction due to an inaccurate scale you can end up losing thousands of dollars.

A scale breakdown can potentially shut down an entire production line, with revenue losses piling up until that line is up again. These costly breakdowns can be prevented with expert scale service. Many breakdowns can be avoided with proper preventative maintenance inspections that identify potential failures early – before they become a costly problem.

Protect your investment in a scale

A scale is a precision measuring device, built with delicate high precision components. It may represent a huge investment – and one that is often placed in a harsh environment. Over time, especially in heavy capacity applications, wear and tear of key components will degrade the accuracy of the scale. A scale service expert will work to understand the unique weighing applications and service requirements of their customers and help to determine a service program and frequency that will best service them to maintain accuracy and uptime.

And by expert service, I don’t just mean slapping a weight and a sticker on a scale when on site for a preventative maintenance service or an emergency repair. Expert service means taking the time to become familiar with a customer’s unique weighing application and service requirements and providing trained technicians who will take the time to inspect the critical components. It also involves taking the time to check for dirt and debris that will impede weighing accuracy as well as reviewing major component wear or damage to ensure the scale is in top operating condition.

Costs can add up quickly when an owner scrimps on scale service – in the end scrimping may cost more than paying for expert scale service! To illustrate this point, consider the example of an owner of a truck scale with a 300 pound (lb.) error. If that owner is selling product across the scale for $0.05 per pound and sells 20 truckloads per day, that would be 100 truckloads per week and 5200 truckloads per year. The error translates to a loss of $15 per truckload, $300 per day, and $1500 per week – that is $78,000 per year!

Let’s count the benefits of expert scale service

There are several benefits to expert scale service, and each results in cost saving. Expert service will:

  • Ensure accuracy, which will prevent loss caused by unknowingly giving away product.
  • Ensure that a scale is dependable and far less likely to suffer a crippling breakdown in the middle of a production run.
  • Extend the life of a scale. Expert scale service means not only checking for accuracy but also inspecting and addressing the potential problems before they become catastrophic failures. With expert scale service, some older scales can be overhauled and returned to their original condition.

I would like to add a few words about metrics that you can use to demonstrate the quality of service provided. For example, consider such customer satisfaction measures as first time fix rates, ability to provide national coverage, and response time to address customer issues.

One metric often used to illustrate the benefit of expert scale service is the preventative maintenance to contract emergency (PM to CE) ratio. This measure means that, in a defined period of time, there should be one planned preventative maintenance visit and no more than one emergency repair service call. The typical PM to CE Ratio would be 1:1 or better. With expert scale service in place the number of PM service visits would always exceed the emergency repair visits.

Do not pass on expert scale service in favor of a cheaper alternative

All too often, business owners pass on expert scale service and instead opt for a cheaper alternative. This can result in lost dollars and production due to inaccurate weights and unexpected breakdowns. Invest in the proper care of your weighing equipment by contracting with a service provider with the proper expertise, who will take the time to provide quality inspection and repair service as well as the proper documentation to ensure maximum accuracy and uptime.

02 Apr

Increasing Warehouse Productivity is Essential for Meeting New Consumer Trends

Warehouse productivity is critical to responding to recent consumer buying trends, like online shopping and consumer demand for rapid delivery. Optimizing routine processes is an important way to improve efficiencies in the warehouse.  Using mobile weighing technologies to reduce truck time at the dock can have one of the greatest effects on a company’s key performance indicators (KPIs).

Seven ways to increase warehouse productivity

Scale products play a huge role in increasing productivity. For example, mobile forklift scales increase the on-time delivery percentage and number of orders per hour, while counting scales improve order accuracy percentage and increase the lines picked. Pallet jack scales reduce the cost per order. All in all, the right scale products help operators achieve overall equipment efficiencies. The scale products can reduce overtime hours and cost-per-unit (CPU), and improve the units-per-hour (UPH). Labor utilization in general can be greatly improved.

Here are seven tips for increasing warehouse productivity:

  1. To reduce the cost of doing business, purchase equipment that can be utilized in multiple areas with a variety of processes.
  2. Reduce unnecessary motion and travel to reduce cycle times. Equipment that allows operators to collect information quickly without unnecessary motion or travel will improve the process.
  3. Look for methods and equipment that reduce human interpretation. Scanning of barcodes, sharing information over the network, and combining information from several processes are ways to improve.
  4. Improve staff training. Technology can improve any organization if the people are properly trained to the process and equipment operation. Train, train, and train again, to get the best return on one of your biggest investments — people.
  5. Ensure good communication. Communication is critical in human interaction. It is also vitally important in processing information within the warehouse environment. Equipment that shares mission critical data through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi quickly shares information with billing and tracking systems and will improve warehouse operations.
  6. Keep an eye on new procedures or technologies. Always look to implement new procedures and look to modern technologies – or different ways of applying old ones – to save both time and effort in daily warehouse operations.
  7. Measure performance. Make sure operations capture and manage critical KPIs. Understand and track critical productivity and costs on shipped orders — cost per box and cost per line shipped. It is essential to measure and understand baseline information to be able to assess and put in place cost reduction measures. Remember, you cannot improve if you do not measure!

There is a clear relationship between warehouse productivity and profit

Here’s a theoretical example of a medium size company with 40,000 pallet movements a year in which 12,400 pallet movements require weighing. By using the Fairbanks BlueLine WF Series fork scale on their forklifts they would be able to save 3 minutes per weighment compared to moving the load to a typical floor scale location. That small per weighment improvement could save about 37,200 minutes, or 620 man-hours in one year. Using an average warehouse rate of $35 per hour, the company would achieve a yearly cost savings of $21,700 ($1,808 per month). The profitability gain would be more than $13,000 per year, even after factoring in the cost of the mobile fork scale as well as maintenance costs.

If you are looking to complete tasks more quickly to improve efficiency and productivity in a warehouse, consider incorporating a mobile weighing device into forklifts.

 

01 Mar

Role of Weighing in Produce and Livestock Agricultural Settings

When it comes to crop production, scales are used in formulation of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and hybrid seed production.  For livestock, scales are used in formulation of feed and check-weighing animals for rate of gain on different types of feed. In the packing plant, mono-rail scales are used for checking the yield (checking the carcass weight compared to the live weight), checking the shrink (loss of moisture weight in the cooler), and weighing the primal cuts of the final product. At the end of the cycle, scales are used in retail/wholesale buying/shipping of the final product.

There are a few differences in how scales are used in produce versus livestock settings. Produce scales tend to be used more seasonally. When the river opens for navigation and during harvest, they have very heavy usage; the other 35 weeks of the year they face more moderate usage – say not more than 20-30 trucks per day. Produce sales are in a truck, so where the load is placed on the scale is controlled.

Livestock is a much higher priced product. For example, meat is over $1 per pound on the hoof, while corn is worth about 6 cents a pound. This results in smaller graduation sizes – 5 pounds for livestock versus 20 pounds for grain. Since livestock is “on the hoof,” the scale can be anywhere on the platform, with more motion from the animals moving around.

Changes in the wind

I foresee that weighing operations will soon be much more involved in tracking the product through the food chain. For crops, users will have to know if the product was genetically modified, treated with any herbicides or insecticides, and stored properly so as to prevent damage. Livestock applications will be involved in tracking the animal from birth to slaughter, and determining if the animal crossed any borders, or came from an area where disease was present.

Another new weighing application on the horizon that I am keeping my eye on is higher resolutions than allowed by NTEP. Instead of the 10,000 divisions allowed by NTEP, I have been seeing customers looking for 20 up to 50,000 divisions.  One common application for higher resolution is making feed. A large part of the batch might be inexpensive corn or beans, where a large grade size is fine. But then there are very potent and expensive vitamins and antibiotics that have to be more precise.  Now this requires a smaller prefix scale.

Factors to consider when choosing a scale for produce/livestock agriculture environments

Here are the top things I think you should look for in a scale: Accuracy, repeatability, sensitivity, reliability, and serviceability. Remember, most customers in this environment deal with a very small profit margin on huge quantities. They need reliable, accurate weights without having to give the scale a lot of tender loving care. It should be like a chunk of ground that weighs!

If you don’t select the right scale, you may be in for aggravation and inconvenience. If the scale is broken, or condemned by the state Weights and Measures Division, arrangements must be made to use someone else’s scale. This sometimes results in the users not trusting the scale – thinking they may be cheated by inaccurate weights.  If the weights generated by the scale are not reliable, they are useless. This usually results in replacing the inaccurate scale with one that is.

Economic or productivity losses due to using the wrong scale

Due to the cyclical nature of agricultural scale use, an inferior scale will almost always fail during heavy usage – just when it is needed the most. This often results is users repairing, rather than replacing, the scale due to time constraints. These repairs are often more costly because of overtime labor and “air freight rush” for parts needed to get the scale back up and running as soon as possible. Often the failing scale is then replaced in the off-season – which means all the money spent getting the scale repaired is wasted.

I have had customers that think of scales as a commodity like #2 field corn – all the same. This sometimes results in buying the scale based on the cheapest price. And that is a scale made as cheaply as possible, without taking long-term precautions to avoid getting a scale with a lot of deflection in the platform. The scale will work at first, but with every weighment, the platform weakens until it suffers from metal fatigue and has to be replaced. Or, to lower the cost, they select a pit scale built with very little rebar but then get a scale that fails because of low strength.

There are many examples of recent sales I made that I originally lost out on 20-25 years ago to a competitor with a cheaper price. One sale of a pit type truck scale went to a competitor selling a fabricated steel lever system that cost about $4500 less. The steel lever system rusted away and the pit the scale was in had multiple problems from frost pushing the walls in. The customer ended up paying to have the scale removed, the pit demolished, and the scale replaced at a cost of $115,000. There are not very many places you can invest $4500 and get a return of $115,000 in 25 years!

Scales play a major role in produce and livestock agricultural settings. Think of the scale as an investment in your business, not as a cost of doing business. With the very real cost of repair labor, inflation, downtime, a wise customer should buy the very best scale made — regardless of price. In the long term, a small price difference is negligible.