24 Jul

Rapid weight capturing methods for fast-moving, limited space environments

The online shopping experience is changing our lives. After purchasing online, we expect our purchases to be at our door the next day. Companies like Amazon have developed a model that satisfies this growing demand for convenience and fast delivery. So, what does this mean to those who manufacture, warehouse, or transport these goods? I can put it in one word – speed!

And to meet that need for speed, especially where space is limited, every logistical process now requires a higher degree of processing with more accurate information. Tracking shipments and orders and maintaining visibility is not just a convenience – it is a requirement.

Existing processes are being replaced with more efficient ones that take less time, improve safety, and deliver quickly. At the top of the pile of new technologies responding to this need are mobile weighing alternatives.

What are advantages of mobile weighing technologies?

Mobile weighing has a number of advantages in today’s fast-paced environment. The load is weighed on the pallet jack or forklift as soon as it is picked-up, reducing time required to weigh, improving safety by reducing traffic congestion to and from a stationary scale, and improving forklift operation times.

Also, with mobile weighing you can capture critical process data at the pallet jack or forklift and communicate it wirelessly to systems that track and measure the process. This reduces the time required for recording critical process data and reduces recording errors.

How are older technologies being replaced?

Common warehouse and manufacturing designs have been developed around stationary scales located in strategic areas within the facility. Under this scenario, forklifts and pallet jacks move product from the loading/unloading area to the scale, weigh the goods, and manually record information before returning back to the loading/unloading area.

This tried and true design is still the backbone of many companies and will always have an important place at the table. For example, where processes and product or material moving through the material handling is cumbersome or have awkward shapes, a centrally located static scale may be fine.

But those moving pallets, boxes, or other typical units may find that mobile weighing makes more sense. Especially for companies that are running in an ever-increasing race to satisfy customers’ requirements for speed, stationary scales may consume too much time and energy.  The traditional method of moving goods to and from the scale also produces traffic congestion in higher volume processes.

With mobile weighing, you can pick up the product while loading or unloading, then put it down again and all this information gets communicated through the work-in-process system. In fact, any time you find yourself wanting to know more about products in a faster time frame, you should start considering mobile weighing options.

What are my options?

There are a variety of mobile weighing options in the marketplace. Examples include Fairbanks’ Pallet Weigh and Pallet Weigh Plus Series pallet jacks for weighing pallets on the jack; the BlueLine Series weigh forks with a built-in weighing device; the CP Series carriage plate scale; and the FH and FHX Series hydraulic weighing devices.

One large grocery chain in the south is evaluating the Pallet Weigh Plus as an alternative to tying up a very high value fork lift on simple loading procedures. In addition, use of the new weighing technology will improve their drivers’ line of sight and thus improve safety.

Another example is a medium size manufacturing industry that does about 40,000 pallet movements per year, one-quarter of which has to be weighed. Using a BlueLine fork scale for 10-12,000 weighments, they saved about 3 minutes per weighment, amounting to about $21,000 per year.

If you decide to implement a mobile weighing strategy, I definitely recommend keeping your existing scales and proving out a new process in phases. Take small incremental steps, prove out each one, and then move to the next step. A good mobile weighing process centers on data collection, so think strategically about specifically what you need to collect. Also, even after you implement a mobile weighing process, keep the static scale as your permanent backup.

In most cases, you will find a combination of static and mobile weighing is the best strategy, based on a thorough understanding of how to move your goods through a process safely.

05 Jul

Don’t give contaminants a place to hide! — My top 4 sanitary design tips for weighing equipment

Every day it seems there is another story in the news media about companies that have to recall their products due to some type of harmful contamination. A few recent notable examples that spring to mind include an E coli scare from ground beef, a 500 million egg recall due to a Salmonella scare, and of course the death of 23 people from Listeria in cantaloupes.

That’s why I am so passionate about the need to use weighing equipment designed using the sanitary design principles issued by the American Meat Institute’s Equipment Design Task Force. It’s the only way to make sure we reduce food product contamination risks throughout the complete process – from producer to consumer.

The Task force worked with equipment manufacturers, certifying organizations and government officials to develop guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination of food products by pathogens.

Identifying sanitary principles can be an enormous task with each industry having a different perspective.  I have listed The Ten Principles of Sanitary Design that have been identified by the AMI. They are:

  1. Cleanable to a Microbiological Level
  2. Made of Compatible Materials
  3. Accessible for Inspection, Maintenance, Cleaning, and Sanitation
  4. No Product or Liquid Collection
  5. Hollow Area Should be Hermetically Sealed
  6. No Niches
  7. Sanitary Operational Performance
  8. Hygienic Design of Maintenance Enclosures
  9. Hygienic Compatibility With Other Plant Systems
  10. Validated Cleaning and Sanitizing Protocols


While developed for the meat industry, the guidelines apply equally well to equipment for all food uses.


The use of stainless steel construction is a critical part of sanitary design for scales – but I’ve observed that many scale manufacturers consider this to be the only important factor in the overall design. Here are my top four sanitary design tips for scaling equipment:

# 1 – Cleaning accessibility

All parts of the equipment must be readily accessible for inspection, maintenance, cleaning, and sanitation without the use of tools. Make sure you have quick and easy access to clean floor scales to prevent debris build-up and bacterial growth. This includes access to any tight spots that may harbor unwanted material or bacteria. Equipment should be free of niches and recesses to allow for proper cleaning procedures. Look for equipment that minimizes gaps and eliminates bacteria-harboring areas, like lap seams, protruding edges, inside threads, and bolt rivets.

For example, we designed the Aegis Lift Deck floor scale to give quick and easy access to clean in and around the scale. The QuickSilver platforms are also designed to be easily cleaned.

#2 – No product or liquid collection

Make sure your equipment is self-draining so liquid does not accumulate, pool, or condense on the equipment. Maintenance enclosures and all push buttons, valve handles, switches, and touch screens should prevent penetration or accumulation of food, water, or product liquid. Also, enclosures should be sloped or pitched to avoid their use as a storage area.

#3 – Hermetically seal all hollow areas

Be sure to eliminate or permanently seal hollow areas, like frames and rollers, whenever possible. For example, bolts, studs, mounting plates, brackets, junction boxes, nameplates, end caps, and sleeves should be continuously welded to the surface—not attached via drilled and tapped holes.

#4 – Select the right load cell for a food-grade environment

Selecting the right load cell is crucial to ensure accuracy and performance, especially in a food-grade environment. The internal components of the load cell contain electronic circuits that require protection in a wash-down environment. For example, Fairbanks Scales uses stainless steel construction and hermetically sealed components in load cells to prevent entry of moisture and other external contaminants into the body of the load cell.

01 Jun

A good scale maintenance program pays for itself – make sure your program includes these five components

An accurate scale is an essential tool for any company whose revenues are based on the weight of goods entering or exiting a facility. Without scale accuracy a company can lose thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. On the other side of the equation, annual maintenance costs for a truck scale run anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. If one compares that to the potential cost of weighing errors, most users find that a good scale maintenance program more than pays for itself; oftentimes it also pays for the actual cost of the scale.

To be most effective, a scale maintenance program must have five key components:  use of a state-licensed service provider; conducting calibration using state-certified test weights with written calibration and test report for proof of accuracy; a thorough testing process; visual inspection services and minor repairs; and thorough reporting. Here’s my take on the key aspect of each component.

Use a state licensed service provider

A commercial scale company cannot certify a scale – only the state weights and measures organization can do that. But the commercial company has the authority to recalibrate and reinstate an inaccurate scale that has been “tagged-out” by the state, as long as the scale company is state-licensed and registered in good standing. So make sure the commercial scale company you are using shows you their valid license.

Use state-certified test weights for calibration

An established scale service company typically has its entire inventory of test weights tested and certified annually, in accordance with state weights and measures standards. Beware of service companies that test only a portion of their overall weight inventory each year.

Make sure testing process is thorough

The test should start by determining the length of the platform and the total number of sections along that length. (A scale section is where there is a load point, also called a load cell or strain gauge). Load points are where weight is transferred from the load to the scale and where scale accuracy is maintained. It is critical that the accuracy of each load points is maintained, so as weight is applied, it is transferred evenly. If a load point or section fails a strain test, then it must be calibrated to conform to requirements by making a mechanical or electronic adjustment.

Incorporate visual inspection and repairs

A thorough scale maintenance program must include regular visual inspection, followed by any necessary repairs of issues found. The visual inspection should include scale condition, regulatory conformance, signs of damage and debris buildup, safety, clearance, corrosion, and any electrical conditions. A good service company should conduct a free visual inspection be able to perform any minor repairs while on-site for the maintenance visit.

Thorough reporting

Every maintenance inspection should include a written report documenting test results, and including both before and after calibration, as well as a summary of finding and recommendations.

03 May

Best practices for truck scale owners in the recycling and solid waste industry – 7 tips to ensure your profits

In today’s recycling and solid waste industry, uptime is of utmost importance. Most facilities focus on getting trucks in and out quickly – but have you ever stopped to think how neglecting your scale can lead to inaccuracies that eat into your profits?

Here’s a real example: A simple error of one increment (20 lbs.) on a product with a value of $.05 per pound and a duty cycle of 100 weighments per day (assuming 300 working days per year) can lead to $30,000 in annual product loss. For a product valued at $3 per pound, the annual loss skyrockets to $1.8 million!

To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, follow these 7 simple tips:

  1. Implement a calibration and inspection agreement – Depending on the requirements and type of weighing device, inspection costs can be as low as $500 annually – a small price to pay compared to the potential loss figures. Two inspections per year should be fine for most scales, but some recycling and solid waste facilities experience heavy traffic that may justify more frequent service.
  2. Keep the scale foundation clean – Recycling and solid waste operations generates a lot of debris, so be sure to regularly remove the build-up to avoid scale inaccuracies. A pressure sprayer is a fast and easy way to clear debris and eliminate build-up. Just be sure junction boxes, electronics, and load cells are properly rated to withstand pressure washing.
  3. Perform your own inspection of all scale components – Inspect the weighbridge, junction boxes (inside and out), and module connection hardware. Also check load cells, cables, connections, and wiring. Don’t forget to inspect the paint system – it’s a critical barrier against scale corrosion on your weighbridge steel. Also check cover plate connection hardware, and grease load cell cups at recommended intervals.
  4. Make adjustments to account for normal thermal expansion at different times of year – Readjust your scale checking system, which keeps the weighbridge in place as it naturally rocks and moves from traffic. Excessive movement adds unnecessary wear to other components, so be sure the checking is properly secure.
  5. Keep your scale grounded – Today’s truck scales use sophisticated electronics to communicate weighment data to the instrument. A securely grounded scale is a basic defense from lightning and power surges.
  6. Monitor your scale’s use – Abusive and aggressive entrance and exiting of traffic accelerates wear. Traffic signals, speed bumps, and guide post kits at the approach and exit can manage traffic flow and truck speed very effectively for a small investment.
  7. Install accessories where necessary – A few well-chosen accessories can prevent truck scale issues. Examples include riser plates, load cell boots, and steel or EPDM rubber belting.

How you implement these best practices is up to you. Whether you partner with a qualified service provider or go it alone, one thing is certain – neglecting your scale costs you profit.

If you want to know more about these best practices and learn more about keeping your scale running efficiently, come by and see us at Waste Expo. We will be at booth #3622. While you’re there, be sure to take a look at the innovations in weighing equipment, including the Talon HVX heavy-duty truck scale, equipped with the innovative Intalogix Lightning/Power Surge Protection system and our FBAS Unattended Remote Weighing Terminal.

23 Mar

How do you make the best use of your limited truck shipment preparation space?

I often hear complaints about how cramped shipping areas can sometimes make it hard to operate. In manufacturing and warehouse applications where floor space is at a premium, you have to make every inch count – and that may be as easy as changing your floor scale.

One great option is the Yellow Jacket U-Shaped floor scale, which allows material handlers to capture the weight of standard and non-standard pallets and skids without removing the pallet jack.

Operators simply move the pallet into place over the scale, lower the pallet jack so the load is resting on the scale, capture the weight, and then raise the pallet jack to easily move the pallet or skid to its next location. This reduces weighing times by up to 50 percent by eliminating the time-consuming step of pulling the pallet jack out from underneath the pallet, which can be difficult with traditional ramped floor scales.

The scale is only 2.4 inches tall and does not require a ramp or pit, so installation is fast, economical and easy. Accessories offered include a portable wheel kit and a quick-disconnect cable (between the scale and the readout), which make it very easy to move. The built-in handles, used to move the scale, were specifically designed for optimum comfort and to avoid stress and injury.

That ergonomic factor proved to be a plus for a major toy distribution center in the Midwest that ships using parcel, less than truckload (LTL), and full truckload modes. The company had reduced the area devoted to shipping as part of an overall facility space reorganization. Unfortunately, they found that the reductions had a major impact on the LTL department, leaving the area with limited space dedicated to the preparation of truck shipments.

The company had one older floor scale, and about 10 table scales for UPS-type parcel shipping. They decided to look into using the new Yellow Jacket U-Shaped Floor Scale to see how it could help them make the best use of their shipping area. What they found was that it really helped them manipulate their space better. Not only did it reduce square footage needed for the floor scale, they were able to move the scale around easily, so they did not have to find a permanent space for the scale.

They especially like the fact that the new scale does not require going through all the motions of going up the ramp, removing the pallet jack, replacing the pallet jack under the load, and then going down the ramp. It is far more ergonomically friendly to just roll in the jack, release the jack and weigh the skid. Employees no longer have to tug it uphill or up an incline.

So if you have a packaging application where pallet jacks are primarily used to move product, this scale option may save hundreds of man-hours by eliminating the time required to remove the pallet jacket from the scale to capture the weight.

16 Feb

What’s the best ways to get transactional data out of your instrument and into your accounting system?

The sooner you get scale data into your accounting or ERP system, the faster you can invoice customers or assess your costs and expenses. But what’s the best way to do so?

First, a word on just what data you will be collecting. I would say that the key transactional data needed are who the driver is, the account numbers (truck #, trailer#), the product being weighed, date and time the truck weighed in and out, and the weight.

As for methods, one common method is the low-tech way – by hand. With this method, scale operators take the pile of duplicate tickets printed that day and hand it over it to a clerk or accountant, who manually keys the transactional data into a database or accounting system to generate invoices for what they bought or sold.

Another method commonly used is use of several instruments that generate a transaction report by customer or commodity. A third method is downloading scale information from the scale onto a flash drive or USB and then taking the information inside for use by the accounting department. Then there are many software packages that connect directly to a personal computer – these may (or may not) export cleanly into accounting software.

But the clear gold standard is a networkable system that gets data directly from the scale into the accounting software with no need for manual intervention. I highly recommend this method because the more accurately and quickly you can get scale data into your accounting system, the easier it will be for you to make business decisions – the right decisions.

And I don’t think cost is nearly the drawback it may once have been. You can now get a high-level of automation and networking at a very affordable price that will help you transition from manual data entry into a back-end or ERP system. This kind of equipment can even interface with Internet protocol (IP) cameras and get video images to go along with your tickets.

In my experience I’ve found that what’s keeping more people from implementing such a system often comes down to fear of the unknown, and maybe a basic lack of understanding or even a lack of confidence in their ability to deal with a new technology. Another thing I hear is that the scale house is a long way from the office, and the scale owner does not want to incur the cost of getting connectivity from the office. Even that’s no excuse anymore – wireless, short haul modems, or even cellular technology, are all proven, readily available, and affordable technologies that can get you connected.

So to sum it up, I recommend the use of networked systems to get transactional data out of the instrument and into the accounting system. This will give you the ability to make more real time decisions about what’s happening in your business.

13 Jan

Encapsulating your scale circuit board electronics will increase your uptime

As an area sales manager for the (snowy) Denver region – plus years of experience installing truck and rail scales around the United States and the world – I have seen the effects of different climates on scale electronics. I have come to a firm belief in the necessity of encapsulating the main electronic components of truck and rail scales to make absolutely sure that the scale is impervious to moisture penetration. Fairbanks identified this need very early on as we shifted from the older mechanical truck scales to the full electronic lines of scales. We started about 15 years ago and continue in that belief to this day. Here’s why.

Why do scales need to be encapsulated?

The number one issue affecting electronics is the climate and weather in which the scale operates. Snow, ice, and water can have a major effect, as can temperature changes that produce condensation.

Besides these environmental factors, there are several human factors that play into the desirability of encapsulation. First is the potential for control boxes to get hit or damaged. Things like tightening and loosening of gland nuts, over-torqued cover bolts, vibration, and even physical damage to the enclosure can affect performance. Chipping away at that ice and debris can also damage components.

Secondly, the scales (both above and below ground) require regular cleaning. When operators clean scales they may use direct water pressure, and risk accidentally spraying directly on components. Encapsulating is a great safeguard for protecting the vital components of a truck scale.

I should mention that I recommend encapsulation for all truck and rail scale electronics and boards. For industrial scales, the need for encapsulation depends more on where the installation is taking place and especially if temperature changes are going to occur. For example, if the scale will be used with a tank weighing assembly, or with hoppers or bins located outside, one may really benefit by protection from the environment. Encapsulation can also benefit surge protection. The Fairbanks’ Intalogix™ system, part of scale instruments used with its scales, encapsulates its smart sectional controller (SSC) and pit power supply (PPS), protecting against dangerous power surges and lightning strikes. 

What will it cost you if you don’t encapsulate?

Now let’s talk about the costs of not encapsulating to protect the scale electronics. In a word, these costs are limitless – when the scale is down, the operation cannot use its cash register. The length of downtime has to include the response time for locating and scheduling a service technician. The total costs of this downtime can be considerable, depending on how many trucks are being run, the cost of the commodity, and the operation’s ability to use a secondary scale. In my experience, electronics is the main reason for truck scale downtime.

How are electronics encapsulated?

Encapsulation can be done with a variety of materials. At Fairbanks, we use a difunctional bisphenol A/Epichlorohynrin “epoxy” resin. The base is then cross-linked with an “amine” hardener blend. We chose this system because it has exceptional electrical insulating properties. It is also translucent, so you can see through the thick epoxy to spot any issues on the circuit board.

The epoxy formulation is a tried and true chemistry that has been used for decades. You can find it in tooling, casting and molding, electrical and aerospace applications, marine coatings for boat hulls, and chemical-resistant tank linings.

Depending on the operating environment, scale electronic encapsulation can last more than 20 years. When not encapsulated, the scale’s common structural steel may still be intact, but the electronics would likely fail long before they would on an encapsulated board.

The early encapsulation design Fairbanks pioneered in the early 2000s has been constantly improving through manufacturing innovations and real world experience. I regularly come across customers who have installed competitors’ equipment (or even Fairbanks pre-encapsulation equipment) and they recognize the long term benefit of providing encapsulation to their scales.

The scale is the cash register for businesses in many industries, so the ability to weigh things accurately day in and day out is vital. If the scale is not accurate or is out of service, costs can mount quickly. Encapsulating electronics will go a long way toward eliminating this costly downtime.

22 Dec

The pros and cons of using pit scales in northern climates

As we move inexorably toward another winter, I thought I would revisit a topic that comes up frequently, especially at this time of year – Are pit scales appropriate for northern climates?

And the answer is yes – Not only are pit scales appropriate in northern climates, in some cases they are even required. Since a pit scale saves on space because you don’t have to construct an approach ramp, they are the option of choice whenever real estate is very limited. Another place they may be the best choice is if the scale is installed under a load out hopper. Here, the additional height required for an aboveground scale may restrict the ability to drive trucks on the scale and interfere with the loading equipment chutes/gates.

There are some positives and negatives about using pit scales in northern climates. On the plus side, pit scales are enclosed, installed in the ground, and essentially out of the elements. This means it will usually take longer for snow, debris, and ice to accumulate around the load cells or mechanical levers beneath the weighbridge.

Temperature control is another plus. Some applications use heating elements in the pit to moderate temperatures, which is more difficult to do with an above ground truck scale.

One of the biggest negatives is cleanout and debris removal. Though pit scales typically require less frequent cleanout than aboveground scales; the pit is less accessible and cleaning is more time consuming. In most cases you will need to physically remove debris through a manhole cover or side access.

Maintaining scale deck gaps (space between the scale deck and the side and end pit walls) can also be a negative. Snow, ice, or debris can build up in this gap and cause problems. Pit scales typically require gravity drains or sump pumps to allow for water drainage, and freezing drains or sumps can be an issue in northern climates. Finally, there are additional costs for bringing AC power to the pit for lighting or drainage sump pumps.

There are a few other issues to keep in mind when using pit scales – these apply to pit scales in general, and may not be associated with northern climates in particular. First of all, construction costs may be higher, since scale pits require more expensive foundations. Also, clearance requirements and frost line requirements can be an issue and can add to costs. Most northern states require a specific clearance from the bottom of the weighbridge to the top of the pit floor. In most cases the requirement to extend the pit construction below the frost line guarantees that you meet the clearance regulation, because the frost line may be 6-8 feet.

Finally, some companies, states, or other governing agencies may categorize a pit scale as a confined space, making it subject to extensive safety regulations under MSHA or OSHA. These regs may make it more costly to service and repair a pit scale.

Some of the issues can be mitigated simply by regular and proper scale maintenance and cleaning. This is always important, but may be even more critical during the winter months in a northern climate.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Clean out snow, ice, and debris under the scale deck to help prevent buildup around the critical weighing elements like load cells or mechanical levers.
  • Make sure to maintain drains during the winter months to ensure proper draining.
  • Install steel or rubber T-belts to cover the gap between the scale deck and the pit side and end walls to prevent buildup around the scale deck. Fasten permanent belting to the pit coping and over the gap between the scale deck and the pit wall to prevent buildup.
  • Shovel the snow off the deck just like any sidewalk or street and use a hand shovel rather than a snow plow. Otherwise, the buildup of snow and ice from the daily thaw/freeze cycle could lock up a scale quickly.
  • Control pit temperatures by using heating elements to moderate temperatures.
22 Sep

Leasing or owning a scale – How to decide which option is right for you

A scale can be a significant cost for a company and many times we are asked to “weigh in” on the advantages and disadvantages of leasing versus owning the scale. The decision should be based on several factors, including overall costs, long term use or needs and plans you have for the scale, and the facility in which the scale is located.

Today’s leases are cleaner than in years gone by

Leasing a scale should not be confused with a scale “Rental”.  A Rental program offered by Fairbanks Scales is a short term rental and the scale is returned at the end of the established timeframe. Renting allows the facility operators to keep their facility up and running while significant maintenance or replacement of an old scale is taking place and the customer cannot afford to be without a scale. Typical rental terms average one to three months. Beyond that, costs start to add up.

Leases offer a long term solution at a fixed cost with the same advantages as owning the scale.  Leases are much cleaner than they used to be. With any lease, finance charges are built into the payment. However, many lease programs today are closed end contracts, which allows the customer to know exactly what they are paying and for how long. This type of contract also may offer a dollar buy out at the end of the lease program.

One thing to note is that the customer can often borrow money from their own financial institution at a better rate than if they go through a third party lease company.

Leasing is great for an unexpected scale replacement or short term projects

Obviously purchasing the product up-front is the least expensive overall option, and is still the norm for most users. However, there are situations in which a lease is a good option.

When a scale at an existing facility needs to be replaced unexpectedly, and is not part of the current equipment budget, a lease can be a valid option. A monthly payment may soften the blow of an up-front unbudgeted capital expenditure.

Another area where a lease may make sense is for companies that frequently provide project work or services that are remote, short term, and/or on a contract basis. Again, monthly charges may be easier to build into the price of this type of overall project or contract and can be spread amongst several projects.

Maintenance costs typically do not differ between a lease and owning. The same maintenance requirements and recommendations will apply. In the case of a rental scale from a factory, the maintenance is often built into the rental costs, excluding physical and abusive repairs, which would be additional costs.

Checklist of advantages, disadvantages, and what the user should watch out for

Owning or purchasing up-front will provide the customer more savings and better yield over the life of the scale. Leasing costs less money up-front but will cost more overall. Here’s a list summarizing advantages and disadvantages.

Leasing advantages

  • No high upfront costs compared to purchase
  • Fixed monthly payment for operating costs versus a capital budget
  • Often can build in additional peripheral devises often overlooked due to cost

Leasing disadvantages

  • Overall higher costs
  • Third party lease company

What to look out for

  • Make sure to use a reputable lease company with a “closed end” lease agreement
  • Be thorough in equipment selection and not just equipment that is striped in order to keep the monthly payment down.

Owning advantages

  • Customer controls all aspects of the scale
  • Far lower overall costs
  • Customer owns the asset of equipment and has the capital advantage for tax purposes

Owing disadvantages

  • Up-front costs if not in a budget or emergency funds not available.
  • Capital expenditure


What to look out for?

  • Do not settle for a product that does not offer modern technology.
  • Base decision on a price comparison of product technology, history and application capabilities to ensure the most long term option on the investment.

Your needs or circumstances can and do change, but due to the type of product and other factors that often goes along with a scale purchase, including foundations and utilities, the decision to buy or lease the scale must be made first, before placing an order for a scale.

To decide which option is best, your best bet is to sit down with an Area Sales Manager from Fairbanks to discuss all your short and long term needs and specific facility issues. In many cases, Fairbanks can provide estimates of both solutions for customer review and comparison.

11 Sep

Tips for developing a basic food industry data collection program

A good data collection program is absolutely critical in the food industry. Consumers want to be assured that the food they consume is of the highest quality and that it is safe. Government regulations work towards consumers demands by monitoring the food chain. Think of the common news instances in which a plant has to be closed, all product destroyed and products on the market recalled – all because inspectors could not determine if materials used during an identified period might have found their way into subsequent production days.

It is important to develop a program that protects your company from this situation. Be sure to evaluate your business objectives thoroughly, take an inventory of your current processes, and know what data you need to collect. Then, develop the program in incremental steps to minimize change-affects, maintain manageability, and meet your project goals.

The first steps

So you’ve taken on the task of developing a data collection program. Where do you begin? Start by evaluating your current system. Ask all (and I do mean all) stakeholders what they like and dislike about how information is currently captured. The person closest to the job knows the “ins-and-outs” of the process that may not be documented on paper.

Keep an eye out for ways to uncover all process steps and improve each one. If information on a process is currently being captured on paper, examine each line and ask; “How is this data used? Do we need more information than what we are capturing?  Is this ‘nice-to-have’ information, or is it critical?”

Once the complete process is documented, evaluate where you can get the best return on investment. Focus on business-related goals that can be quantified by measurable results.

Here are a few examples:

  • Satisfy a customer’s requirement to secure continued business.
  • Improve recipe control by tracing ingredient usage.
  • Reduce packaging costs by closely monitoring process waste.
  • Improve scheduling, leading to a reduction of delays and improved efficiencies.
  • Minimize inventories and improve allocations thereby reducing carrying costs.

A few others to consider include:

  • Establish operation information, for example, yields or productivity.
  • Get quick information access for improved decision making.
  • Reduce paperwork in a manual process.
  • Collect data for product traceability and recall.
  • Meet government or customer requirements.

What information do you collect?

After developing a charter for addressing a specific issue or issues, identify where and how to collect the data.  Poorly developed programs tend to collect copious amounts of data, but use only a fraction of it. This can add to costs. Ask yourself: “Is this data needed?”

Click here for a table of commonly gathered data points a food manufacturing process may need to collect. [Link to table]

The more information gathered, the more complex sharing becomes. Keep in mind that collecting common data points once, and sharing with other steps in the process, will reduce errors and costs.

Make an impact

Determine where you can make the biggest impact. You should be looking to fulfill multiple requirements while minimizing investment and providing the foundation for a data collection program that can grow as your business grows.

Consider starting by organizing your data collection to comply with FDA Bioterrorism Act traceability mandates, Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL), or the Produce-Traceability-Initiative (PTI).

Then identify the organized data, or report layout, you would like to have and build a “road-map” of data points you must capture to get there.

Can I use existing equipment?

Using legacy equipment will help keep costs down. New systems must be able to communicate with older devices while providing a foundation for future technology. Try to limit devices that require use of proprietary methods.

Be sure to look at your technical partners to ensure suppliers use proven vendors to augment their offerings. Also, make sure they possess a working knowledge of past, present, and future technologies that will allow you to leverage existing equipment.

Seek out vendors and organizations that can support equipment, new and old, and have multiple layers of support and service. This ensures continuity for your data collection project.

Break your implementation into small steps

A larger project should be broken into smaller, measurable and manageable steps or phases. This ensures that any process deviations not uncovered in the initial investigation can be addressed with minimal cost and disruption to the project schedule.

Also, be sure to look for qualified assistance. Seek out companies that can manage the project, provide technical equipment or assistance, and provide valuable resources and insight towards the project, allowing your company to stay focused on the core business.

Perhaps most importantly, communicate all facets of the project to all parties involved, all the time, and often. Good communication can keep distractions from having a negative influence on your schedule and keep everyone focused on task.

How much will it cost?

Costs can range widely, depending on the scope of the project, but can be controlled by implementing the project in steps or phases. Prove-out each phase of the project before proceeding to the next.

Look for systems that use solid, proven technologies while avoiding the cost of user licenses and proprietary software or hardware. Remember – the cost is based on the results of the evaluation during the investigation stage. A solid investigation at the beginning of the project will prevent any unexpected costs at the end.

Data Collection Table

Source information

Time/date information Origination (farm) code
Species Lot identification
Primal Weight
Grade Field

Recipe validation, batching, and blending processes

Identifying ingredients
Time/date information Lot identification
Item numbers Weight
Code dates Equipment (line ID, tank ID)
Verifying recipe integrity
Time/date information Weight
Code dates Lot identification
Track controlled ingredients Costing
Time/date information Weight
Monitoring batch cycles
Time/date information Lot identification
Code dates Weight
Container id Costing
Equipment (line IDs, tank ID)  

Cooking, smoking and drying cycles

Process deviation Authorizations
Time/date Environmental (temp, pH,)
Additives Equipment (cycle times, pressures)
Operator Equipment (oven ID, tank ID)
Corrective action Disposition

Packaging process

Time/date information Equipment (line ID, tank ID)
Pallet information Package information
Operator Yield information
Lot /vat/unit Barcode type
Safe food handling Establishment information

Inventory control

Container ID Costing
Time/date information Location (room, rack, level)
Pallet information Temperature
Operator Allocation status
Package information Boxing information
Corrective action

Shipping & Receiving

Customer ID Bill of lading (BOL)
Route number Truck number
Country of origin Carrier
Pre-shipment review Temperature
Time/date information Status