15 Jul

Do your research before purchasing a scale – Are you comparing apples to apples or apples to lemons?

Today’s post is a cautionary tale that I hope will reinforce the need to do your research before purchasing a scale. Ask a lot of questions, make sure you know what’s included in the bid – and perhaps more importantly – what is not included. Be sure to check out my list of questions at the end of this post.

Here’s how the tale unfolded. Our team was bidding on a scale for Farmers Elevator, located in Hawk Point, MO. Farmers Elevator is a small local grain elevator that handles corn and beans for farmers in the town of 600 people. They have a 60 x 10 Fairbanks Type S mechanical truck scale, installed in 1971. After more than 40 years of faithful service, the scale failed and could no longer pass inspection or hold calibration. They asked us to give them a price on a new scale, and wanted to go with a 70-foot version so they could handle longer wheel base trucks.

Another scale distributor happened to stop by and gave them a price that seemed on the surface to be far less expensive. Now, Farmers Elevator is a cooperative, owned by the local farmers bringing grain in. Their elected board controls the finances and wants to keep costs as low as possible. However, before opting for the low cost option, the elevator manager asked us to show him the differences in the two bids so they could have a clearer picture of the comparison.

Cheaper bid suffers from sins of omission

What was missing from the other bid? One key item was that the lower cost option uses mild steel weighbar load cells, while Fairbanks scales uses stainless steel load cells. The stainless steel load cells were critical in this application, because their scale sits in a pit, which always retains moisture from condensation. Stainless steel just holds up much better in that environment.

Also, the less expensive option had an analog communication package that would not work with Farmers Elevator’s existing indicator, forcing Farmers Elevator to purchase a new scale indicator. The Fairbanks option includes the Intalogix Digital communication package, which could be used with their old indicator, just by adding a new digital board. The digital package includes load cells optically isolated from lightning strikes, a true digital signal that is much stronger, faster and more accurate than an analog signal, and on-board diagnostics to reduce down time and lower maintenance costs.

A third item to consider was the warranty. The new scale is electronic, with 8 load cells – more devices that might fail. This made the Fairbanks scale with its 25-year factory parts warranty on load cells and 1 year labor warranty a less risky option than the competitor’s warranty, which featured only 5 years on parts and 90 days on labor. Fairbanks Scales was the least risk option because Fairbanks manufactures the scale, provides the warranty, and services the scale. Everyone involved in the project worked directly for Fairbanks Scales so there was no chance of getting caught in a warranty dispute between the distributor and manufacturer. This does happen quite a lot. For example, if the scale is not installed to manufacturer’s specifications, it voids the warranty and the manufacturer won’t cover any problems with the scale. Some distributors don’t have the financial resources to bail a customer out if this occurs.

There were a number of other quality advantages to the Fairbanks scale, including use of a 6-inch thick monolithic poured concrete deck with no interior corners or sections to cause the deck to crack; 21-inch I-beams versus 7-inch and 10-inch beams in the competitor’s scale; and no rattle plates to cause stress cracks in the new concrete deck or to allow snow, mud and water to build up around the load cells and cause the scale to freeze up or rust out the load cells.

We estimated that it cost just $1 per day over an expected 20-year scale lifespan to get this higher quality. The apple is definitely worth more than the lemon in this case.

So ask yourself these questions before purchasing a scale

  1. Does the bid include the use of rebar in the pit walls, piers and pit floor
  2. How thick will they actually pour the concrete?
  3. Am I willing to babysit this job every day and watch everything they do?
  4. After the 90 day labor warranty is over, how much are they going to charge me for service calls?
  5. How many trips are they going to make to fix my scale when it goes down?
  6. How many techs are they going to send out to fix my scale?
  7. How many techs are they going to send out to do a PM?
  8. Does their scale come with an on-board diagnostic system? How much is diagnostic time going to cost me…how long will my scale be down?
  9. What is covered under the competitor’s warranty and how long does their warranty last?
  10. Are they using stainless steel or mild steel load cells?