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

Origination
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)
Costing  
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
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?
26 Jun

How the right scale helps Tennessee farmer make hay while the sun shines (or not)

Recently I helped a farmer in northwest Tennessee select the right scale for his hay business. He has carved out a nice niche supplying hay to cattle ranchers and dairy farms in a variety of locations in the Western US and China. Right now he’s shipping about 20 flatbed truckloads of hay and if all goes as expected he anticipates that total to jump to 40-50 truckloads per day. Some is shipped all the way by truck and some goes to barges on the Mississippi River.

With over-the-road trucks that travel from 50 to 2,000 miles, the farmer stores and ships hay throughout the winter. In addition, that winter is what caused him numerous headaches and was the deciding factor in getting the right scale. Located in a major nasty weather band, his farm seems to get the worst of the region’s rain, tornadoes, ice, and sloppy or nasty snow. His operation gets an incredible mix of variable weather – he’s right at the northern edge of southern weather and the southern edge of northern weather.

With these challenging conditions, the farmer was extremely concerned about the safety of the drivers and his employees, and approached choosing the right scale as extremely important to his safe operations. Of course he also needed something that would allow him to collect basic data on his transactions.

He was originally contemplating a steel deck solution and our team just had to disagree – the grease and debris on a steel deck can make for slippery and unsafe conditions. If a driver comes up to an ice covered deck with a stop sign and slows down in advance, there is no problem. But all too often truckers approach the ice-covered steel deck scale just a bit too fast, slam on the brakes and it doesn’t take much to for the slippery deck conditions to result in damage to the scale, the truck, and the driver.

That’s why the team recommends a concrete deck for those conditions – whether the driver slams on the brakes or is walking across the platform, the concrete surface gives a lot better traction.

The team suggested the electronic, heavy capacity Trident truck scale which comes with a factory poured and steam cured, concrete deck scale. The Trident is shipped on one truck from the factory and installed in one day. He loved the idea that he could have the strength and durability of 8000 pounds per square inch (psi) concrete and the scale could be put into service as soon as the foundation was cured.  Even though the preformed Trident is a bit more expensive than a field pour, the customer understood that the result would be worth it, especially with stainless steel load cells and a 25-year warranty.

An interesting side note – the farmer is a retired lead construction engineer for Ford Motor Company plants around the world, and had been faced with similar problems fixing situations resulting from rusting steel decks and poor construction. It seemed to him that the other solutions he had been offered short-changed the scale foundation. The steel deck solution was accompanied by only a pier foundation (next to asphalt road that experiences frequent washout.) By contrast, the full slab foundation of the concrete deck would do a much better job of standing up to the weather and eliminate the headaches and safety issues he so wanted to avoid. He also selected a scale about 5 feet bigger than he originally planned for. This accommodates the super sleeper cabs. It increases the size of the foundation, which is more expensive, but provides more of what truckers need, while giving greater longevity.

In addition to the scale, our Tennessee hay farmer opted for an instrument that protects him from lightning strikes (there’s that weather again) and lets him call up reports on tonnages shipped as well as other data his growing business is likely to need in the future.

After months of awful weather, including swampy conditions that meant he couldn’t even get the hay out of his fields, things are slowly drying up and he hopes to get the scale installed in the very near future.

09 Jun

Weighing in: An introduction to Weighing In, Fairbanks Scale’s new blog

Fairbanks designs scales. We build scales. We install, fix, and maintain scales. Heck, we’re good at it. But, after nearly two hundred years, we forget that not everyone knows what we know. We forget that not everyone lives and breathes weighing technology like we do.

And, that’s why we are introducing our new blog – Weighing In. We envision it as a great forum to help our customers (and, our potential new customers) understand weighing better. We want to show why weighing is so important to their operations, and maybe even increase the reliability of their processes – and help them make a little more money.

My goal moving forward is to offer a wide range of educational information oriented around weighing equipment challenges and solutions. I will tap into our industry experts, who will use this space to highlight current topics, share real-world examples, and describe innovations in the marketplace. We hope you find this news interesting, exciting, and helpful…We are certainly excited about sharing it with you!

Welcome and enjoy!

First up is a story from the Volunteer State. We’ll tell the tale of how a hay farmer in Tennessee decided between a steel deck and a concrete deck on his scale to navigate some treacherous weather and solve his safety issues.

Author: Brad Grindstaff, Vice President of Sales and Marketing