Changes and Improvements in Onboard Scales and Software
Anyone who has been in the solid waste industry for some time appreciates just how far scales and software have come in increasing operational efficiencies and accuracies. In the analog world, onboard scales—specifically wheel loaders—used to be static, “meaning the operator would need to stop and weigh, slowing down the operation productivity, and increasing the cost per ton of material handled,” points out Nigel Kurtz, regional manager for Trimble Aggregate Division.
Scales were once relegated to the role of measuring weight only, but, “now, much more reporting and accountability is attached to onboard weighing,” he says.
Martin Ambros, president of Air-Weigh, contends that “when it comes to onboard scales, things are just getting rolling across the industry. Many fleets are beginning to see the benefits of an onboard scale that is integrated to a truck computer or telematics system while competitors are still guessing at weights or, worse yet, not managing weight at all.
“Drivers without any weight management solution are still ending their routes each day waiting for the surprise at the landfill when they arrive overloaded or grossly ‘underloaded.’ Without a measurement tool, it’s pretty hard to optimize pickups or identify unprofitable customers,” he adds.
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Kurtz points out that in the last four years, there has been a manifestation of more people interested in using scales on loaders, excavators, and conveyers to report on inventory stockpiles, productivity of assets and operators, as well efficiency in operations, among other metrics.
Air-Weigh made its entry into the electronic onboard scale era nearly 30 years ago. “It began when a local trucker got fed up with receiving tickets after coming into town off of rural roads,” notes Ambros.
The major benefit back then was a simple tool for the driver to avoid overweight tickets, he says, adding, “and that benefit is still strong today, but now with integration and onboard route management the benefits are multiplying. The ability to see weight performance over time, by truck, by driver, by route and by customer are all possible today.”
Developing the technology to weigh each individual bin has been a major game-changer for the waste industry, notes Ambros.
Scales and software are now being used as an integral measuring and reporting tool to monitor the flow of operations, Kurtz points out, adding Trimble has recently updated its Loadrite product line “to reinvent the way the way the industry uses this data in key decision-making processes.”
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The release of Trimble’s Insight HQ reporting package was designed to offer those in the industry a “whole operation overview,” explains Kurtz. “InsightHQ is a quarry management portal for a Web browser or mobile device,” he says. “It shows near-real-time productivity; availability and performance dashboards; and reports for extraction, processing, and load-out.”
InsightHQ provides visibility to respond to issues, as well as optimize productivity, availability, and performance in real time, Kurtz adds. The software also is designed to provide access to live reports with totals for each customer, product, and machine. To view changes over time, users can adjust reports to suit either the shift, day, week, month, or year.
Automation is in high demand, notes Jon Leeds, vice president of Carolina Software. “Our WasteWORKS—the core product on which everything else is based—and WasteWIZARD options are the primary systems for facilities with scales, including landfills, transfer stations, recycling facilities, and mulch yards,” he says.
Designed to provide the tools needed to operate a facility, the software provides end users with a point-of-sale ticketing interface for processing vehicles, an integrated billing module, and comprehensive reporting. WasteWORKS features fully integrated billing and reporting.
“The ticketing, billing, and reporting system are one in the same, and there is no requirement to move or post data to another system to make it useful,” says Leeds.
WasteWORKS provides for Balance Forward Accounting, Open Invoice Accounting, or a combination of both. It comes standard with a range of built-in or stock reports. Those waste operations needing customization can have it through such external tools as Crystal Reports and Microsoft SQL Report Builder. WasteWIZARD is utilized for those who want to automate the processing of transactions. A vehicle is automatically scanned with an RFID reader, or a driver is presented with an interface to identify the vehicle and enter additional information about the load type. The rest of the transaction, including weighing and printing, happens automatically, Leeds says.
The software presents different combinations of interface solutions and peripheral options. For instance, “some people think of automation as just a solution for unmanned facilities, but automation can be used at manned sites too,” notes Leeds. “A facility with two inbound scales and one outbound scale can dedicate one of the inbound lanes to being an express lane. This minimizes the need for an additional weighmaster and allows the existing weighmaster to concentrate on the customers needing more attention.”
WasteWIZARD is designed to work seamlessly with WasteWORKS. “A transaction can be started with WasteWIZARD and finished with WasteWORKS, and vice versa,” says Leeds.
There are other uses for automation, Leeds adds. “We have facilities that have a single scale and use WasteWIZARD. During the day, they use WasteWORKS to process vehicles, and at the end of the day the weighmaster shuts down WasteWORKS and opens WasteWIZARD for automatic, unmanned processing. During the night, county vehicles can come and go, and their transactions are processed automatically. A long list of peripherals—such as lights, gates, cameras, intercoms, and printers—are available to round out the automated solution, and provide additional security and traffic control.”
Air-Weigh offers two different types of scales. LoadMaxx provides overweight protection and indicates to the driver the truck’s overall weight. BinMaxx weighs each individual lift of a bin, enabling companies to view how much they are paying in dump fees so they can in turn charge their own customers correctly, says Ambros.
Onboard weighing systems provide significant benefits to waste companies; “and, given today’s high cost of time and equipment, installing a scale system can have a dramatic impact on the profitability of operating vehicles,” notes Byron Mucke, marketing liaison for Vulcan On-Board Scales.
“Given the rising cost of operating waste collection vehicles, it is becoming more important to evaluate the use of onboard weighing systems to reduce operating costs, meet new safety standards, and improve fleet efficiency,” he adds.
Mucke points out that when electronic onboard scales were introduced more than 30 years ago into trucking applications, monitoring gross vehicle or payload weight was necessary, but platform scales were not readily available.
“Over the years, improvements were made to these early electronic onboard scales,” he adds. “Load cells were improved, and specialty load cells were developed for fifth wheel applications. Center hanger solutions were created for four-spring applications, single-point load cells for single-point suspensions, and other solutions for most other spring suspensions.
“Air sensors were added for an increasing number of air ride suspensions, and deflection transducers for certain types of spring suspensions. Hydraulic sensors were designed for vehicles equipped with hydraulic lift cylinders. Today, onboard scales can be installed on most trucks or trailers with air, spring, or mixed suspensions.”
The applications for onboard scales are rapidly expanding and are found in almost every trucking industry, Mucke points out. “Organizations using onboard scales are reaping benefits far beyond just monitoring gross vehicle weight to avoid overweight fines,” he says. “Given the high cost of time and equipment, onboard scales are having a dramatic impact on the efficiency and profitability of operating a vehicle or fleet.”
One benefit: vehicle efficiency, enabling a driver to haul the maximum legal payload on every trip to the landfill or transfer station without going to a platform scale.
“Searching for and using a platform to determine payload involves an additional step that diminishes efficiency,” says Mucke. “The fee to obtain a weight from a platform itself involves a cost of approximately $9 per trip, but that is the least of the additional expenses incurred. The driver time to travel to the scale, use the scale, and return is an expense incurred at the driver’s hourly compensation rate.
“The additional mileage traveled is an expense incurred at the operating cost of the vehicle. Knowing and then maximizing payload weight while loading helps avoid these added costs.”
Vulcan onboard weighing systems
Eliminating overweight fines typically is a secondary benefit to the many benefits of operating more efficiently, says Mucke. “Paying less in fines saves money that could otherwise go to the bottom line,” he says. “Fines often compound as the amount over the legal limit increases, and many public entities continue to seek alternate streams of revenue, so the trend to fine for overweight loads is likely to continue. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, overweight fines escalate to misdemeanors as the amount over the legal limit exceeds, affecting both drivers and their employer.”
Vulcan On-Board scales are designed to enable end users to load transfer trailers to the maximum legal weight quickly at the loading point without waiting in scale lines, or driving to the nearest platform scale. “You never have to off-load and then reload to get it right,” says Mucke. “Waiting in line to load costs in operator time at hourly compensation rates, vehicle operating costs, and unnecessary fuel costs. When a driver is unable to know or maximize a load the first time, the result is often either being overloaded, or underloaded.”
In either case, this can result in a second or third trip to either add more or remove more weight, says Mucke. “By loading to a maximum legal weight the first time, these operator vehicle and fuel costs are incurred once instead of multiple times. An added benefit is to reduce the potential that an operator will decide to proceed when overloaded to avoid a second or third trip, rather than removing the overload or proceed underloaded, thereby under-using the capacity instead of adding more load.”
Hauling loads that the vehicle was designed to carry reduces maintenance costs and increases vehicle life, Mucke points out. “Many maintenance managers claim that onboard scales pay for themselves with reduced engine, brake, and structural maintenance costs,” he adds.
Vehicles and related equipment are specified for a certain capacity. Any load less than capacity does not fully use the capital equipment or the operator’s capacity, and creates unnecessary fuel consumption via an inefficient trip and the need for more trips to haul the same payload, says Mucke.
Another potential benefit involves equipment warranty, notes Mucke. “Vehicles with specified payload capacities typically carry warranty with a time limit and are subject to operating a vehicle within specified limits; so, consistently loading and operating a vehicle not above the legal limit helps simplify warranty claims and discussions,” he says.
Safety and liability exposure is decreased by keeping weight within legal limits, allowing braking distance to remain constant and tracking around corners to be more predictable, Mucke says.
“Braking distance increases with weight,” he points out. “If a vehicle is overloaded, the braking distance requires increases. Cornering also degrades when a vehicle is overweight, which is another safety concern. If an accident occurs involving an overloaded vehicle, that is an element that is considered fault and damages.”
Driver retention can be increased by assuring a safe load and no exposure to overweight fines, Mucke explains. “Providing drivers with tools to perform their job efficiently and safely is one key element to obtaining and retaining the best operators,” he says.
“Additionally, providing an onboard weighing system that allows them to maximize payload without overloading reduces exposure to overweight fines, and even misdemeanors in some jurisdictions.”
Operational efficiency can be improved by recording weights, load cycles, dump cycles, route, and service times, says Mucke. “Knowing your loaded truck weight is a critical component to the overall efficiency of your fleet,” he adds. “This information allows you to make decisions regarding your routes, billing, and maintenance. With the increasing use of onboard computers, wireless communications, and GPS equipment, weight information can be collected and transmitted real time back to the home office, so decisions can be made on the fly, or records kept monitoring the capacity and efficiency of the operation over an extended time period.”
In utilizing up-to-date software and scale technology, there are external factors to consider, such as the impact of government agency regulations.
According to Kurtz, those considerations include reporting on current inventory and safety in the operation, with less over-weighing. Other factors include increased productivity through monitoring idle or wasted run time with no under-loading.
Accountability reporting is another factor. As customers of waste operations, government agencies are seeking to ensure they are abiding by the regulations they have set, notes Ambros. “From a regulatory standpoint, they are enforcing weight management in many areas,” he adds.
Mucke notes the typical payback from an onboard scale investment ranges 3–12 months. He anticipates the timeframe to shorten in the future, as the cost to haul without onboard scales continues to increase due to the increase of the following industry trends:
- competition and the need to improve efficiency and reduce costs
- enforcement of overweight regulations
- the need to reduce liability exposure
- difficulty finding and retaining competent drivers
- the demand for more information
“Onboard weighing systems provide significant benefits to waste companies, and, given today’s high cost of time and equipment, installing a scale system can have a dramatic impact on the profitability of operating vehicles,” says Mucke. “There are many types of scale technologies, and it is critical to invest in a system that meets the vehicles specific requirements and your company’s long-term goals.”
Given the numerous benefits of today’s scales and software, there are still ways the technology can be improved. Removing the reliance on the operator to enter data is something the industry is working on, notes Kurtz. “With current GPS location tracking, this is something that could be seen in the near future,” he adds.
In seeking ways to improve technology that includes greater accuracy, Air-Weigh recently developed an app that pairs with its LoadMaxx scale. “This means the driver has a weight log for the truck and can even email weights to the dispatcher, manager, or any other email address,” says Ambros.
Operators are asking for ways to make their jobs faster and safer, he notes.
Additionally, they want to be empowered to be able to improve their daily tasks and be more productive, Kurtz points out. “Giving them the ability to monitor and improve their performance is something that is very well-received and used,” he says. “They want a fully dynamic system that does not slow down current operations.”
Reporting is a big focus for waste operations these days, says Leeds. “They want specific data in specific formats, and they want it daily,” he notes. “Our job is to make sure we collect the data on the ticketing side of things, and then deliver it in the way the end user expects. We have a wide range of tools for built-in or stock reports, custom reports, and automating report delivery. If you are a solid waste supervisor and you want to get an email each morning at 5 a.m. so you can review yesterday’s tonnages while you drink your coffee, we can deliver that information to you.”
Called the Auto-Email Module, it provides automated report/ticket/billing delivery to anyone needing regular report information, such as staff and customers. “We can set things up to deliver reports to customers who regularly request this information,” says Leeds. “Images and scanned documents can also be imbedded in these ticket and report documents.”