Waste operations are turning to new scale and software technologies to assist with cost savings and efficiencies.
By Carol Brzozowski
One of the most critical operations at a waste site is weighing.
“Most states require the scales are certified at least once a year and sometimes more,” notes Bob Jozwiak, vice president of sales and marketing for Fairbanks Scales. “Calibration services are critical to the operation. If the scale is not weighing properly, the state will shut down the site.”
Meeting the task of accountability in the solid waste industry not only calls for accurate weight, but also ascertaining who’s responsible for that weight and how they will be charged, says Jozwiak, whose company manufactures Talon and Titan truck scales.
Software plays a significant role in weighing operations, Jozwiak notes. The manual transactions of the past have given way to automated transactions, “giving municipalities and major organizations like Waste Management the ability to get a real-time understanding of what’s happening at the site,” he adds.
To address throughput and accuracy needs, Mettler Toledo offers Powercell PDX, a load cell technology with predictive diagnostics to minimize downtime.
The company collects data through truck scales, rail scales, weight indicators, and unattended stations. There’s an interface of scale data with other data points such as customer, hauler, and product.
“Data consolidation is one of the most critical driving issues in this market segment at this point,” he adds. “We’re able to collect data from an individual site to aggregating the data across an enterprise for multiple sites.”
Rudi Baisch, vice president of Emery Winslow Scale Co., points out that solid waste facilities are one of the “nastiest” environments for scales, Baisch says.
“You’re taking an instrument and putting it into the muck and mire, then pounding the snot out of it and wondering why it doesn’t work on occasion,” he adds.
Emery Winslow uses a non-electronic or hydrostatic load cell that is impervious to the effects of such water issues as flooding and total submersion.
“There are no cables for rodents to chew on,” says Baisch. “ The scales can take a direct lightning strike and not be harmed.”
All of the electronics are remotely located within the scale house or inside an office room where it’s clean and dry.
“Our load cells can handle that kind of impact pounding very easily,” Baisch says. “The bigger challenge has been keeping the scales clean.”
To address that, Emery Winslow makes a Road Weigh Quick Clean truck scale, which features a removable deck for pit cleaning.
“That platform drops right back onto the load cells,” says Baisch. “You don’t need to call your scale company or bring in a test truck to recalibrate. You just hit zero and you’re back in business.”
Cardinal Scale has incorporated technologies in the past few years to improve the way its scales work in solid waste applications.
“A lot of the truck scales in the solid waste industry are steel decks, and they’re like lightning rods,” says Fred Cox, vice president of sales. “With the hydraulic load cells, there’s no electricity in the scale or the scale pit. Everything is done with almost less than a pint of hydraulic fluid.”
MSW operators don’t want to be worried about the scales, Cox says.
“The scale is the workhorse of their operation. They need to be worried about transferring the waste. They need to be worried about all of the things that go on within that solid waste site. They need to be able to process trucks quickly, reliably and never have down time. They want to put a truck scale in and not have to think about it again.
“They need to make sure that truck scale and the peripheral software and hardware that go along with it is operating.”
“The load cells are the most expensive component of any weighing product,” he adds. “The stainless steel load cell is a fine-gauged instrument and many times there are eight to 10 load cells on a truck scale and replacement of those is costly.
“We’ve got a solid stainless steel hermetically sealed load cell. There is power at the scale. When they make the investment in the hydraulic cells, it’s a larger investment up front, but it has much savings on the back side because of the lifetime warranty of the cell and because there’s no electricity going to that load cell. It’s a very static unit that sits there and does the job via just the pressure of the little bit of oil.”
The company recently launched SnapStream Wireless Truck Scale System, which does not require running a cable from the scale to the scale house.
“Many times when you’re putting in a new installation where you have a lot of asphalt or concrete that you have to cut through to get the scale connected to the scale house, you’re replacing an existing scale. It’s very costly to trench to get the scale cables back to the scale house. SnapStream allows you to have a wireless device right at the scale and a wireless device in the scale house to receive that truck scale signal.”
The technology enables users to connect up to 16 peripheral devices at one time to one linked display inside the scale house.
“Many landfills have remote displays for the driver to see and that remote display can be wireless back to the scale house,” says Cox. “There is another costly serial cable you don’t have to run all the way to the display. Another feature is the SnapStream IT connection, so if they want to send a link back to their network, they can do that wirelessly into a communications card that plugs directly into the network via Ethernet, serial or USB.”
Cardinal Scale has incorporated a system called iCAN, an “intelligent” junction box that is a name derivative of the CAN bus technology. The technology allows end users to fully diagnose the truck scale within the scale house, Cox says.
Cardinal Scale also manufactures the WIN-VRS system, which stands for Windows-based Vehicle Recording Systems.
“We write the code,” Cox says. “There is no third-party code or software involved. We have a support staff for that software package through our distribution network. It’s a vertical market. There are no additional modules you have to purchase to run the complete system. They support other accounting packages.”
Reports can be customized, he adds.
The company’s 225 Navigator Weight Indicator can have a dual-scale card placed in it, allowing operations that run two scales to be able to read both simultaneously.
It’s important to maintain scales to allow them to hold calibration and weigh properly, Cox points out.
Mike Lewis, the business unit manager for Xtreme RFID, says RFID goes a long way in helping MSW operations move and maintain assets and use them to drive new processes.
“Now you can assign an asset an identity so it gives it a number. Then you can assign the number to a specific location or customer and then you can use that as a vehicle to track what’s going on.”
When combining an Xtreme RFID tag with an onboard system from its sister company, CaptureIT, “now you open up opportunities to get a wealth of information and data to help drive business improvement and best practices such as incentive-based recycling programs and pay-as-you-throw programs.”’
Lewis says the most prevalent use of the RFID technology is for customer service.
“Operations can do a pick-up verification so to verify that the truck collected that container at 9:23 a.m. in 23 seconds and you even get a GPS location with X and Y coordinates of where that container was collected,” he says.
“That’s useful because customer service is a big problem in the industry,” Lewis adds. “Missed pick-ups cost haulers a lot of money to send a garbage truck to pick up a few containers that they missed.”
Also, the ability to track assets helps save money.
“A city can have 100,000 carts out there and it may cost them $40 or $50 a container,” Lewis says. “That’s a lot of money to be tied up on the streets, so now they can know where those assets are. They can track maintenance, lifecycle costs, and warranty information.”
Having the data on hand enables operations to make better business decisions, Lewis says.
B-TEK manufactures equipment “that lets us do everything from weigh the trucks to control interfacing with computers to control who gets the information internally and what they can do with that information after that,” says Brett Kaufman, national sales manager.
The company’s truck scales are the Centurion-AT Truck Scale and the Centurion Hybrid AT Truck Scale. The B-TEK Centurion-AT weighbridge uses three-eighths-inch decking. The B-TEK’s Hybrid-AT motor truck scale features weighbridge modules built with 12-inch-wide flange I-beams, equally distributed across the width of the platform and oriented longitudinally.
“The scale differs from what else is on the market with the amount of steel used,” Kaufman notes. “It’s a heavier-duty scale that has more steel. It also has a digital technology in the load cells that is 100% resistant to lightning. It offers diagnostics so you can troubleshoot the scale a little bit easier if there’s an issue.”
The Hernando County Landfill in Hernando County, FL, serves as the county’s main landfill, providing services for 171,000 residents.
The landfill had old 60-foot concrete scales.
“They were getting to the points where they could not be certified anymore,” notes Scott Harper, solid waste services manager.
In late 2007 and early 2008, the county had the old concrete scales removed and the foundation and approaches lengthened to accept new scales before installing two B-TEK Centurion 72-foot truck scales.
“Since then, the scales have been working great,” notes Harper. “With a 72-foot scale, we can put a full semi on there instead of weighing out per axles. The accuracy helped out immensely. I’d recommend these scales to anybody.”
Another player in the market is Loadrite, which offers a wheel-loader scale to optimize loading trucks at a waste transfer station. The scale is designed to be accurate within 1% when paired with productivity reporting
Conveyor belt scales from Loadrite are designed to accurately track the flow of material in recycling and waste sorting facilities with a range of options to track different weights and belt speeds.
Advanced reporting offers insight on truckloads, weight per bin, and ton per customer, among other factors.
Vulcan On-Board Scales offers reasons why operations using trucks favor onboard scales:
- Optimizing fleet efficiency by hauling the maximum legal payload on every trip without going to a platform scale
- Eliminating overweight fines
- Loading to the maximum legal weight quickly at the loading point without waiting in scale lines or driving to the nearest platform scale
- Eliminating travel to certified scales
- Reducing maintenance costs and increasing vehicle life by hauling loads the vehicle was designed to carry
- Reducing fuel consumption by hauling at capacity for fewer trips
- Increasing safety by keeping weight within legal limits, allowing braking distance to remain constant, and tracking around corners to be more predictable
- Eliminating liability exposure due to increased braking distance from overweight vehicles
- Measuring such pickup and delivery weights as dirt, waste removal, recycled commodities, and farm and dairy products
- Improving customer service by providing individual pickup or container weight to better assure customers of fair billing
- Increasing revenue by more accurately charging individual customers on pickup and delivery operations
- Increasing driver retention
- Improving operation efficiency by recording weights, load cycles, dump cycles, and amount of haul-back.
With the increasing use of on-board computers, wireless communications and GPS equipment, weight information can be collected and transmitted real time back to the home office.
The end users of Vulcan On-Board Scales seek solutions to the challenge of not going over legal weight limits and avoiding the associated liability issues as well as wear and tear and maintenance challenges, says Eric Elefson, director of sales and marketing for Vulcan On-Board Scales.
“They want to maximize the load as close to legal as possible or maximize utilization of equipment that’s been invested in as to not haul around a half a load and all of the fuel and things that does to the environment,” he adds. “That’s the ‘green’ aspect. From the financial aspect, they want to be able to utilize four trucks to do a full job rather than five trucks all running underutilized.”
One such operation is the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, which implemented the scales for its large fleet of 65 tractors and 100 trailers.
Senior mechanic Jim Sipe says the return on the investment of equipping all of the vehicles with the scales is “priceless.” The turnaround time has been cut down significantly because of the onboard scales.
“There’s no guesswork,” he points out. “There’s no having to turn around if you’re overweight and unload on the tipping floor and go back down and retarp the load and go out. That would cost you an hour or more.
“If you’re underloaded significantly, that’s a matter of going around and waiting to get back in to be completed and then the guesswork begins again as to whether you had too much or not.”
Elefson says solid waste operators’ goals are not the same for every application, reason or type of vehicle.
Those who want a rugged solution choose load cell technology, a direct weighing technology. “It’s the most rugged and most accurate with the least amount of operator maintenance interface,” says Elefson. “We also have secondary solutions that don’t measure weight look at something to approximate what weight will be.”
Those secondary measurement components include air pressure, hydraulic pressure, or other truck elements.
“The challenge with secondary measurements is you’re really not measuring weight from a way that it was intended to be measured,” Elefson says. “It happens to be a way of getting a signal you can correlate. It requires a lot more maintenance—you might want to calibrate it once a month or once a quarter because it’s not sturdy enough to be stable—but it is less expensive.”
Vulcan On-Board Scales can help operations that have rate structures control costs by monitoring what they’re charging for different accounts, says Elefson.
“They can make sure it lines up, whether they’re charging the heavy accounts more and the lighter accounts less. If they get paid by weight or if it’s a by volume location, it allows them to see if there’s a denser volume,” Elefson says.
Another cost savings is derived when there is a fleet isn’t hauling at full capacity and by putting load cell scales on the system, the operation is able to get within 1% or 2% of full load. The operation can realize a decrease in equipment purchases, which correlates into maintenance savings because there are fewer trucks to maintain and fewer people needed to maintain them, he adds.
Payback time for investment in onboard scales is three to 12 months, according to Vulcan On-Board Scales.
Drivers have no idea how much payload they are carrying as they progress on the route, says Martin Ambros, chief executive officer of Air-Weigh. Among its products is LoadMaxx, an onboard scale.
“Fleets spend a lot of time trying to optimize routes based on geography, miles, hours, and estimated weights with some spotty audits, but the fact of the matter is day in and day out, the guy behind the wheel really doesn’t know if he’s at capacity or not and when it’s time to leave the route and head to the transfer station and the landfill,” he says.
“That’s the problem we solve with an Air-Weigh scale on the dash, with a warning light that flashes when he’s getting close and solid red light that goes on when he’s right at the legal maximum,” he adds. “It gives the driver a tool to very efficiently do his job and yet maintain his vehicle at safe and legal levels.”
Unlike others in road trucking, such as shippers who know the weight of the cargo—a refuse truck driver does not know from day-to-day what weight he or she will be hauling.
“You could be picking up concrete blocks, lampshades or pieces of Styrofoam,” Ambros points out. “That’s unique to the waste segment. Enforcement is unique to the segment. Over the road folks have to go into the weigh stations where there are officers with portable scales.
“In the waste segment, enforcement is done at the landfills, so the folks managing the landfills are asked to police the vehicles coming in and going out. The same is true for transfer stations. That varies from state to state.”
Air-Weigh scale offers a J1939 CAN bus data interface.
“We’re seeing a lot of customers, particularly the larger ones, start to experiment with the deployment of onboard computers to help them manage their routes,” Ambros says. “We can put the weight into that computer and, in addition to getting the driver to do his job safely and efficiently, we give management some ability to know what’s going on by route, by customer, by driver, and by truck, whereas they never had that visibility before.”
An integrative solution enables fleet management to flag customers who overload or underload their bins.
Every route for every vehicle is becoming increasingly important because of costs associated with wear on tires and brakes and driver hours.
“That tool on the dash allows the driver to make that piece of equipment produce at its maximum ability,” Ambros adds.
To help ensure accuracy, Air-Weigh uses a sensor on top of existing suspension components and extrapolates the weight based on sensor information. LoadMaxx is calibrated once a year after it’s put into service; recommended calibration is every six months to a year.
Waste is becoming a commodity and waste operations are facing an ever-changing climate on how they establish value for the services they’re providing, notes Cullen Casey, senior application engineer with Pfreundt North America.
The company manufactures mobile weighing systems. Its ABW-2 is used for the solid waste market, including rolloffs, rear-loading, and front-loading garbage trucks. The company’s pSeries is made for wheel loaders used in municipal waste transfer stations. The BGW-1 is used for material handlers.
“It’s a very robust environment their equipment has to work in,” says Casey. “Our products combine the robustness required to function in that type of environment with the technology advancements to stay abreast of the work they’re doing for customers.”
Noting that there are two types of scales—those legal for trade that are mandated to meet specific accuracy requirements and are tested over time to ensure accuracy compliance, and those not legal for trade that encompasses much of the onboard scale market—Casey says Pfreundt applies an approach to the application of onboard scales using the same types of testing standards as for legal for trade scales.
“We’re only relaxing the tolerance a little bit, so instead of a goal of one-tenth of 1% of accuracy, we shoot for a goal of 1% accuracy with respect to an onboard scale of the gross capacity of the system,” he says.
Like any electronic device, a scale system is susceptible to wear and tear, misuse, and abuse, Casey says, adding the company relies on its servicing distributors to provide ongoing preventative maintenance for the customers.
“The scale can remain a black box device for the user and through preventative maintenance practices have a high percentage of uptime versus customers not having confidence in their scales becoming damaged and not knowing how to fix them,” he says.
SI Onboard manufactures scales that are placed on trucks, packer bodies, rolloffs, and tractor-trailers.
For transfer station applications, the company also makes a scale that goes on a loader and portable axle scales sometimes used in tunnels with the tractor-trailers sitting atop the scales as they’re being loaded.
“At the transfer stations, you know at the point of loading how much is in that tractor trailer before it hits the highway to head to the landfill,” says Jack Ewing, segment manager for the refuse market for SI Onboard.
One reason why operators put scales on their vehicles is for route auditing on commercial accounts, says Ewing.
“They can get an average of the weight being picked up at that business and compare that weight for the disposal costs for that same weight and make sure each individual account is there,” he says. “It becomes profitable based on the cost of the disposal versus how much they’re getting paid to pick up that much weight.
“If you do not have a scale on the truck itself, at the end of the day, you’ll get weighed at the truck scale at the transfer station or landfill, but you have no idea which customers were responsible for what portion of that weight. You could have some customers throwing away a lot more than you anticipate or didn’t throw away, and you’re losing money by picking up that individual account. Without onboard scales, you cannot identify those individual accounts.”
Onboard scales also are used on rolloffs, packer scales, and tractor-trailers to avoid overload fines.
“The driver will always know his axle group weight as well as his total gross vehicle weight,” Ewing says. “As long as he pays attention to his scale reading and the meter in the cab, he will not overload his vehicle enough to reduce the maintenance associated with overloading and will not have the liability of running overloaded if he got into an accident.”
Maintenance on the systems is user-specific, Ewing says.
“The rougher the landfill you go into and the rougher the environment the vehicle is working in, the more often you’re going to have to recalibrate,” he says. “If you’re going into a transfer station and never going into potholes and significant rough areas, you may never have to recalibrate. Initial calibration is done when the system is installed and they last for years.”
Accuracy can be checked any time a driver enters a transfer station or a landfill to dump by using the legal for trade truck scale as a reference point, Ewing says.
Nate Piersall, owner of Core Computing Solutions, echoes an industry mantra: “If you can’t measure something you can’t manage it. You don’t know how profitable your routes are. It’s important to track the waste to determine tipping costs. Managing that information flow is one of the biggest challenges for a traditional waste or waste recycling hauler.”
Traditionally, a truck driver will leave the scale house with a paper ticket.
“If the driver loses that ticket or it doesn’t correctly get entered into the financial operational software—which is what we do—then the ticket is lost and they rely upon the bill from the disposal or recycling facility to determine costs.”
Proper information management can come from end of day processing, Piersall says.
“You key in all of the measurements from the route: start times from end times, disposal information, dump slip numbers. There’s a host of reports built into our system that help for material reconciliation,” he adds. “When you’re tracking route profitability to understand how much revenue that route generated minus costs for disposal, labor and vehicles, you come up with the bottom-line profit.”
Core Computing Solutions has an integrated approach—which is NTEP-certified—to managing entire operations.
“There aren’t separate databases for one side of the business versus the other,” Piersall says. “It does accounts receivable, accounts payable, and tracks everything in one database. You’re tracking all of this information, bringing it all together into a spreadsheet at the end of the day or month to get a true analysis of your business.”
That helps cut costs by providing immediate feedback regarding driver performance, Piersall says.
“If you’re tracking this information, putting in start and end times, tracking who the driver was, the truck, keying in the fleet maintenance pieces you can in any point in time during the course of your operations have immediate access to a report that can tell you whether a driver is performing very well or very poorly in relation to the other drivers.
“You also can see how expensive a single piece of equipment is to operate and what have been the operating costs of this truck versus another to see how profitable it is, because you know what your other costs are. This streamlines all of this into a single set of reports.”
Jon Leeds, vice president of Carolina Software, describes some solid waste operations as a “bottleneck situation where all of the trucks are out there trying to squeeze through to get into a landfill to dump.”
He observes that “people will build a multimillion dollar facility and the placement of the scales and computers is almost an afterthought,” adding he’s seen facilities where the scale was placed in a location invisible from inside of the building.
“If they put some thought into it, they could have had a much better setup and certainly increase their efficiencies in traffic flow,” Leeds says. “A big challenge is when you have a single scale that is supposed to handle inbound and outbound traffic and have vehicles that are weighed and come across the scales in both directions and you have lights that have to be turned on and off to tell it whose turn it is.”
Ensuring an accurate data collection can become a challenge on these transactions, Leeds says.
“A lot of times when we come in to place a system, they’ll have a scale indicator with a printer attached to it and they’re basically collecting weights and maybe a vehicle number,” he says. “There is no accounting for granular information such as where the vehicles are coming from and where the load is going to be dropped in the landfill and other important information for reporting purposes you might need later.”
Carolina Software also offers software solutions for attended and unattended situations, as well as handheld devices.
WasteWorks is a scalable PC-based ticketing, billing, and reporting software system. Leeds says it’s user friendly and requires only an hour of training in programming and processing vehicles for needed information.
The WasteWizard automation system consists of a watertight, stainless-steel enclosure with a driver interface that is useful for 24-hour-a-day operations.
“Software like WasteWorks is really the gatekeeping mechanism for incoming and outgoing materials and the gatekeeper for information,” says Leeds. “The scale transaction is the one opportunity to ensure that everything that enters your facility is paid for and that you have all of the key information for financial management and governmental reporting.
“Every part of a transaction affects how much it costs to handle the material,” he says. “Once you spend some time looking at a scale-house operation, you realize that efficiency is the key. If you don’t have a robust software system or the right traffic flow or enough staff, trucks sit in line, and that means more fuel wasted and more hours to pay drivers for.
“For private sites, the connection between hauling costs and scale processing might not be an issue, but for most municipal customers and private customers who have both hauling and facilities to manage, many of the vehicles sitting in line are theirs.”
Carolina Software also makes WasteWalker, a hand-held device generally used to process residents visiting a landfill on a weekend.
“Usually they have bags of trash in a pickup truck and don’t necessarily need to be weighed in and out on a high-tech system,” Leeds says. “The workers just need to collect the fee and get them unloaded and out of the way so traffic doesn’t back up.
“We created this device originally to walk up and down that line and process these folks, complete with a printer. Since then, people have also used it for household hazardous waste pick-ups where there may not be an infrastructure in place, but you have a computer and can give somebody a receipt and pay money out if you need to do that.”
WasteWorks for Containers is an integrated rolloff management module.
The ability to process drivers in a scale lane through an RFID-type interface or interact with them on a keypad has increased efficiencies, Leeds says.
“If you can have a scale that can be handled without an employee, that person can probably do some other job,” he says. “Our automation system allows people to have after-hours traffic, turning a scale lane into an express lane.”
While many people may think automation means RFID or bar codes, the majority of Carolina Software’s clients use only a keypad for the operations, Leeds says, adding that it’s the least expensive alternative and allows for the collection of other information.
One of the questions faced when doing unattended weighing without having a scale operator running the computer is accurate variable data entry, says Jim Gottliebson, president of Interface Logic Systems.
“The primary way we do that is in the database,” he says. “We can assign default information. If that default information is present, it’s automatically derived. The driver doesn’t have to do anything.
Automated systems free up scale operators to work with residential and cash customers—“people who need direct human contact”, Gottliebson says.
The core software program of Interface Logic Systems is ScaleQ. The software features automated capture of scale weights, predefined default ticket data for speed and accuracy, and a detailed database. It also offers selectable data entry fields, with the ability to create customer category fields.
ScaleQ handles cash transactions and maintains a cash history file. Catalog pricing enables a flexible means of establishing tiered and special pricing
The software features user/group permissions for operational security. Multiple data output formats allow for export of data to third-party applications.
Optional features include a NoTrans scale monitoring that writes a record each time the weight on the scale increases without a ticket, digital signature capture, video image capture, and the use of bar code and RFID.
ScaleQ reports enable direct access to report printing from the ScaleQ program, allowing authorized users to design, run, and control access to detail or summary reports in the desired format.
The report writer is one of the strongest features of the software, Gottliebson says.
“Our customers say they find the report design and processes are simple,” he says. “We use a Wizard to walk people through it. It’s very intuitive.”
The ScaleQ Report program provides data output in a variety of formats suitable for interface with third-party applications, including spreadsheets, word processors, and accounting applications, says Gottliebson.
The Coastal Regional Solid Waste Management Authority (CRSWMA) operates one landfill and two transfer stations in three North Carolina counties. Scale transactions are processed in attended mode using ILS ScaleQ Scale Management Software. All stations transfer data to a central administrative office for accounting and consolidated data management and reporting. ILS ScaleQ Office Administration Software also is used in the operations.
“It works well. They’ve got great support,” notes Miriam Sumner, who handles finance operations for CRSWMA. “I’ve used it over the years, and it’s grown through the different platforms. They wrote an interface to go with my financial software that I have to have because I’m a unit of a local government. We also use their grid system, which tells us where the garbage is located by day and also what our compaction rate is.”
One of the ways in which CRSWMA has saved money through the use of the software is instead of doing annual fly-overs, the agency does one every four years to verify the two modules are together.
“The last one we did was within one one-hundredth of a percent over 20 acres, so we thought that was pretty good,” she says. They’re a good company; they’ve got great support.”
Journalist Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to the business and transportation technology of waste management.