Translating Force Into Data: Truck Scale Automation Systems and Software
It’s a simple matter, weighing a truck. The driver pulls onto a scale, where the vehicle's weight is measured by load cells attached to the scale’s metal frame. The report format is another matter, though.
What isn’t simple is translating this item of data into a coherent report format that tracks the vehicle’s productivity, market area, profitability and frequency of use. Even harder is doing this without a human scale operator present. It’s these automated scale systems that will be examined in this article.
Truck Scale Basics
There are two basic types of truck scales: in-ground and onboard. In-ground scales are separate structures that are installed either below grades (to provide a weighing surface flush with adjacent ground or road surface) or on existing grades (requiring approach ramps to reach the elevated weighing platform). Onboard scales are integrated into the body of the truck itself, with weight sensors distributed throughout the truck’s framework and suspension system. Each type of scale system has its uses, inherent degree of accuracy, superiorities, and drawbacks.
What does the actual physical measurement of the weight are a series of load cells. Load cells act as weight sensors in one of two ways. Either solid cells physically deform (strain, as measured by the percentage change in the cell’s dimension in the direction of the applied loading) under the weight (compressive stress measured in weight per cross-section area of the sensor), or there is an increase in the interior pressure of cells filled with hydraulic fluid. The amount of strain or pressure increase depends on the type of material used by the load cell along with the applied load. Sensors the amount of deformation or pressure change and send a signal back to the scale’s measuring station. This signal can be either electronic signals sent along wires (directly recorded by the measuring station) or hydrostatic signals sent along tubes (which is measured by the station itself and then recorded electronically as data). The sensors send an electronic or hydrostatic signal to a summing station. The summing station tallies the individual readings from the load cells and displays the total load weight on either a digital indicator or a hard-copy printer.
Why Use an Unattended Truck Scale System?
For hauling companies and landfills that are vertically integrated (directly controlling all stages of production, shipping and operations) and are under intense pressure to maximize profits, there are significant benefits to utilizing an unattended truck scale system. Such a truck system is especially useful for: operations during hours of minimal staffing; very early or very late shift operations; consistent operations of a non-stop nature that could develop into delay causing queues. All of these needs can be met by using an automated truck-weighing system. For example, during the early hours of landfill operations, most of the waste is delivered and a landfill’s operating crew is most effectively used at the working face spreading and compacting waste. At the end of the work day, a landfill crew has to properly install daily cover, and the time needed for this task can be reduced by maximizing the number of workers performing this task. In either case, a landfill (if it wants to meet ever higher profitability goals) cannot afford the luxury of diverting manpower to operating truck scales at these critical times.
A good unattended truck scale system will work for single or multiple truck scales, can weigh trucks in both directions on the scale, offer a card reader, basic ticket printer, easy-to-use keypad, or touch screen monitor. The software associated with the automated system should be able to efficiently manage diverse data bases with the ability to extract data for account, financial management, and report-writing purposes. It should pay for itself quickly in labor savings and general improvements in landfill management efficiency, maximizing return on investment for the landfill.
Products and Companies
Brechbuhler Scales utilizes its ScaleSoft “Unattended Truck Management System”. This system has identical capabilities to their standard “Attended Truck Management System” but with the ability to weigh trucks without the need for a scale operator. Its key hardware component is a simple-to-use flat panel that can be mounted for ease of use by the driver. As he enters or leaves the landfill, the driver uses the panel to enter his driver identification number. The computer records this information into the scale’s data base and prints out a hard copy for the driver’s records. This hard copy and the electronic file in the data base include all other information associated with the driver and his truck (weight entering, empty weight while leaving, license numbers, times of arrival and departure, etc.). The system can prompt the driver for more information such as customer number, product number, type of waste load, etc. The system allows for operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—all without the need for a human operator.
Their system is compatible with Windows operating systems (95, NT, 2000) and provides a wide variety of ticket databases and ticket formats. Their integral Truck on Scale Sentinel (TOSS) software alerts a landfill operator that a truck has pulled onto the scale. The security levels and tool menus can be customizing for users and reports. Customers, vendors, projects, and jobs can be integrated into cross-referencing data bases. These data bases also include information on hauling zones, truck routs and import/export data, all of which can be customized and edited by the Report Designer feature.
Auxiliary features include: traffic light, all weather outdoor printer, RFID reader, bar code reader, security system featuring a closed circuit TV monitor, intercom, off-scale sensors to detect vehicle movement, a second panel on the opposite side of the scale to allow in an out operation on a single scale, expansion to allow for integrated operation of up to eight different scales, and an office administration package.
Soft Pak’s Scale House Management software (NTEP/CTEP certified) allows an operator to facilitate transaction control at all of this scale sites while allowing for material tracking. This information is automatically shared between the scale house software and their “i-Pak” management modules. The automated data transfer greatly reduces the need for manual entry, reducing labor needs and increasing productivity.
The “i-Pak” Scale House Management module includes a wide variety of features that allow for easy scale transactions and integration with the module’s billing and productivity systems. This includes data base management for the following: individual vehicle information; material inventory (both shipping and warehouse); scale ticket printing and recording; tracking of special wastes; multiple reporting formats; continuous updating of transactions (point of sale, work orders, etc.); drivers’ logs; and route costing. The software’s verification screen provides and instant and complete summary of sales totals and subtotals, dollar amounts per transaction, delivery breakdowns by type of material, direct billing amounts, intercompany billings and transactions, account summaries and grand totals. It can integrate all office management operations such as billing, dispatching, container tracking and accounts receivable. The system is compatible with Microsoft Office and can convert existing data from a previous system into Soft-Pak data.
Mettler Toledo produces an integrated line of scales, accessories, and services. Integral to their line of products is their OverDrive vehicle management software. Their integrated product line allows for instant, high precision (milligram range) weighing, in harsh industrial or hazardous environmental settings are developed for use in automated processes and for OEM integration. The software terminals are of simple design and intended for ease of use. Advanced instrumentation can accumulate data, control operating systems and peripheral equipment, communicate with other computers, and remotely monitor trucks scales. Newer technologies have been incorporated into their new line of internet enabled scale terminals that offer open connectivity.
James Manley of Information Systems, Inc. (ISI) describes their Weighmaster System, as an integrated family of software. It allows the site operator to perform multiple tasks relating managing his truck scales (process transactions at the scalehouse, record transactions into a comprehensive database, transmit data for billing and accounting purposes, and generating reports from the data). Drivers and scalehouse operators interface with a series of menus and prompts requesting pertinent information concerning the weighing and load transactions. Operators can review continuously updated data concerning the volume of transactions by a variety of categories or waste types. The system provides a variety of input methods to maximum data collection while providing ease of use to the operator. Touch-screen monitors provide an option for simpler transactions requiring only a few entries, making it unnecessary to use the keyboard and mouse for data entry. The system also allows the use of bar-code readers, magnetic stripe readers, and RFID tags to greatly increase the speed and accuracy of each transaction.
The data that can be stored with each transaction is considerable and includes: date and time of the transaction, method of payment, type of vehicle, material or waste type being transported, origin and destination of the shipment, comments and messages. From his data invoices can be prepared and direct interfaces to the operators accounting system can be maintained. This allows for the creation of reports in either standardized (printed from a default list) or customized formats. The program access various files and tables including: truck information (account number, tare weight, license, driver, etc.), rate fees, changes in account status, summary information and a tally of daily transactions. These files and tables can be modified and customized as needed and are protected by password security.
Creating these reports in their various formats is a simple matter for the site’s supervisor and management staff. Files concerning trucks, accounts, set ups and transactions can be modified and maintained using the system’s password protected interactive screens. The reporting formats are compatible with both Microsoft Access and Seagate Crystal data base management software, allowing for easy creating of ad hoc reports for specific actions. Weighmaster can also produce ASCII formatted files that can be imported into a variety of applications such as Microsoft Excel, or the operating can directly export this data using an add-on interface, WMWSXL.
Invoicing subsystems create detailed billing reports for each pay period. The reports can be organized by account numbers and can be used instead of providing ticket copies. Daily recaps allow for easy reconciling of transactions and their associated scale tickets. Accounts receivables are similarly tracked and allows for reports that can be sent to customers along with invoices and copies of the transaction tickets. These subsystems are also Microsoft compatible.
Scale Automation Systems (SAS) uses the Compro Systems’ “Unattended Truck Scale Management System” for the collection of truck scale data without the need for a human scale operator. At the heart of this system is a radio frequency card reader/display/keypad unit that allows quick driver identification and data entry into the system. An optional ticket printer provides the driver with a hard copy record of the transaction. The basic system can be expanded with a number of options such as traffic control lights, scale-mounted vehicle position sensors and remote scale displays. The card reader/display/keypad unit can also be used as a key for entering secure areas, dump and load out identification tagging, and employee access identification. All of these options can be easily integrated into the standard system.
Further enhancements are provided by the radio frequency tag reader (RF/ID) antenna Mounted on the scale, this antenna allows for direct automatic readings of RF tags, which can be mounted directly on the vehicle. Human mistakes resulting from missed keystrokes or erroneous mouse click entries can be completely eliminated, while provided for even faster scale transactions.
The unattended scale system is driven by the Autopro 2000 Software Package. This is a multi-user, multi-tasking system that allows for customized configurations to meet specific operations. The basic software package includes data files for information concerning truck identification (make, model, number, etc.), product or load (or type of waste) being delivered, customer or source of the delivery, destination of the shipment (landfill, transfer station, recycling center, etc.). With this data, the system can print out reports detailing contractor and customer delivery totals, logs of trucker hours, and records of the various transactions that provide an audit trail for the accounting department. This data can be printed out in easy to read tabular formats and integrated into customized reports with the report writer function. Software programs are available that are tailored to the waste management industry (as well as other bulk handling industries such as coal, aggregate, grain handling, recycling and asphalt). Though each comes in a specialized format with unique operating functions, all systems maintain the same basic functionality and simplicity of maintenance.
According to Austin Amos of Scale Automation Systems, the SAS has been accepted as the sole provider of automated truck scale systems for the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) of Palm Beach, Florida. He describes the driver terminal for the SWA as one of the largest projects utilizing SAS terminals with SAS supplying fully unattended driver terminals with ticket printers for all transfer stations and the county landfill. The driver terminal operates through the use of RF truck tags and menu driven touch-screen control panel. The first system has been successfully installed and fully tested by Scale Automation and is now in operation at the county landfill location. SAS terminals will be installed over the next year at all SWA sites.
Geoware 4.1 is a truck scale automation software package that allows solid waste organizations to plan effectively using reliable data, analyze their costs, spread information across all divisions, and improve the effectiveness of their operations. It effectively combines operational and accounting software into one integrated package. Its modules exchange information with each other, automatically updating reports and data bases.
The software modules integrate all sale house transaction records in a centralized data base for reporting and billing. The central data base acts as a hub for the distribution to the various modules of new and updated information concerning vehicles, materials and waste, customers and sources. It automatically reconciles changes made in these records at both the scale house services server and the individual scale house sites. The scalehouse services module is the primary tool for managing the system and can be used to generate billing and shipping data to external accounting and management software systems to update accounts receivables and financial reports. In addition to its report writing function, the scalehouse module provides information concerning vehicle tracking at the site, transaction generation and recording, calculation of fees, ticket printing, use of tare weights, audit reporting, etc.
The scalehouse module interfaces directly with the electronic weigh scale, but it is only one of several modules that provide complete automation of a scale system. There are modules for Traffic Control, Cash Management, and Automated Vehicle ID that supplement the standard scalehouse module. It also can be modified to allow for different weighing procedures and vehicle types (roll offs, tractor trailers, multi-compartments, etc.). Further modifications can be made to transaction attributes of the data base with the rate management tool, allowing for easy changes to fee policies and to control the flow of traffic and materials into and out of the landfill. Multiple operators can use the vehicle processing system simultaneously, allowing for accuracy and flexibility in truck hauling operations.
Xactec specializes in providing precise and flexible systems that help municipalities and waste collection companies meet their profitability and efficiency objectives. Its scale software operating systems include both standard on board scale operations (XactSoft) and its system specifically designed for landfill and waste hauling operations (XactWeight). Xactsoft has a system of sensors and Radio Frequency Identification System (RFIS) for weighing and identifying containers. Its onboard computer and wireless communication system allows for data recoding and transmittal. Built-in data management and route management tools allow for optimization of truck hauling operations. XactWeight has a margin of error of only 0.5%. It is based on vibrating wire technology applied to load cell improvements. It provides up to the minute error free billing and access to truck productivity statistics for optimizing hauling operations.
Unitec Corporation is a truck scale manufacturer and systems integrator, providing both attended and unattended scale management and operating systems. These systems are built into their ScaleQ scale management platform by their partner, Interface Logic Systems (ILS). Together, Unitec and ILS provide both standard and customized product offerings that can interface to a number of third-party accounting applications for automated processing of scale data. In addition to ScaleQ, Unitec provides other management systems for process automation, gate control, automated load/unload and landfill management applications compatible with the ScaleQ database engine.
According to Matt Freisen of Unitec Unattended Truck Scale Systems, his company offers low cost truck scale automation systems. Their system is typically operated by reading a card. Once the driver’s card and vehicle have been verified, the system walks the driver through the weighing process. Instructions are given in a pre-defined sequence of information. Specific information concerning material, job and customer is inputted via keypad. Once the transaction is completed, a hard copy receipt is printed for the driver’s records. The system is rugged and weather proof. The need for card access provides integral system security. Auxiliary equipment includes traffic lights, remote display and intercom.
The software management system provided by ILS specifically for landfill operation is their ScaleSystems32. The use of Remote Data Terminals with Barcode Card Scanners or Radio Frequency Vehicle Identification enables 24 hour operation without the need to maintain round-the-clock scale house personnel. With the incorporation of automated facility access control, only authorized vehicles can enter the property and be weighed during restricted hours. A typical unattended transaction sequence begins as the truck boards the scale. The driver will approach the Remote Data Terminal where he will be prompted, by the RDT’s LCD display, to enter his identification card. The card will be scanned and the truck record will be retrieved from the database. If default data has been assigned within the truck record, such as Customer Code, Job Code, Material, etc., the driver will be prompted to proceed for loading. In the event that additional information is required, he is prompted to enter the appropriate code via the keypad. Drivers may scroll through available choices using the keypad. The inbound weight is captured and a record of the weight is posted to the yard file. If the Radio Frequency Identification is in place, the vehicle is automatically identified, with no driver interaction. If default information is assigned to a vehicle bearing an RF ID Tag, the driver need only drive on the scale, stop and proceed when instructed by the RDT display or traffic light.
After loading, the driver returns to the outbound scale and is identified as before. The inbound record is retrieved from the yard file, the outbound weight is appended to the transaction, net weight is calculated and a ticket number is assigned. The transaction is then posted to the yard file, following which a ticket is presented to the driver via the Remote Ticket Printer. If the vehicle is using a previously stored tare weight, the driver will bypass the scale upon entering the yard, and will only be weighed upon departure.
Rice Lake Weighing Systems specializes in providing automated truck scale systems for the sand and gravel, landfill, recycling, solid waste managements, mining and forestry industries. Their intuitive, menu driven programs allow for easy use of extensive databases covering an unlimited number of products, customers, weight containers, trucks, trailers and vehicles. Automatic transactions can be carried out by either bar codes, magnetic strips, or RF readers. Reports are generated to screens or hard copy printers and can be exported into tab delimited text format.
According to Laura Strapon of Rice Lake, flexibility is the key to their system’s performance. Product rates and tipping fees are configurable with three different tares, four configurable category tables, unlimited tick formats and automatic ticket processing for improved productivity and accuracy.
Their NTEP certified system itself can multi-task, managing multiple transactions per ticket, expanding its reporting features for greater depth and detail, and simultaneous operation of more than one scale. This system flexibility is made possible by its network-able interface with the Novell system and its alternate ability to manage long distance transfers in non-networking applications. Internal flexibility is provided by its full accounting capabilities that include financial analysis, managing accounts payable and receivable, aging accounts and updating them with current and extended balance sheets for 30, 60 and 90 days.
Their system hardware is embodied in their ATS-1 automated truck scale system allows for unattended outdoor truck scale terminal operation. The system features an outdoor control station protected from the elements and equipped with an system processor and programmable controller. The painted mild steel weather shroud protects the terminal from the elements. The companion ATS-2 expands the capabilities of the ATS-1 with controls for traffic lights, keypad for data entry, and an industrial bar code badge scanner.
Emery Winslow is a manufacturer of non-electric load cells. This makes them unique compared to the other industry leaders described here. Their Hytronic technology combines electronic instrumentation with rugged hydrostatic load cell weight sensors. This approach eliminates electronics from the area with the highest potential for damage. Weight signals from the sealed hydrostatic load cells are transmitted to a control system where they are totalized and converted into a single electronic.
Cardinal Scale provides the iCan system, a digitally-controlled, weighing and diagnostic truck scale environment. Every stage of the iCan system’s operation is monitored by ISP flash micro-controller-based circuitry and reported using internationally standardized CAN serial bus.
This feedback and diagnostic system greatly reduces operating costs by automatically detecting system faults. The diagnostic display serves as a scale side indicator for the scale repairman or technician to quickly and accurately determine system failures, providing a 6-digit display of load cell milli-volt output, weight, and total scale weight while a single character identifies the load cell source.
Jonathon Sabo of Cardinal describes the main advantage of their software package and associated hardware as being their ability to facilitate electronic communications from dealer or support locations to iCan scale sites. Communications flexibility is provided by network TCP/IP connections, direct serial port connections, or dial-up modem connections. Such telecommunication capabilities allow for reporting from iCan scales at any time from any place, with an automatic feature that obtains updates at regular intervals. These reports provide load cell readings over the history of the site and are compatible with Microsoft Excel and Access. Communication is via Cardinal’s WinDDE 2.0 server, which can manage up to 20 weight indicators.
Cardinal also offers a software package called WinVRS (which stands for Windows Vehicle Recording System).
This system facilitates unattended scale operations by providing data management for vehicles being weighed at landfills and transfer stations. It keeps track of vehicles, accounts, materials, and orders.
To operate the system, the truck driver pulls up and is able to interface with the scale through a weight indicator cabinet that is at window height next to the scale.
Identification is by either proximity badge or bar code. His vehicle weight is then recorded by the unattended scale indicator. This system can be customized for different operations.
Author's Bio: Daniel P. Duffy, PE, writes frequently on the topics of landfills and the environment.
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