According to Jon Leeds, vice president of Carolina Software Inc., some of the most common questions that new customers have relate to the connection between scales and computer software. They want to know: “Will the connection work? Is their indicator capable of producing the correct output? How much will this connection cost?” …And so on.
“The interaction between scales is actually quite simple,” says Leeds. While other interfaces are available, most software providers still rely on a simple serial (COM port) connection from the scale indicator to the computer. In most cases, scale indicators are already equipped—and many times already set up—to provide serial data out of a port.
And, in situations where the scale company needs to provide a cable and change some settings, this is typically a very simple job, according to Leeds—no more than a few minutes of work. “In addition, scale information can be captured on one or more computers, depending on the setup,” he says.
The data that comes from the scale indicator includes the weight as well as possibly some other information, such as a motion character. “The motion character tells the software that the scale weight is still fluctuating, and, assuming your software provider is looking for this information, the capture of weight can be delayed until it has stabilized,” says Leeds. This is important for ensuring that vehicles are completely on the scale and that an accurate weight is captured.
Software providers must also follow a set of guidelines to comply with weights and measures regulations. Most of the major providers have national weights and measures certification through the National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP) of the National Conference on Weights on Measures. This means that their software, specifically the part related to the capture and storage of weight information, has been analyzed and certified to meet the regulatory guidelines.
What is, or should be, done with the weight data? For point-of-sale applications (in-ground scales), according to Leeds, scale data is really the foundation for creating reportable and billable transactions. While some waste and recycling facilities only utilize volume or per load information for transactions, weight (tons) is the primary source for load calculations. “Accurate weight means accurate reports and accurate billing,” he says.
In fact, weight data is the most valuable information that a landfill, transfer station, or recycling facility has. It is used to calculate pricing, of course. It is also used to report to local and state agencies.
“All budgeting and planning decisions come down to the amount of material coming into, or going out of, a facility,” says Leeds.
Who should be the recipients of the weight data? When weight data is captured at the point-of-sale or scale house—that is really just the beginning of the process, according to Leeds. That information goes to supervisors and managers, finance directors, customers, commissioners, mayors, regulatory agencies, and beyond.
The next step is to make sure that the data gets to “where the money is,” says Leeds. “If you have an integrated software package, like WasteWORKS, the data really ‘gets to where the money is’ at the point of sale.”
Weight data is either used for cash transactions (at the time of the transaction), or is immediately available for processing bills. With an integrated receivables module, weight tickets become billable line items when they are generated. Most clients bill monthly, according to Leeds.
Of course, some might argue that the money is actually located in the hands of the local county commission or city council. In those cases, the weight data can be delivered in the form of rich reports and graphs, and can either be delivered electronically, or in printed format.
“With WasteWORKS, customers can choose to have weight and financial information automatically delivered in PDF format to local staff, customers, and even county commissioners,” says Leeds.
WasteWORKS is designed to provide a comprehensive approach to waste management information. The technology is customizable to every site, scalable for growth, completely secure, and offers integrated billing options and flexible reporting tools, in addition to custom interfaces, material reports, and customer analysis tools.
One satisfied customer is North Pointe Solid Waste Special Service District (NPSWSSD) in Lindon, UT, created in 1974 to provide solid waste services for communities in Utah County. NPSWSSD’s two facilities—a transfer station and a construction/demolition landfill—provide environmentally safe places for residents and businesses to dispose of trash, green waste, construction debris, clean concrete, cardboard, and other recyclable material.
NPSWSSD began using Carolina Software’s WasteWORKS in 1994. “We needed a program that was user-friendly for our scale attendants,” says Abby Rowett, an administrative assistant with the facility. “However, it also had to be powerful enough to capture the information needed and present the information for required reports.”
In order to integrate WasteWORKS with its solid waste vehicle scales, NPSWSSD utilizes two operations—a transfer station and a landfill, in two different locations. It utilizes three scales (two inbound and one outbound), operated by scale attendants.
“We also have an inbound scale operated by WasteWizard,” she says. “WasteWORKS has the capacity to store all pertinent customer and vehicle information to make transactions quick and easy.”
Rowett identified a number of keys to success to getting the most out of the scales software integration. These include versatility, accuracy, being user-friendly, being reliable, and being powerful and fast. Knowledgeable support is also necessary, as well as support to create.
“Creative support has helped to make tasks faster, easier, and more efficient,” she says. “Having qualified, well-trained employees who know the WasteWORKS program is also important.”
Rowett reports that WasteWORKS is very user-friendly, which enables users to learn quickly. “The data needs to be available immediately to office staff,” she says.
The captured data is used for billing, material reports, customer peak times, and future planning. “We generate monthly and annual reports with the data,” says Rowett. “As a municipality, we can provide individual reports to other municipalities with ease. With the data, we are able to adjust to trends as they arise.”
NPSWSSD has realized a number of benefits, including quickly generated information, ease of operation, and reliability. “At our transfer station location, it is not uncommon for us to generate over 700 transactions in nine hours on a Saturday,” says Rowett. “Most of these transactions are with a scale attendant entering data for each customer. We must have a fast, reliable, easy-to-use software to accomplish this.”
LoadMan offers LoadMan On-Board Scales, which use rugged loadcell sensors that can be installed on almost any sized commercial vehicle, and LoadMan Load Management Software. According to Alan Housley, vice president of marketing for LoadMan OnBoard Truck Scales, onboard scales must have a seamless connection between the scale output, to the in-cab computer, and the back office software.
“When LoadMan scales are speaking with LoadMan Load Management software, we use a direct in-cab connection and transmit the load data records by wireless technology, such as GSM wireless data or Bluetooth,” he says. “The advantage of GSM is that the backoff software can track routes in real-time.” Bluetooth wireless connects to the back office computer when arriving at the truck yard and uploads all accumulated records collected during the day’s route(s).
According to Housley, when LoadMan scales are integrated with other leading refuse fleet management packages, the best in-cab connection is Bluetooth. “This can be as simple as an RS232 direct connect,” he says.
“When LoadMan scales are integrated with a third party, we provide the load weight, time stamp, and truck net weight,” says Housley. It is just like printing to an in-cab printer, except the data is read directly into the third party in-cab customer record and database. Once the load data has been recorded in the truck’s OBC, the fleet/route communications with the back office are very similar to the process mentioned above—GSM cellular or Bluetooth wireless.
In terms of what Loadman offers in specific that helps facilitate the interaction between scales and software is, as mentioned above, the most prevalent connection between scales and back office Load Management Software is GSM. “Fleet coordinators need the ‘near’-real-time information to actively manage changing routes, maximizing productivity, and customer satisfaction,” says Housley.
There is a cost, however. GSM data services require a monthly fee, but the good news, according to Housley, is that M2M (machine-to-machine) data service prices have dropped dramatically over the past few years.
In the past, the weight data would fall in the domain of the fleet and operations managers, who would audit customer contracts against actual use. These same managers also used the data to assure full productivity of their trucks (no overloads or underloads, since both have heavy hidden costs).
These days, more and more weight data is demanded by municipalities, universities, corporations, and military, as all are committed to aggressive sustainability goals (greenhouse gas footprints, Zero Waste, etc.). “They are demanding this data in simple, but thorough, reporting on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis,” says Housley. “More and more truck scale sales are driven by the hauler’s customers. LoadMan has focused on these key vertical markets to make certain that our customer’s customer is fully satisfied with getting automated reports from ‘cart to report.'”
In terms of what should be done with the weight data, the data are really just one piece of a very rich data record, according to Housley, including pickup time, customer name, site and site name, load ID, load name, service type, quantity, route, product, truck and truck name, load latitude, and load longitude. “When you combine all of this information with multiple trucks and routes, by the end of one month, you have a mountain of data records,” he says.
For example, with a fleet of five trucks, and 500 customers per route, with each truck running five routes per week, the result is 12,500 load data records per week, which works out to 650,000 load data records per year, 15,600,000 bytes of load data records per year, and more than 2,000 dump trips per year to landfills or MRFs. “For most, the number one measurement is waste diversion,” says Housley. That is waste diverted from a landfill.
Second is waste volume to load weight density. “It happens every day,” he says. “For example, a restaurant will dump organic waste into the refuse container. The density of food waste to garbage is quite different, and haulers need to know if their customers are behaving correctly, and within their contracted pickup fees.”
Finally, according to Housley, in order to understand all of this data and gain access to these most common reports, you need a deep data mining tool that automates the reporting process. Some companies still hire Excel data analyzers, but Housley says these are quickly getting replaced with sophisticated data mining tools to provide instantaneous and automated reporting.
How the weight data gets to “where the money is” (remember, the real goal, according to Housley) is “automated data reporting from cart to report,” he says. This means that all portions of the weight access, communication, and reporting must be automated. “There can be no excuse of human error when the entire process can be automated with scales, in-cab computers, back office route/fleet software, and deep data mining automated reports,” he continues. “Data can be sliced in so many ways that every stakeholder can receive reports as ways to increase productivity, cut costs, and facilitate the move to a more sustainable climate.”
According to Barry McDonald, Software Development Manager-Vehicle Systems for Mettler Toledo, getting weight data is just the starting point. “What you do with it is what really matters,” he says.
Waste operations rely on weight data for a range of purposes, from billing to strategic planning. To make the most use of weight data from vehicle weighing, an automated system should be in place that captures not just weight, but complete data for each transaction, including information about the material, pricing, customer, vehicle, destination, and such.
“It’s also important for a software program to be able to share data,” says McDonald. “The last thing you want scale operators spending their day on is manual data entry. This just wastes valuable time and leads to errors.”
Mettler Toledo’s DataBridge scale management software provides professional transaction management, and was built to do more than just control vehicle scales. First, it can capture complete data for each weighing transaction.
“Decades of experience working with the waste industry have taught us that each facility is likely to have its own special requirements,” says McDonald. “As a result, we developed a package that includes standard waste industry requirements and is easy to customize to meet a facility’s specific needs.”
Second, it is designed to be as simple and automated as possible. “Conceivably, a driver could pull up to an unattended weighing terminal, automatically be identified through RFID, and have all of the data that is needed for a transaction automatically entered,” he says.
Third, it is easy to integrate the software with existing business systems, including a variety of ways to share data.
Individual waste facilities are often parts of very large operations. “While the scale operator uses weight data to print a receipt at the scale, it is just as likely that the same data is being sent hundreds of miles to a central office,” says McDonald. “Our DataBridge scale-management software is designed to manage this shared data. It allows complete business system integration so that all data can be shared in real-time with every department in the company that needs it.”
Billing is one of the most common uses of weight data, and, according to McDonald, DataBridge software can function as a weighing operation’s “cash register.” It accepts cash payments, processes credit cards, and generates invoices.
These features can simplify a weighing operation by eliminating the need for separate payment and billing software packages. “DataBridge software also helps a company with the big picture,” he says. “It doesn’t just store data. It assists with strategic planning, with the ability to analyze data and generate reports.”
And, according to McDonald, the weight data should get to “where the money is” very accurately. “Since vehicle scales generate money, they are tempting targets for fraud,” he says. “Scale operators who process hundreds of trucks each day are usually too busy to spot cheaters.”
DataBridge software has built-in fraud prevention features that can help to stop cheaters. “By plotting a weight curve for each transaction, it identifies drivers who use electronic devices to manipulate weight readings,” he says. “A camera control system automatically captures images at a vehicle scale to catch drivers who try to scam you by positioning their trucks improperly.”
The software also stores fraud prevention data as part of each transaction record, and each transaction record is validated with the help of digital algorithms. “Therefore, any violation to business-critical information, such as weights, yields an invalid data signature which makes the business owner aware of the potential fraud,”
Paradigm Software is another software provider that supplies effective linkage to scales with its CompuWeigh and WeighStation applications. The company offers off-the-shelf applications in its weighing and routing software.
“Paradigm continues to have great success integrating our customer’s scale indicators with our software through either RS-232 Serial, USB, or TCP/IP,” says Jackie Barlow II, vice president. “By communicating with the scales over TCP/IP, Paradigm continues to assist our customers in operational improvements that allow for additional scales to be installed without the need to hire additional personnel.
“We have customers that operate five scales at one location, with as few as two scale operators,” she adds. These operators can process transactions on any scale based from their own computer and can interact with the customer through an intercom system.