No Margin for Error

The critical need for accuracy in weighing solid waste

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As in precious stones, rare metals, and medicines, everything is about accuracy in measurement. While less exotic, the accuracy of weighing of solid waste is no less critical than that of platinum. Yet, while jewelers and pharmacists have historically made precision the byword of their trade, weighing trash has not always been the exact science it is today.

With the arrival of each trash vehicle at a landfill, the process has gone from “dumping and driving away” to a sophisticated calculation of contents, separating and diverting all potentially reusable materials for sale and reuse to processors. Today’s landfill is a municipality’s guaranteed cash register for an efficient and continuous revenue stream and Jackie Barlow, Chief Operating Officer of Baltimore-based Paradigm Software, says they support municipal customers to that end, across six time zones of North America.

“We’ve been around 27 years and our niche is landfills, transfer stations, WTE, and similar facilities with the municipality market. About 85% of our base is in state or county facilities that are operating weighing related functions using our software,” says Barlow.

He explains that the software is a data management program that tracks every vehicle that comes across the scale and “enters what it is hauling, where it has been, what it weighs, and then calculates how much to charge that operator.”

“We can generate an on-the-spot invoice if they want one, or, the invoice can be set up to be sent at certain times like the end of the month for example, for frequent corporate customers.

“One of the benefits is when we design the program for the customer, they can put in specifics like an accounting record and other details. Many municipalities require that landfills prove where materials come from, what are their diversion rates, and they have to prove they are diverting, so, this system will support that.

“So, the landfill can keep track of the material, how much, and where it goes,” explains Barlow.

Barlow reports that customers say they can process their transactions faster.

“One said that it was previously taking them one minute per transaction in an old application, but we got it down to 15 seconds. So you can imagine a busy transfer station with trucks lined up; an increase of just 45 seconds per transaction adds up over the course of a day. This can really end up as a timesaver that is also exceptionally accurate.”

Data accuracy is crucial and Barlow says when they go to install a new system he can see that their old one may not have been correctly calculating a number of line items.

“They may have been undercharging customers and they may not have been applying taxes or special fees properly. You can’t afford to lose money in this business.”

Describing the transaction, Barlow says when trucks arrive at the station, “We take the gross weight minus the tare. The gross weight is what you weigh when you go in, you dispose of the material, and then the tare weight is your empty weight afterward. Then, the net weight is the difference that is charged.

“When you bring commercial solid waste, this may be categorized differently than municipal solid waste. A commercial business waste or waste from residential, like yard waste, is handled differently, and our system handles these as well.

“If someone brings in yard waste, then the station can charge for that disposal, but it can also turn that waste around and sell it to processors who will collect and turn yard waste such as trees and branches into mulch. Our system can handle both the incoming and the point of sale transaction.”

However, he stresses that the software is a much wider net of the service application that can streamline and maximize landfill and waste collection efficiency.

“We’ve integrated our service with third-party payment cards and have Europay, Mastercard, Visa, also known as EMV. Unlike the old swipe card days, when the merchant was liable for a disputed charge, with EMV chips the onus of proof of discrepancy is on the card issuer.

“Large haulers who come in multiple times a day have an account for their transactions, and we have the ability to process transactions using tokenization to assist our customers to get paid in a few days and the system offers an online option for participants to pay their invoices via an online portal.” This is a lot faster than that the old “send an invoice, wait for the check” system.

Other services include having radio-frequency identification tags on vehicles “like the highway EZ-Pass,” so that the transaction begins with the ID of that tag.

Barlow says that typically, batch reports are handled at the end of the day by scale operators “who would run end-of-day reports.

“We have the ability to batch and schedule these reports within the application and those employees can do other end-of-day tasks. The system does it for you and we can set it up so it can be printed or emailed to whoever needs it—supervisors, customers, whomever—the system can be configured to automatically process this information. We see automation not as a means to eliminate get rid of employees, but to assist them—optimize their time and efficiency.”

Scaling Up Florida’s Most Populated County
On the Gulf side of Florida, west of the Tampa Bay, Pinellas County is home for about 900,000 residents and another 2 million (or more) who routinely escape the northern winter cold from November to April. The sugar white sand beaches, abundant seafood, sunny weather, and warm temperatures attract visitors from all over the globe. They bring dollars to spend but as spokesperson Deb Bush of the County’s solid waste division says, “They also generate seasonal trash, adding to our loads.”

Bush says that since its inception in 1983, the County has made increasingly updated additions with the installation of Paradigm software. She recalls that in the early 2000s, the facility had three goals to address to improve their ever-growing trash management demands.

“We wanted to upgrade the scale software, simplify the internal routing of waste to the six disposal/processing locations across our area, and we wanted to establish at least one RFI card scale lane which would be dedicated for municipal waste trucks.”

Outlining their goals, they extended a very detailed RFP with numerous specifications required of proposed vendors. The nine points reflected “key customer desired features and included real-time remote account access, a bar code system for automatic entry onto properties, a paperless system that could accept credit cards, and high-speed transaction time.

“We were having a lot of delays with trucks queuing up as far back as 1000 feet on the scale road to our entry. This created a lot of aggravated customers and it was an endlessly stressful situation to process everyone.”

The other scale upgrade requirements were the capability to video each transaction via three specific cameras—an overhead, a license plate, and an operator/driver one. Automatic customer invoicing and the ability to have at least one fully automatic, unattended scale were the other demands.

Bush goes on to explain that the reporting system is now vastly simplified, “going from 32 reports to 4” and has eliminated redundancies.

Routing in Efficiency
Finally, Barlow explains that they have a computerized routing component that integrates the information from haulers.

“We can tie in the pickups from routes and this gives a complete picture of the number of stops, the route, and time it takes. For example, the municipality can see the route of Joe’s road that weighs X amount on average, and they can make sure they are charging customers appropriately.

“Then the fleet operator can compare how Joe’s vehicle, that leaves at 8 a.m. and returns at 6 p.m., is very different than another route where they are done by 2 p.m.

“You can look at the data of these two routes, the transaction of the haul, and then use that data to balance the routes. This way they are not keeping one vehicle on the road for a longer period of time when another one can take on a modified route and optimize the process.”

The process and the software have to be reliable, Barlow affirms, and “this system just can’t go down.”

“We’ve been around for nearly three decades so we are adding customers every day and we are here to assist them on our 24-hour support line. It’s extremely important to have someone available to assist with the use of the application; that service is essential to our customer base.”

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From Sausages to Solid Waste
More than a century ago, the innovation that would make butchers a little more honest evolved to calculate solid waste with electronic efficiency. Henry Theobald, who started the company that devised a pendulum scale that used gravity rather than spring tension to calculate weights, was behind this initiative. Founding the Toledo Scale Company in 1901, his slogan “No Springs, Honest Weight” launched the name that is known today around the world.

With two World Wars and the availability of new materials, the company continued to refine its technologies and expand into numerous market areas far beyond the butcher’s counter. By the early 1970s, Toledo was the first scale to use the Intel microprocessor in its retail sales. With a number of mergers, the company became a global name, and Segment Marketing Manager Steve Graham says the company “was officially changed to Mettler Toledo International Inc. in 1989.”

“I manage our Vehicle Weighing Segment, bulk truck and rail scale weighing. We give our customers a solution when they are buying or selling waste within a transfer station or landfill application. We also sell to State DOTs whose focus is on the enforcement of road weight and we also sell road axle weight scales. Basically, if you need to weigh it, Mettler Toledo can do it—from a microgram level in the science laboratory all the way up to railway cars carrying coal or scrap.”

The latest technology he describes is POWERCELL, a load cell technology; “our PDX model has been out for about 8–10 years and it eliminates the need for a junction box—all the processing is performed digitally.”

“Since all metals react to temperature and humidity, a truck scale sitting out in the sun is going to be expanded, since as the metal warms it expands.”

Graham says they adjust the bumper systems so there is enough slack in summer as they heat up to accommodate those changes. Within our POWERCELL load cells, the temperature, humidity, and other compensating factors are fed into an algorithm to deliver an accurate weight. Plus, the load cell scales are designed to withstand the surge from a lightning strike, “and you would be surprised at how many times lightning strikes at a landfill.”

“But if it does, and the system is not protected, this can knock out the load cells and this may cause a $20,000 damage to your system. In Texas, Florida, and the Gulf states, lightning is a big concern. In fact, our testing process is the same as the airlines. In other words, planes have to be protected with a grounding system against a lightning strike, and our technology is protected under the same rigorous standards.”

Graham reports that their goal is to make sure trucks can get processed as fast as possible, with data captured that accurately reports weights and creates accounting and invoicing information. The latest technology Graham describes is their software DataBridge that hooks up to scales and allows different customers to be set up, materials tracked, and can operate without a scale house attendant using an unattended terminal.

“We work with customers to create a system that best suits their needs and this may include multiple functions like tracking billings, sending emails to accounting. Since weights from the load cells can be fed directly into a computer through a communication module, there’s no need for a desktop terminal. There is a scoreboard out by the scale, and the information entered is pushed to DataBridge so operators and attendants can both see their information going in and going out and have it sent to other locations.”

“This demonstration is really eye-opening to customers for illustrating the differences and quality of our product. And in the end, this improves your bottom line.”

Service Guides Innovations
Originally founded as a scale servicing company, B-TEK Scales’ roots can be traced back to 1929. Brechbuhler Scales was, and continues to be, one of the largest scale service companies in the world, and they would help lay the foundation for building their own scales and the formalization of a scale manufacturing company, B-TEK, in 1995.

Today, the Canton, OH-based company is an industry leader providing a single source for all weighing needs with a distribution network of over 100 independently owned companies with a global presence.

B-TEK national sales manager Brett Kaufman says, “To this day, our legacy of service plays an important role in what we do as a company. Our designs are influenced by the service people in the company who bring an understanding of how particular industries use our equipment and what they demand for longevity and sustained performance.

“While we have a multitude of products spread out through various different industries, municipal solid waste is a very large market for us. We introduced a digital load cell into the market in the early 2000s and that technology is still state-of-the-art when compared to what exists in our industry today.”

Kaufman says, “Initially, our CPD digital load cell caught a lot of attention because of its five-year warranty which included not only parts but also labor and travel. We also guaranteed against lightning as part of the warranty; this was and continues to be a very rare warranty feature in our industry. Now, we have taken it a step further by offering the same warranty but extending it to an optional 10-year period.”

He explains that the main fit with their CPD digital load cells in the waste industry is the protection from water and contaminants—properties inherent in the constant presence of trash that can cause corrosion and breakdown.

“Our stainless steel load cell and stainless steel sheathed cabling are IP68/IP69K with a hermetic seal, simply meaning they can withstand submersion and any elements that a landfill or tipping floor can throw its way.”

The CPD digital load cell technology also has the ability to share information and diagnostics about the scale to ensure minimal downtime for operation. The diagnostics for the scale are viewable inside the scale house or on a smartphone or tablet. Because the calibration data is stored in the load cell and the scale indicator, “If you find a problem with any of the electronics, it can usually be remedied immediately without holding up a line of trucks that are waiting for your scale to get back into service,” says Kaufman.

B-TEK also offers many different peripherals that can either allow your scale to be completely unattended and/or provide a data trail that communicates directly with your internal accounting system.

The touchscreen B-TEK DD Series provides users with the ability to use RFID, bar code scanners, or a numerical keypad to identify the drivers that are coming onsite. After that, many prompts can be customized in the field which allows transactions to be as detailed or simple as possible.

“Many users prefer the email functionality which sends a list of all transaction details at the end of each day,” says Kaufman.

B-TEK also enjoys a strong partnership with the largest truck scale manufacturer in the world, Bilanciai, who is based outside of Modena, Italy, and he says their Canton, OH, location boasts many exotic, European car companies as their neighbor.

“It’s safe to say that not only does the waste industry benefit from the precision and reliability of the digital load cell, but high-end car manufacturers also put the B-TEK equipment to use for not only raw material weights but also the sensitive balance in each wheel and axle combination,” says Kaufman.

B-TEK prides itself on customer service and upholding the values that have led the company into decades of strong growth, reports Kaufman. “Our precision [and] flexible manufacturing, along with our extensive product line, have proven to be a great fit in the weighing industry and has attracted many more people to the brand since 1995.

“Whether you are looking for software to make your weighing operation more efficient or you are in need of any type of scale, B-TEK can meet all of your weighing needs,” he affirms.

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