Weighbridge woes

Weighbridge woes

Weighbridges – a truck driver’s worst nightmare as they waste crucial driving and resting time? But they’re needed to address overloading and measure goods being delivered … FOCUS investigates this necessary evil and discovers that it is fraught with woes.

According to Jonathan Palmer, chairman of Sasco Africa – an active player in all aspects of industrial weighing – there are various costs involved in operating, or having to use, a weighbridge … “The real costs of a weighbridge arise principally in two areas; with the first being the inaccuracy, or relative inaccuracy,” says Palmer.

He adds: “You can find errors on old mechanical bridges of up to 200 kg on a 60 tonne bridge, which may not sound like much … But, if these errors occur over two years, it amounts to a lot of money.”

Various factors influence the accuracy of weighbridges, like altitude and the wind, but Palmer points out that temperature plays a huge role, ranking only second to mechanical failure. “But it is a subsector that people don’t really focus on,” he says.

This is important because, for example, if the weighbridge was calibrated at 20°C and it is weighing at 40°C, as Palmer explains, you are going to get a very different reading. “If you look at the age profile of the South African weighbridges, the steel element is, on average, 20 years old – with many of the bridges being mechanical, or having components that are bolted onto a mechanical substructure.”

He continues: “Mechanical weighbridges can’t compensate for temperature, as the bars and rods all expand and contract quite significantly … And a lot of the new electronic instruments on the market don’t have temperature compensation features,” says Palmer. “But with top-end products like Bilanciai (Sasco’s technology partner), the instrumentation compensates right through the temperature curve from -10°C to 40°C.”

Palmer points out that the other big problem in weighbridge operation is downtime – which occurs when a weighbridge is, for example, struck by lightning, damaged and in need of recalibration. “With most of the products in the South African market you can only do the recalibration with a test truck carrying 60 tonnes of weight.”

He continues: “So the clients have to sit there and wait until the weighing company can find out where its trucks are and get one there – which can take weeks.” Palmer adds that this is where Bilanciai can help to curb downtime. “The components all store their calibrations internally – both in the indicators and in the load cells. This allows us to do a reverse calibration if we have to change the components,” he says proudly. “This means that the actual time required to reinstate the calibration (that existed before the event that caused the damage) is 45 minutes.”

So the amount of downtime depends largely on the equipment being used, which presents its own set of problems. “The biggest problem for the industry as a whole has been the random importation of some very low-quality products from Turkey and Asia,” Palmer tells FOCUS. “And a lot of these products are being sold to unsuspecting customers who definitely aren’t getting what they thought they were buying …”

However, the problems with these substandard instruments don’t lie in their inaccuracy – as you would imagine – “they are significantly less accurate, but are generally accurate enough to be verified”. Palmer explains: “The problem is that there is structural fatigue, intolerance to lightning strikes and a very low tolerance to moisture ingression.” He adds: “The axle loading on these decks is appalling. They basically just buckle and bend.”

Nevertheless, these sub-standard products drive the overall pricing of weighbridges down, which led to Sasco offering a range of instrumentation with various price points, including its own generic load cells and indicators.

But, back to the problems; there is one that stands out above all the others … Fraud, as Greg Vercellotti, executive director of Dariel Solutions – a software development and audit company – explains: “About three-and-a-half-years ago we were working with a company that asked us to do an audit on its weighbridge software,” relates Vercellotti, “because they thought that there were some problems and suspected that there could be some fraud involved … As a result of that process we uncovered huge inefficiencies and massive fraud in their environment.”

The company undertook some additional research with other clients and discovered fraudulent activities including one case where big tanks were attached underneath the company’s trucks and filled with up to two tonnes of water, which was then offloaded when making a delivery. The fraudsters then kept some of the goods.

“Another example,” says Vercellotti, “was that the weighbridge operator had been taught how to ‘jimmy’ the computer system to make the weights appear heavier than they were, resulting in the supplier being paid more than was actually due.”

Another challenge identified was that weighbridges aren’t cost effective as they are too reliant on manual operation. “And finally, there is very little integration between the weighbridge software and other business systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and security systems such as closed circuit television (CCTV), radio frequency identification tagging, robots, spikes, booms and lighting,” Vercellotti points out.

Based on all this information, the company built its weighbridge solution, dubbed WBx. This independent software application can connect to any weighbridge. “We’ve connected to all the major companies and some of the smaller players in South Africa,” Vercellotti points out.

“The software also connects to all the other business systems, so when an order is placed into your accounting system, for example, that information flows to your weighbridge. Then you know that on a specific day, against order x, y and z you received products a, b and c,” he adds.

WBx links with a company’s security infrastructure, monitoring the load via CCTV and other systems when it arrives at a weighbridge. “This weighbridge software will also allow you to get information from your supplier or to send information to your customer about the deliveries, which makes data capture and the sharing of data between organisations seamless,” Vercellotti tells FOCUS.

The software system can also function both online and offline, which means trucks can be accepted against your ERP system even if the network goes down. Vercellotti adds: “Our philosophy is that the truck must never be hindered from coming into, or leaving, the organisation – which is paramount to business.”

The manual intensity of the South African weighbridge industry is also addressed through this software. “We’re working on a fully automated user interface in which you will be able to see where the truck is in the process and what the weights are,” says Vercellotti. “The system also opens all the booms automatically and manages the robots.”

Palmer concurs with the points made by Vercellotti saying that a significant part of Sasco’s business was now focused through its software division, Weighing Information Systems, on the provision of cost effective weighbridge automation systems – integrating a host of peripheral devices such as RFID readers and number recognition cameras, on a stand alone or fully integrated SAP basis, to provide for faster fraud free weighing.

So even though the weighbridge industry is still fraught with woes from the past, there are exciting developments afoot to make this industry deliver more accurate, more reliable, faster fraud free weighing, all of which will benefit the users, operators and owners of weighbridges.

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