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Getting the weight off

On-board weigh scales, which relieve drivers from having to guess the weight of their loads when they have no access to weigh stations, have been in use as stand-alone units for several years. But as...


On-board weigh scales, which relieve drivers from having to guess the weight of their loads when they have no access to weigh stations, have been in use as stand-alone units for several years. But as fleet managers and dispatchers acquire more and more taste for location, engine and other truck performance data, whether for maintenance scheduling or improving day-to-day productivity, adding real-time truck weight to the data stream makes good sense.

“The biggest emerging trend may be the integration of scale systems with on-board computers,” predicted Rick Talbot in 2003. He is the product manager in the sales and marketing department with Vulcan On-board Scales, located near Seattle, Wash.

Today, however, Talbot can talk about Vulcan’s involvement with, for example, the paper recycling, waste management, forestry and ready-mixed industries. “The main trend, from our standpoint, is the greater opportunity with on-board computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment. There is an easy opportunity for us to interface to them and get the information back to the office where weight is important,” Talbot says.

Vulcan has been working for a year and a half with the McNeilus Companies Inc. mixer division, and Trimble Mobile Solutions (TMS), headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, to add weight data to the information dispatchers receive on a real-time basis.

The objective has been to integrate two systems already on the mixers: Vulcan scales and the TMS TrimView solution platforms, which provide vehicle location, operational status; e.g., if the drum is turning, if the driver is adding water or washing out the drum, and driver messaging to the ready-mixed fleet managers and dispatchers. TrimView has two main components: The Mobile Data Unit (MDU) that resides in the vehicle and the backend data center that receives data over a wireless network.

“What McNeilus and TMS have done is augment the data provided by TrimView with weight information provided by Vulcan scales. In use, the Vulcan scale attaches to the MDU, providing it with the weight information on the load.

“It can be displayed on the drivers’ Mobile Data Terminal and at the same time can be forwarded wirelessly to the fleet operations centre. The data can also be provided to other traditional ready-mixed applications like those provided by Command-Alkon and Systech,” says Mike Kapolka, TMS senior special projects coordinator.

“Most people want to know when the drum is empty. It is all about productivity,” says Tom Harris, vice president of concrete placement with McNeilus.

A driver can peek into a drum to see if there is any concrete left, but the Vulcan scale weighs it to within one percent of the actual weight. The weight data is a flag to the dispatcher that, for example, the truck is empty and that he should call the driver and find out what is going on. “The other part,” says Harris, “is, if you bring concrete home from a job [and know how much is on-board], you can treat it and put it to sleep so you can use it later.”

Dispatchers can use weight information to reroute drivers to another building site after finishing a job. The less desirable scenario has a partially-loaded mixer coming home at the same time a fully-loaded mixer is en route to a site the first mixer could have served, had the dispatcher only had the right real-time information.

Another variation on the weight-as-knowledge theme is in the waste removal industry, according to Tony Reynolds, the fleet sales manager, NAFTA region, with Berryville, Virginia-based International Road Dynamics (IRD); IRD is a technology company that makes a broad range of Intelligent Transportation Systems in all transportation sectors.

“There is interest in on-board scales in the solid waste industry,” says Reynolds. “What we do is take the scales, integrate them into end-to-end management information solutions, with an in-vehicle component.” The customer can get the information in real time, or at the end of the day together with other information, such as truck speed, every start, stop and truck movement.

“The problem the solid waste guys are running into is that at the end of the month they are getting huge bills from the land fills [for higher tonnage than their client contracts paid them to remove]. They are moving to pay-as-you-go, or a daily reporting system that gives the companies the opportunity to correct billing overweight charges to the right account,” Reynolds says.

Two more ways to use weight information to better optimise fleets recently came to the attention of Air-Weigh Scales, based in Eugene, Ore.

“Just in the last month [February] trailer tracking suppliers have begun contacting us about integrating trailer weight information with their trailer tracking systems,” says Jim Morton, Air-Weigh’s national programs manager.

“Their customers are telling them that as part of their periodic position report they would like to know the axle and payload weights of their trailers. They explained that if they know the weight, and they know the density of the contents, they can calculate the volume and determine if they can add more cargo. They can also tell if a trailer has been loaded overweight.”

Fleets that use their trailers as storage containers at retail outlets or manufacturing plants are also interested in getting periodic weight information, Morton says. “Some trailer tracking suppliers only want to know if the trailer is full or empty. By monitoring the weight, if it goes below a certain threshold you can assume it is empty and send the driver out to pick it up. It is a new thought process we have not explored in the past.”

One major integrated forest products company, reports Allan Bowman, vice president of business development for the Mobile Computing Corporation in Mississauga, Ont., has begun using automatic transmission of weight data to replace pen and paper record keeping as its fleet of trucks in Quebec, Ontario and 14 states picks up recycled paper.

Its branch offices no longer print out the day’s run sheet for every truck, and employees no longer have to key in at the end of the day the weight of every bin drivers pick up. To get away from this, the company installed Mobile Computing on-board and GPS computers and linked them to the on-board scales, which the trucks already had.

“As the trucks do their routes, they feed back information in real time as they do their pick ups; for example, the customers they are seeing, the container number, the weight of each container, GPS, time, distance and location,” says Bowman. The data goes back to the Montreal server and the branch offices, which are linked with Citrix to the Montreal server.

Talbot sums up the trend this way: “Companies want to monitor weight. The cost of doing it is going down and the value is going up.”


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