Counting The Cash
Modern weighbridge systems form a critical part of the quarry cash-flow process. Campbell Deaz, Avery Weigh-Tronix’s general manager for weighbridge systems technology, explains why they should be a vital component of a management information system that runs to the core of a quarry operation
In a competitive business companies must be efficient to survive. The principles of ‘lean operating’ and supply chain efficiency are now being applied to the quarry industry. This is particularly the case for suppliers of commodity products.
At the heart of any drive to improve efficiency are data. If performance cannot be measured how is it possible to know if improvements are being made? The weighbridge system captures such data. How this information is managed and used can make a real difference to both bottom-line costs and revenue.
The most recent advances in weighbridge technology are in software development and its integration into an organization’s ERP or other central system. For national organizations this can involve linking over 100 weighbridges from multiple sites into both local area networks and a central head office system. Even single-site operators are now realizing the benefits of integrating their weighbridge system into the back office as a means of gaining important information about site activities.
Data can help avoid transactional errors and improve cash flow. They can also save product wastage and monitor site activities to give a more streamlined and profitable operation. If, for instance, load details and amounts are linked to an accounts system, an invoice can be raised and sent electronically as soon as a vehicle leaves the site. This removes the administrative task of checking purchase orders and raising an invoice against the load.
It also reduces the chance of an invoice query, and with the data readily at hand any disputes can be quickly resolved. Indeed, if the customer pays electronically the whole transactional process is more efficient. The net results are transactional cost savings through less paperwork and administration, plus instant invoicing and dispute resolution for better cash flow.
Overloaded lorries are a health and safety hazard on the public highway and are the operator’s responsibility. A company can be fined a considerable amount of money if one of its vehicles is found to breach the legal weight limit. Many operators have learnt this the hard way, receiving hefty fines and a damaged brand reputation.
A more visible benefit of automatic weight capture is in avoiding product give-away. Do you know how many tonnes of product your site looses per annum? Is this as a result of processing or because some of it slips off site unseen and uncharged for in hauliers’ vehicles? Although letting a vehicle through with a couple of extra tones can be tempting to save the aggravation of unloading, this will directly affect the bottom line and is also illegal if the lorry is overloaded. Imagine the affects on revenue if for every 50 tonnes a further one tonne is effectively given away.
The wealth of data made available by weighbridge systems can help find the cause of overloading, making businesses much more efficient as a result.
Everyone involved in the supply chain wants to increase vehicle throughput while collecting accurate data. It is a win-win situation; companies will make more revenue and so will their customers.
Data collected from the weighbridge can help make such improvements. By recording when a lorry was weighed in and out, cycle times on site can be analysed. This may point to plant failures or areas where improvements can be made, for example to free up loading blockages.
Increasingly the trend is towards driver-operated weighing systems that are capable of controlling the flow of all traffic through the quarry from entry to exit. Such systems help extend the quarry’s operating day and therefore generate more revenue.
Using card- or pin number-operated systems minimizes data entry to reduce or eliminate errors. Short-cut keys, stored vehicle tares and features such as instant recall of customer and haulier data all help make life easier and increase throughput. Such systems can be linked to barriers or traffic lights to manage vehicle throughput and prevent overloaded lorries from leaving the site. The control console can also issue a ticket or receipt to the driver on entry and exit.
Using such unmanned systems eliminates human error and contributes to a leaner, more efficient organization. It also improves health and safety by preventing overloaded lorries from leaving the site and also because the driver has no need to leave the cab.
Quarries by their nature are dusty, aggressive environments, so the weighbridge must be durable enough to withstand harsh treatment. Weighbridge downtime can cost a business thousands of pounds.
Making sure that the right weighbridge ingredients are available to a business is critical for success. Hardware must be reliable, software must be specified correctly to provide accurate information, and efficient service support will give the operator peace of mind.
First, the weighbridge must be up to the job in hand or the entire site operation can suffer. Would steel or concrete construction best suit a particular operation? Consider the strength of weighbridge construction needed for the application and do not be tempted to choose the cheapest option – it will cost more in the long run.
The choice of load-cell technology can also impact on reliability. The use of Avery Weigh-Tronix’s Weigh Bar technology, for example, is said to reduce the failure rate by 10 times that of conventional load-cells. Analogue load-cells are a proven technology and will offer years of reliable performance.
However, the use of digital load-cells, provides additional functionality as well as reliability. They allow weight data to be transmitted over greater distances than analogue load-cells as well as permitting continuous automatic diagnostics for preventative maintenance.
With the hardware in place, the next thing to consider is how to capture and interrogate the data within a back-office system. Connections between weighbridges and the back-office system can be made by TCP/IP portals, Ethernet connections or even by means of RF technology in situations where a physical link is impractical.
Standardized software packages, such as BridgeMont Plus and Weighman Xtra, offer cost-effective solutions that can be configured to meet most businesses’ needs. They deliver reports and break down information in various formats. This may include a list of top customers and the materials they need, what stock is required and which products are fast moving.
However, having the correct weighbridge specification and software package that can integrate into an ERP or MRP system is only part of the answer. To continue to drive forward business improvement, the correct service agreements need to be in place to keep everything running smoothly. Preventative maintenance is always better than downtime, but operators also need an organization that can respond rapidly if equipment does fail.
It is worth remembering that the weighbridge is where data are collected for invoicing. It is an important and busy part of a business, so it is vital to make sure that the information is correct and complies with Weights & Measures requirements in a trading operation. Regular calibration to make sure that the weighbridge is operating accurately is an integral part of this compliance.
In today’s market, standardized service agreements with equipment suppliers should cover all needs. Avery Weigh-Tronix’s package, for instance, includes two preventative maintenance visits and one calibration per year.
Clearly, every site and organization has its own procedures and needs. There is no such thing as ‘a one size fits all’ solution. What is common to every site, however, is that effective data collection and management can make a huge difference to both costs and revenue generation.
Businesses today are operating in an electronic age. First, get the specification right and the service support in place. Having done so, make the most of the information that can be obtained from the weighbridge and make it work for your business.