Weighbridges: automate to get clever

Automated weighbridge systems will reduce errors, ensure process efficiency and guard against fraud. With landfill tax increasing, data is vital, so it’s worth considering this option, argues Noel Moran

News that landfill tax has now increased to £56 per tonne and is set to increase by £8 per year until 2014 means that there is new impetus to increase recycling rates and efficiency.

For continuous improvement you need accurate data, both for reporting to the Environment Agency and to ensure ongoing process efficiency.

Managing cost is even more important in the current economic climate, so any investment in capital infrastructure has to demonstrate clear returns.

The weighbridge, and other forms of trade-approved weighing, is at the heart of data collections for many waste and recycling sites. Not only does it trace what comes in and what goes out, but you can use it to track how long vehicles spend on site, how long they spend on the weighbridge and whether this causes queuing problems.

An investment in making the weighbridge ‘pay its way’ will ultimately lead to a far more efficient and productive system. In fact, the case for having an automated or unmanned weighbridges system is probably stronger in the recession than when times are good.

To start with, they do not need an operator. Not only that, but they ensure that data entry is automated and accurate. Automated or unmanned systems also speed up vehicle turnaround, help prevent fraud or theft and prevent overloaded vehicles from leaving the site.

Potentially an unmanned option is suitable for any weighbridge application and can be easily retrofitted. They can be used as part of a loading and unloading operation, but perhaps the most obvious area is for weighing inbound and outbound vehicles.

The greatest benefits are seen when repetitive runs are being made by vehicles delivering or collecting materials. The initial investment is soon paid back by savings on personnel and amenities such as weigh huts, heating and lighting. On top of this, there’s the speed and accuracy of the data that is automatically captured by the system and the potential to extend opening hours, possibly even to a 24/7 operation.

At the heart of an unmanned weighbridge system is a driver operated docking station. Mounted at cab height, the driver can either input their data using prompts and a drop down menu, or better still by using a swipe card or RF tagging.

For regular visitors to the site, a swipe card or RF tag is preferred, since all the driver and vehicle information can be entered automatically to avoid error. This might include the vehicle registration number, its tare weight and operator name and address. Such an approach saves time; a keyboard with an intercom is still available for additional information.

In practice, this docking station is often part of an unmanned system. Modern solutions also have automatic number plate recognition, CCTV, entry and exit barriers and traffic lights.

Using appropriate software, the weighbridge can be part of a wider management system and enhance security and traffic management issues. As well as collecting data about the vehicle and driver, its tare and loaded weight, details of the load and the date and time, it’s also possible to access photographic records of the vehicle, the driver and the load taken by CCTV cameras, all of which act as an extra safeguard.

Using this footage, the system can check the vehicle and driver against previously recorded images and, if there is an inconsistency, refuse entry. You can also collect photographic proof of the load carried in or out of the site. This can be used to help check the load and as a deterrent against theft.

Unmanned systems can also help traffic management on site. Weighbridges can act as bottlenecks, particularly during busy times. Using automated data collection helps speed up the process, but is only part of the answer.

Ideally, there would be two weighbridges on a site, one for incoming vehicles and another for outgoing, but in the real world this is not always possible.

Traffic lights can control vehicles coming onto a weighbridge from both directions and also control queuing vehicles in a separate holding area. If there is just one weighbridge, then the system can even be programmed to allow bias in traffic flow at different times of the day.

An unmanned system can help enforce health and safety because there is no need for drivers to leave their vehicles.

It also stops vehicles being overloaded. If the load capacity of a vehicle is known, then it can be prevented from leaving the site should it exceed that weight on the weighbridge – there is no pleading or bargaining with a weighbridge operator. At the very least the console can make drivers aware of the situation so that they acknowledge they are overweight and will need to take appropriate action.

The weighbridge is at the heart of your operation. To unlock its full potential, making the site more efficient and help save cost in the future by providing reliable and accurate data, it’s worth considering an investment in an unmanned system.

Noel Moran is key account manager for Avery Weigh-Tronix

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