A Weighty Issue
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Thanks to innovations in weigh-scale technology, packers and processors can trust that their weighing equipment provides accurate measurements.
To ensure accurate portioning, a good weigh scale is vital to a processing line. If a scale is off in its measurements, it could result in a giveaway of thousands of pounds of product a year, as well as the resulting loss of sales. However, scale manufacturers are designing new products that are accurate and can be easily incorporated into a company’s production floor.
“Weigh scales are used in every department of the processing plant, where processors want to know the incoming and outgoing weights of raw materials, inventory, and outgoing products,” says Russ Williams, marketing manager for Gainco Inc., Gainesville, GA. He adds that scales are needed for both dynamic and static applications. “Dynamic scales include overhead conveyor sizing systems and belt weighers (classifiers). Static weigh scales include bench (platform) and floor scales, hoppers, and baggers.”
Tim Peterson, product manager for Avery Weigh-Tronix, Fairmont, MN, says that scales can assist with tracking product from the farm to the supermarket. Tracking software can not only recall “bad” product but also track the animal through the entire processing plant, ensuring the entire animal is being optimized. “Scales are obtrusive to this process,” Peterson explains. “Therefore, in-motion scales are ideal, as they can capture the weights while the product is being moved from one process to the next.The more you can make the scale an integral part of the process — rather than a separate step — the less obtrusive it is to their process.”
“The most recent trend is using in-motion scales to identify weights of individual pieces for building ‘exact weight’ or ‘net weight’ packages that do not, per se, receive a weigh-price label,” adds Tom Callan, regional sales manager for Bizerba USA, Piscataway, NJ. “Another emerging trend is the use of RFID in pallet and case weights. This trend will most likely be extended to the individual package level in the future.”
Carrying their weight
Given their many uses, it’s no surprise that scales can be subject to a lot of abuse, Peterson says. “Scales that can stand up to abusive operators are vital to their operation. A scale that is down can mean an entire line is down,” he explains.
“The processor also needs to capture information throughout the process, so printing and communicating with peripherals like PCs and bar-code guns are important,” he adds. “Also, sanitation is vital to their processes, so scales that can stand up to washdown with harsh chemicals, and scales that have fewer foodtraps are important.”
Callan says that flexibility, reliability, functionality, and price are also factors that processors look for in their weigh scales. “Pay-back on investment is also a constant driver for all packers. A penny saved on the process per package or item results in thousands of dollars in the long run.”
Gainco’s Williams says that in today’s quality- and volume-driven industry, the need for maximum performance and uptime is critical. “All processors face the challenge of properly calibrated and maintained weigh scales. Water ingress, load cell damage, and user-friendliness concerns have always been challenges as well.” Williams adds that some attempts to overcome these challenges have included removing the scales from the processing floor, or bagging or boxing the units to protect them from water damage. “At Gainco, we have developed the Infiniti programmable weight indicator to solve the water ingress issue and user-friendliness concerns. All Gainco load cells have overload protection,” he adds.
Because of all that is at stake in keeping a scale up and running, most packers and processors are placing more emphasis on more and higher levels of training for their maintenance staff, Callan says. “The inherent complexity of the newest generations of equipment, brought on by new demands and the ability to meet future challenges, is requiring packers and processors to re-examine the capabilities of the equipment, and in turn, the capabilities of the maintenance staff to keep up with the new technologies.”
Upscale products
Callan says that the future changes to weigh scales are likely to continue to revolve around refining the process with more and better automation. The company’s new GLM-I series, Bizerba’s new generation of case weigh-labelers, are fully automatic identification systems for multiple labeling. The machines can weigh and label up to 150 packages per minute. The company’s new CWM checkweighers deliver weight checks to comply with fixed weight packing legislation and are also secure process control instruments for a multitude of applications in manufacturing and sales operations.
At Gainco, Williams says the company is moving to “all-digital” load cells and programmable-weight indicators that are RF and WiFi capable. “Our belief is that our customers not only want and require accurate weighing, but they also want the information fast, recordable, reportable, and with the ability to change operational parameters at a moment’s notice.”
Gainco’s new AccuFill system is a high-capacity single-or dual weighing system for both bulk pack and bagging applications. The AutoCount system expands on that principle, adding an automatic counting feature for batching. “Both the AccuFill and AutoCount systems incorporate the use of the Infiniti programmable weight indicator,” Williams adds.
Avery Weigh-Tronix’s Peterson says, “We have entered in an agreement with a German-based manufacturer to well their “in-motion scales. We private label these as ‘Checkpoints’ under the Avery Weigh-Tronix name. They are designed to ensure the proper amount of product in a package — whether it is parts in a box or the proper amount of food in a package.” Checkpoint models offer a choice of rejection mechanisms that can be enabled to automatically remove packages from the production flow that do not fall within a designated weight range, ensuring that all packaged items meet minimum weight or average weight regulations with supporting documentation. NP
Weigh scale manufacturers participating in this article include:
• Avery Weigh-Tronix, phone (800) 533-0456, fax (507) 238-8258, or visit www.wtxweb.com
• Bizerba USA Inc., phone (732) 819-0121, fax (732) 819-0429, e-mail admin@bizerbausa.com, or visit www.bizerbausa.com
• Gainco Inc., phone (770) 534-0703, fax (770) 534-1865, e-mail info@gainco.com, or visit www.gainco.com