Successfully evolving beyond the scale

By |  November 18, 2019
 Use of a loader scale means operators can avoid underloading and overloading. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Use of a loader scale means operators can avoid underloading and overloading. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Onboard loader scales have become an increasingly critical part of quarry and mining operations.

As premium scales have evolved, a growing focus on productivity data gives operators greater insight into load and haul. Today’s systems provide much more than accurate payload weight. They add value with features that improve site safety, track stockpile inventory, empower operators with performance feedback, integrate with truck scales and more.

As technology advances, networks become faster and more reliable, scale accuracy and user-friendliness improve, and customers expect more convenience and better results from their systems.

Producers should expect a minimum accuracy of +/- 1 percent margin of error or better for loader scales, excavators at better than 3 percent margin of error, and conveyor scales better than +/- 0.5 percent.

Connectivity gives managers access across multiple sites and projects and insight into process improvement. Embedded GPS and built-in Wi-Fi help monitor and manage equipment via those improved networks. Usability and convenience continue to improve, and installation and support improvements are a priority for scale providers and customers alike.

Smart managers are leveraging data and connectivity across each operation and the enterprise to make improvements mid-shift that quickly add up to real dollars. In fact, there can be a substantial return on investment (ROI) in the latest technology.

Seeing the big picture

As onboard scales evolved beyond the basics of accurate weighing, the focus broadened to tackle larger real-world problems. What shortcomings exist and how do we address them? How can we better leverage data to make a bigger impact?

Some of the latest weighing systems provide operators with payload data in the cab. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Some of the latest weighing systems provide operators with payload data in the cab. Photo courtesy of Trimble

Today’s modern weighing systems provide a networked, holistic view of operations, enabling site managers and operators to respond proactively with each load, as well as site-wide and project-wide by the hour, day and week.

Increased productivity goes beyond faster, more accurate loading. It now directly impacts the bottom line each phase and across the entire project.

Scales attached fleet-wide give management a pulse of the entire operation.

Measuring each part of an operation and centralizing and integrating data to a web portal creates a business intelligence system that offers management an entirely new perspective.

These systems let operators and managers accurately track production data, optimize truck loading, and eliminate overloading and costly fines. Fleet and site managers gain greater visibility into overall site operations. With real-time access to reliable, consistent payload data, accurate payload is just the beginning.

Choosing a system

Scales (or weighing systems) are simpler, easier to use, more sophisticated and provide an ROI by leveraging captured data. But choosing the right system is key to success.

Those looking to install next-gen onboard scales should consider the following:

Accuracy. Operators need pinpoint accuracy to optimize payload operations, so this may be the most important consideration. When moving thousands of tons per day, a 1 percent accuracy improvement adds up quickly, to tens of thousands of dollars of extra revenue a year.

Stakeholder requirements. Stakeholder needs vary significantly across operators, site and fleet managers, and customer reporting and billing teams.

Some of the latest systems provide operators with real-time visibility with payload data displayed in-cab. Others provide insight into the entire operation, and data from all operating equipment to help managers optimize asset management and operational efficiency. Think through stakeholder priorities and look for a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

ROI. Expectations when adopting an integrated system is a benchmark 15 percent improvement. Depending on each organization’s focus, that might mean 15 percent cost reduction, a 15 percent improvement in productivity, or some combination of factors.

Consider business goals and areas offering the greatest room for improvement when selecting a system. For example, without a loader scale, operators must estimate each load. This typically leads to intentional underloading to avoid overloading.

Underloading three tons on a 20-ton load is a 15 percent shortfall. Whether for sales transactions or baseline productivity, an accurate onboard scale can provide an immediate gain of 15 percent in haul utilization and sales per haul.

If trucks are overloaded, they are sent back from the scale house to tip off excess. Accurately loaded trucks eliminate that, improving truck turnaround time. With a typical turnaround target of 10 to 12 minutes, added time to go back and tip off can be three to four minutes – 30 percent added, wasted time.

If a truck needs to go back to the stockpile to reload, that doubles transit time – a 100 percent return on efficiency that can be easily captured with accurate onboard weighing.

Equipment interoperability. Consider the lifecycle of onboard scales, as well as other equipment and technology components.

Infrastructure should support a mixed fleet and allow data to be captured on loaders, excavators, haul trucks and conveyors. An improved, more efficient flow of data and reports between managers and operators streamlines project workflow and fuels productivity gains compared to older systems that could not quickly share data and generate reports.

Incremental adoption of compatible scale technology can help drive improvement at each phase and spread capital costs. The ability to capture data from other loaders, excavators, conveyor belts and haul trucks creates a powerful management tool.

Smart scales go beyond weighing. Modern smart scales go beyond accurate weighing to deliver fast, streamlined machine-to-machine connectivity. Machines, operators and managers share data quickly and easily, boosting communication and productivity.

Better connectivity and information sharing are key to making effective decisions by having the right data available at the right time. Smart scales empower operators to self-improve, setting personal benchmarks and focusing on loadout efficiency and pit productivity from inside the cab.

GPS and connectivity. Connectivity brings operations information from the field to the mobile office or head office. It is more streamlined and affordable when connectivity options are built in, giving managers and operators a shared view of production status.

Truck scales can send job orders directly to the cab via electronic tickets with time-stamped, dated payload information when scales include built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for faster, cheaper communications; and embedded GPS to precisely track inventory, monitor machine stress, schedule maintenance and identify unused capacity.

Convenience and usability. Increased exposure to technology such as smartphones sets buyer expectations higher for convenience and usability.

Operators need onboard scale systems with uncluttered, easy-to-use displays that keep their focus on the job at hand. A dedicated payload data display makes this information always available, rather than sharing a screen with nonvital information.

Support for multiple languages is also critical when projects have diverse workforces and share data across multinational operations.

Technology workflow alignment. The newest equipment provides preview weights at low-lift levels for faster last-bucket adjustment to improve efficiency with each load.

Machine-to-machine communication gives excavator operators unprecedented insight into each bucket’s weight and the total weight in the truck to improve every loading operation. Managers have access to data sitewide via a central reporting location to help improve efficiency and boost the bottom line.

As data capture, gathering and analysis become a larger part of optimizing operational efficiency, systems now offer two-way data syncing to improve the interaction between excavator and truck operators. A centralized product data list enables control and updates in near-real-time over the air, eliminating the need to ever stop the loader or ask the equipment dealer to update the list.

Looking to the future

Improved networks, with more speed, range and reliability – and smaller, more reliable, more sophisticated sensors that are easier to install – keep enabling and driving the capture and smarter use of data.

Systems that are more accessible and easier to use support improved productivity and communication across the jobsite and enable simplified data collection and exchange.

Trends will continue to optimize payloads and empower operators to be self-managing, enable managers to identify bottlenecks and improve decision-making, productivity and customer service. By focusing on these adoption strategies and evaluation criteria, organizations will be more informed and competitive.

Information for this article courtesy of Trimble.

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