Would Your Weighbridge Pass An ‘MOT’?
Maintenance issues under the spotlight
With profit and loss being a key corporate priority in business today, research has been carried out by Shering Weighing Ltd to discover exactly which areas need to be addressed in the area of weighbridge care. The research conducted was twofold: senior management at Shering held in-depth discussions with key customers; and the field-service team fed back important site/ customer information for review.
The findings highlighted the following issues for further review: good housekeeping practices; the legal aspects of weighing; engineering skills; health and safety issues; and the degree of service within the maintenance contract.
Good housekeeping practices
It was found that many weighbridge owners/operators were in need of advice on maintaining good housekeeping practices regarding weighbridge care. The rationale behind the purchase of a weighbridge system is financial security; it controls the movement of material and protects against human error and varying forms of fraud. This being the case, in order to get the very best from a weighbridge, an ongoing programme of routine maintenance and support is essential.
Many weighbridge owners were simply not aware of the daily, weekly and monthly tasks necessary to maintain a ‘healthy’ weighbridge and keep costs down. Although it was apparent that customers were willing to take on the responsibility, it was discovered that clear housekeeping instructions were required.
Partnership is the key to successful weighbridge maintenance. It is impractical for weighing engineers to be in attendance at all times and so a professional customer- care manual, compiled by the experts at the weighing service company, is essential. Highlighted in the manual should be the basic activities that can routinely and easily be carried out by the weighbridge owner/operator. These activities are essentially good housekeeping, but they play a vital role in the efficient and successful operation of a weighbridge, greatly enhancing its long-term reliability and reducing the risk of downtime.
The build up of dirt and foreign matter is the main contributing factor to weighing errors and the need for repairs. Freezing weather conditions in the winter and weighbridge expansion in the summer compound this problem. When the build up of dirt or debris is compacted this not only creates serious weighing inaccuracies, but also inevitably leads to significant financial implications, as each and every weight transaction will be incorrect. Depending on the cost per tonne, the resulting financial damage to a company’s profits could be substantial. For example, if a site operates at a rate of 100 weighings a day at a cost of £10 per tonne of product, with a weighing inaccuracy of only 100kg the loss per annum could amount to £25,000.
Daily tasks should always include checking the weighbridge platform, end gaps, ramps, weighbridge underside and surrounding area, and removing all debris (the weighing company must provide their customer with exact details on these routine tasks).
For pit-mounted installations it is particularly important to ensure the pit is kept clean and well drained, as water and debris are known to interfere with weighing accuracy and could therefore contravene the ‘Weights & Measures Act 1985’.
If weekly checks of the weighbridge underside are carried out it will be apparent whether a high-pressure hose is necessary to wash away dirt and debris. Manhole covers should be lifted routinely to check for dirt and debris build up and offending material removed. Simple checks on the structure and foundations, and carrying out an end-middle-end weight test, should also become part of monthly maintenance tasks.
The location of the weighbridge will also have a significant effect on its long-term reliability and lifespan. Consideration of the environment surrounding the weighbridge and the potential for the build up of dirt are points frequently overlooked by the customer and the weighing company at the negotiation stage. In order to ensure that the correct model of weighbridge is supplied and installed to match the customers requirements, when planning a weighbridge various aspects such as traffic volume, traffic management, vehicle types (approach gradients), vehicle access (turning circles), type of mounting (surface/pit), site levels, site drainage routes (natural waterholes), vehicle speed (traffic control), site road surface material (dirt on main roads/wheel wash etc) should all be discussed.
Maintaining a healthy weighbridge can only be achieved through increased communication between the customer and the weighing company. The weighbridge owner/operator must be committed to weighbridge care and the weighing company responsible for service must be professional and competent to ensure that all relevant advice and instructions are clearly communicated.
Legal aspects of weighing
Also revealed from the research was the fact that many customers were not fully aware of either weighing terminology or their legal obligations with respect to the weighing equipment and legalities. Importantly, the latter point could potentially have a direct effect on their business.
Many aspects of the weighing industry are governed by the ‘Weights & Measures Act 1985’ which, among other things, requires both weighing companies (particularly where they are accredited for self-verification) and owners/operators of ‘trade-approved’ weighing equipment to comply with stringent regulations. With self-verification (where the weighing company is responsible for application of the verification mark in place of the Trading Standards Officer) it is essential that a strong element of trust and co-operation is evident from both parties involved. Part of this trust is inherent in the self-verification process, as a company will only be awarded such status after passing rigorous independent scrutiny of its processes and personnel.
Under current legislation it is the person who uses for trade, or has the equipment in their possession for such use (ie the customer), who is responsible for ensuring that the equipment is legal for use and maintained as such. Should the weighing equipment be found to contravene the appropriate legislation, it is the customer who is normally liable to prosecution, not the weighing company.
For this reason it is important to know that integrity is at the core of a weighbridge servicing company’s values, and that all weighing equipment meets with current legislation.
To meet the requirements of the ‘Weights & Measures Act 1985’, any weighing or measuring equipment used for trade, as defined in the Act, must meet and continue to meet a number of criteria.
The equipment must conform to an approved pattern issued by an approval body such as NWML. This will detail which constructional requirements, such as components and/or modules of components, can be used in the make up of the weighing equipment. Regulations made under the Act will determine such factors as: the purpose for which it can be used for trade; how equipment is constructed, marked, and the types of materials to be used; the manner in which it is erected and used for trade; how it is to be tested; and under what circumstances it can be rejected as unfit for trade use.
The Act itself also regulates how equipment can be used, however it also contains all the offences that may occur surrounding the possession and use of such equipment. As already mentioned, it is the person using it or possessing it for use that attracts almost all the offences. Penalties vary depending on the severity of the offence committed, but range from a fine not exceeding level three on the standard scale to imprisonment not exceeding six months. In either event the equipment is normally liable to forfeiture.
As outlined above, a common problem is that dirt, coal etc can build up under a weighbridge and cause it to give false readings. If found guilty of using such equipment a person will receive a fine, a criminal record, and lose the equipment, as [in Scotland] the Procurator Fiscal would be asked to make out a forfeiture order.
In light of recent research and the lack of awareness in this area, it is even more vital that the weighing company responsible for weighbridge service is completely trustworthy. The customer should be completely assured that any service/test carried out or any part replaced is conducted with absolute integrity. It is essential that the weighbridge owner can completely depend on the correct advice and workmanship from the service company.
A weighbridge is a precision instrument that is continually subjected to impact forces by heavy, moving trucks. In addition to the routine housekeeping requirements, it is extremely important that the mechanical and electronic equipment is examined and tested to ensure that the weighbridge is operating accurately and within legally acceptable tolerances. This must be carried out by suitably trained personnel.
Weighbridge owners should check the engineer’s credentials to verify competence. A skilled weighing engineer must possess full technical training as well as a thorough knowledge of the industry’s legal and health and safety requirements.
Health and safety issues
In today’s operational environment it is essential that sub-contractors are competent to carry out their duties; safety can never be overemphasized. Evidence of health and safety training should always be asked for. An ECITB safety passport or CTA ‘badge’ are almost basic requirements, and the manual handling, confined spaces and lifting appliances regulations also require compliance.
Method statements and risk assessments should always be requested prior to work commencing.
The maintenance contract
The feedback from weighbridge owners highlighted the fact that many sites were either receiving more care and attention from a specific maintenance contract than the site warranted, or, conversely, certain areas in the level of service were lacking. Both extremes are significant, as both can affect the customer’s bottom line.
The aim of the service contract should be to provide the weighbridge owner with peace of mind by maintaining accuracy, minimizing downtime, greatly enhancing weighbridge lifespan and ultimately optimizing company profitability. Negotiating a maintenance contract should involve consideration as to exactly what the weighbridge owner expects from the service company in terms of individual needs. To assist in this process, customers should expect to be presented with options from their service company aimed at meeting their specific requirements, either on a site-by-site basis or across the board.
A weighbridge plays an important role in a company’s day-to-day operations and therefore has a major influence on profit and loss. From the research findings it is clear that good housekeeping practices for weighbridges, coupled with effective and efficient service and support, should rate very highly on the site manager’s list of priorities. The correct amount of attention both on site and from the weighbridge servicing company will inevitably deliver significant benefits and added value to the owner/operator of the weighbridge.
A weighbridge maintenance information pack, which includes a free copy of ‘The Weights & Measures Act 1985’, is available from Shering Weighing Ltd. Contact Kerry Hutchison on tel: (01383) 621505; or email: [email protected]
Contributions on the legal aspects of weighing were made by Alan Hamilton, Chief Trading Standards Officer for Fife. This article was first published in Wastes Management magazine, May 2002.