The real weight of waste

Published:  12 January, 2012

It has been 25 years since Britain signed the Single European Act and adopted the continent's regulations on waste disposal and the environment. The result is that we are part of a revolution to ensure cleaner air and a more sustainable earth. Britain's waste weighing industry is at the forefront of the battle, reports Tony Richards.

In fact the weighing industry is doing more than its share to help meet the waste legislation, whilst other improvements are being stymied and held back by local authorities, the public and lack of investment.

It is accepted that the country needs to stop filling up old quarries with waste and build up to a hundred new waste to energy facilities, as well as new recycling plants and incinerators. But nobody wants a waste plant at the end of their garden, or even miles away, and this NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome means that planning permission can take years to progress, and even then be refused.

It is a very British dichotomy: we are all aware of the need for a cleaner environment and proper waste disposal, but none of us want it close by.

Meanwhile the weighing technology to make our lives better and healthier continues to develop with no financial input from outside this largely privately-owned and independent sector of the waste industry.

Richard Bowers, head of Isys Interactive Systems, says: “There is no great pot of money we can access for the industry's benefit, so we have to fund it ourselves. Twenty years ago, when we developed and launched the Gatehouse weighbridge management system, we knew we had an industry-leading product and we could have sold this product and saved the money involved in further development, but if we had then we would not still be industry leaders, as we now are because every year a proportion of our turnover and profit goes straight back into research and development.

“That may make us sound good-hearted and generous, but in this fast-moving industry it is vital to invest in future developments to keep pace. I know that all our competitors feel the same. Successive Governments can feel very lucky that we as waste professionals are using our own money and resources to invest in the country's future.”

Isys, which was formed in 1979 and has been involved in the waste industry for over 20 years, now offers a suite of products: Gatehouse, MediWaste, SkipMan, Swops, and IsysMobile – all of which are constantly being up-dated. The aim, as with every waste weighing product or system, is to make a big initial impact so that the customer is immediately aware of the benefits; and then maintain these savings and improved profitability while the system is in use for many years.

“Our customers are often amazed at the savings they make. They have operated basic or manual systems or a series of unrelated Excel spreadsheets to collect and store data, and they suddenly find they are able to invoice immediately after the load has been weighed and checked for volume and content. The difference it makes to invoicing procedures and credit control is turning loss into profit for the first time.

“Weighing systems are not short term fixes with a short life expectancy. Our client may be operating long contracts and the collection and handling of waste is just a part of this, but they understand that each element has to be profitable or it is not sustainable. Accurate and timely weighing and measuring, and the ability to access this data anywhere, anytime allows the contractor to constantly, and visibly, improve the service and maximise profitability through better financial administration and more accurate information and facts.

“For over 20 years we have seen constant change in the industry. Our incentive as system and product developers and providers has been in maximising profitability for our customers. The Governments' driver for change has seen year-on-year increases in Landfill Tax, which means local authorities and contractors have faced punitive costs unless they entertain the alternatives, such as recycling, incineration and waste to energy facilities,” Richard adds.

He believes that the waste industry, particularly operators, will benefit from the new Cloud Computing technology, which allows processing and storage of data on computers and data centres remote from your own premises. It allows users and developers to do more with less, by obtaining access to more computing power whilst reducing the costs of their IT investment. In effect, local authorities will be able to share data faster and easier, within secure areas, and this sharing will lead to improved service and reduced costs.

“Councils like to do it their way, but Cloud Computing will offer them more options and more data. If they want to share and follow they can; if they want to develop their own system, the data will be there to allow it,” he says.

Julian Glasspole at Vehicle Weighing Solutions says that under the Road Traffic Act and The Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations it is an offence to use or permit the use of overweight vehicles, either GVW or axle weights for a variety of sensible, practical safety reasons. Offenders not only face a £5,000 fine, but repeat offenders could lose their Operator's License – and VOSA is good at identifying and stopping trucks.

The solution, he says, is to fit vehicles with systems that warn when an axle or vehicle is approaching an overload. Telematics alert the depot remotely or even the transport manager directly by text.

One of the key drivers for this industry is Landfill Tax, which accounts for 60% of an operator's disposal costs. “The upstream measurement transfer from volume to weight is working its way to individual bins providing optimum profitability and efficiency,” Julian says.

“There are also incentives schemes, such as Recyclebank (recyclebank.com) where residents are rewarded with credits for the amount they recycle and divert from landfill. The credits are exchanged for goods and services from retailers. Each truck has bin weighing kit installed with an identification system, so that behaviour and the effect of marketing on waste producers can be measured and help provide balance sheet ROI.

“We believe it is paramount that customers get value for money, especially in these difficult economic times. Quality and reliability are designed into the VWS product but speed and manufacturing techniques are also important factors at the point of assembly and packing. VWS customises its systems for each customer,” he adds.

VWS has developed a range of systems to handle on-board weighing demands including M350S, which has been built for refuse collection vehicles and incorporates a clear, bright, easy-to-read display that can be be dash, panel or weatherproof-trailer mounted and fits neatly into DIN cab radio slots. VWS is one the first companies to use modular open CAN technology.

VWS is the only company in the industry to use nickel-plating technology, which protects loadcells for 30 years in salty environments. The company's SD data card logger means weight readings can be easily stored and transferred stored so data can be analysed or weight-based invoices raised on basic and high-end software systems. Other VWS products include the Enviroweigh bin-weighing system, and standard and bespoke weighbridge and platform weighing scales.

“On-board weighing will continue to improve, especially in the way companies are organised and run. The key competence is proving to be quality products supported by a dedicated and skilled service team. Technology and legislation will continue to offer operators more safety and efficiency advances and this in turn will deliver better services to their customers.

“The transport business is evolving quickly. Whether it's simple overload protection or a more complex integration of trade approved systems linked to telemetry, the specialists at VWS offer the skills and expertise to help maximise profit potential and stay legal,” Julian says.

Mark Evans at RDS Technology says the company has matched the pace of the weighing industry's progression, including the introduction of telemetry to allow data from a loading shovel to be connected to the back office.

The Loadmaster iX range of on-board weighing instruments for wheeled loaders has a range of standard features, including temperature compensation enhancing system performance particularly on machines with a wide variation in operating temperature, and angle compensation providing an additional level of precision beneficial on most sites and not only those with obvious slopes. The Loadmaster 8000iX has an integral SD card port for the fast and efficient transfer of data between loader and weighbridge or office PC and enables pre-registered customer reference data to be uploaded directly to the instrument.

When fitted to a wheeled loading shovel, the Loadmaster 9000i on-board weighing scale effectively transforms the loader into a mobile weighbridge which conforms to MID Class Y(b) levels of accuracy. The Loadmaster 9000i DMM features an extended data-handling module that involves detailed product traceability, making it ideal for material handling applications in demolition operations, recycling plants and other potentially harmful or toxic areas.

The company has recentlygained approval via the UK National Measurements Office to self-verify its instruments, dramatically speeding up verification times and reducing end user costs.

John Luffman Trading, specialist contractors in earth moving, groundwork, major civil engineering projects and recycling including re-grading disused railway line ballast for resale, has installed the Loadmaster 9000i on-board weighing system and radio telemetry link from RDS Technology and Load 2000 software programme from data transfer specialists CC Software to transfer load data from wheeled loaders to a central computer for ticket printing once loading is complete.

Vehicles enter sites to be loaded with aggregate and the job data is automatically transmitted back to the base unit and a weigh ticket printed for the driver. On small and self-contained sites this set-up avoids time delays at a weighbridge and cuts out unnecessary vehicle movements. It also avoids any expensive infrastructure costs upon moving onto site.

Explaining the great improvements made to the site through using on-board weighing in this way. Mr Luffman says: “We find the software easy to use and it helps us to analyse the load data quickly and efficiently.”

The increase in landfill tax and high commodity prices are highlighted as technology drivers by Chris McAllister, Product Manager at Avery Weigh Tronix, who says that the need to prevent fraud is higher than ever: “It follows that there is an increased use of technology such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and more sophisticated weighing and software packages within the sector.

The waste and recycling industry needs to move to weight-based recording and the challenge is to make this simpler through development of new weighing technology and also software.

“There is also an argument that the industry should move towards legal-for-trade weighing. Any weight based transaction needs to done using legal-for-trade scales. Weighbridges are legal for trade, but there is a need to develop other legal-for-trade systems such as forklift truck scales or skip weighing. etc.

“Currently a lot of transactions occur on the basis of volume or estimates. Yet waste is charged for in landfill by weight, and recyclable materials are bought by weight further down the line.”

According to McAllister another area that should be addressed is an industry standard for weighing manufacturers who develop software.

“How do you know what you are buying? After all, you are usually dealing with a hardware company. One useful check is to ask whether the organisation has developed the software to a meaningful standard. ISO 90001 on its own will not ensure that the software will satisfy your needs. This is because software normally evolves and changes far more rapidly than hardware. It also needs to be adapted so that it can interface with different systems. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University advocates an approach called Capability Maturity Model Integration or CMMI.

“There is also a need to develop weighing technology that makes it easier and faster to weigh. It should not be a separate process, but part of the process. Practical examples include forklift truck scales, where a container can be weighed as it is actually picked up, or on-board weighing, including skip weighers, as skips are often used to collect rubbish and recyclable material,” McAllister adds.

Avery Weigh Tronix, whose UK headquarters is in the West Midlands, believes that waste and recycling is becoming a raw material and end-product-based business, so the need for yield analysis and stock control is increasing.

“The past two decades have seen a series of technological developments that have leap-frogged the UK's waste weighing industry to become a world leader, harnessing the power and speed of digital communications to establish very high standards of service. But it seems that the way forward (no pun intended) is a little more down to earth. Planning has been, and still is, the biggest hurdle. We have new, clean technology that takes out waste and turns it into fuel or other useful products, but that requires production plants – and nobody wants such a facility, no matter how beneficial they are, in their neighbourhood.”

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