Digital Re-print September | October 2013

Weighbridges the workhorses of industrial weighing
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Photo: Weighbridge load cell

WEIGHBRIDGES the workhorses of industrial weighing
by Mark Spick, Parkerfarm Weighing Systems, United Kingdom
eighbridges play a vital role in today’s grain, feed and milling industries, providing valuable weight data for incoming and outgoing vehicles at farms, mills, food processing plants, storage facilities and terminals, as well as for bulk loading activities. Today, a blend of versatile instrumentation, user-friendly software and communication technology is rapidly increasing the scope of weighbridges, thereby expanding their operational and data collection capabilities. Parkerfarm’s Mark Spick outlines what users should look for in a weighbridge and how the new technology is increasing operational efficiency.


These workhorses of weighing come in all different shapes, sizes and designs, manufactured from steel, steel-concrete composite and pre-stressed concrete. Designs include pit mounted and surface mounted; modular and portable. Typical capacities range from 30 to 100 tonnes, in lengths from 6 to 23 metres. Higher capacity units with increased dimensions are available, usually to special order. The common factor for all these variants is that they need to be robust, accurate and reliable. The choice for a particular application will depend on factors including maximum vehicle sizes and weights, available space, usage
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and, of course, budget. Most weighbridges are operated in a drive-through manner. In other words the vehicles drive on at one end and off at the other. However, in applications where space is at a premium, vehicles may go on and off from the same end. Steel fabricated end boxes facilitate installation for such applications. For busy operations where vehicles are weighed in and out, the obvious choice is to operate two separate weighbridges. Not only does this streamline traffic flow, but it also gives the opportunity to service one bridge, while keeping the other operational. However, this is clearly a more expensive option and in many applications one weighbridge is sufficient.

Most mechanical weighbridges have now given way to fully electronic versions where the weighbridge deck or deck sections are supported on a number of strain gauge load cells, subsequently connected to weight instrumentation. As the name implies, pit-mounted weighbridges are flush with the ground. As a result, they pose no restrictions to on-site vehicle flow. Most mechanical weighbridges were installed in pits so new electronic pit mounted weighbridges using existing foundations provide a very cost effective answer. Surface weighbridges offer one of the

strongest designs and the side frames ensure vehicles always drive centrally through the bridge. Approach and departure ramps can either be of steel construction or pre-cast in concrete on-site. Removable steel ramps have the advantage of being able to be easily moved with the bridge if relocation is required, leaving the site level. Transportable weighbridges have special load cell assemblies and spreader plates, allowing temporary installation with minimum foundation preparation: steel ramps provide access. There are low profile units available that can be delivered as complete modular units that then fold out. The load cells and cabling are already installed within the modules making installation extremely simple. Concrete weighbridges can offer advantages for certain applications. Pour on-site composite versions provide a cost effective solution for low to medium use operations. These consist of a steel outer frame, inner strengthening beams and reinforcing mesh. Once the unit is assembled on-site, the ready mixed concrete is poured in and when the deck has cured, the load cells are fitted. This design is also suitable for installations where crane access is limited. Alternatively, the complete weighbridge can be constructed at the factory and delivered to site. Modular designs optimise transportation and installation costs.

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Solid foundations
The foundations of any weighbridge are crucial to their performance. It is of little use having the most accurate load cells and well designed weighbridge structure if the foundations are not level or unstable. For pit weighbridges, adequate drainage is also important to prevent flooding. Where applicable, it is possible to install weighbridges on sloping terrain (up to 1:30) using special load cell mounting assemblies. This reduces on-site civil engineering costs. Significant end-to-end forces can be generated when vehicles drive on and off the weighbridge, especially if heavy braking occurs. Such forces can damage critical components such as load cells and can also cause serious damage to the surrounding structure. Built-in restraints are therefore an important part of any weighbridge design.

Environmental protection
Weighbridges are expected to operate in the harshest of environments often fully open to the elements. Therefore a well-structured finishing procedure is essential to provide optimum longevity. In a typical coating process all steel is shot-blasted to remove mill scale and surface imperfections prior to painting. This ensures maximum adhesion of the surface coating applications. In parallel, sound design principles ensure a well-drained deck and no hidden traps underneath where hidden corrosion can occur. Fully sealed IP68 load cells are essential for long term reliability.

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Controlling the moisture in the grain drying process to save energy and ensure quality Optimising the efficiency of expensive additives such as mould inhibitors Controlling moisture content during the pelleting process

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Weighbridges are classed

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Suitable for chutes, silos, mixers or conveyors Not affected by dust or colour Temperature stable
Surface weighbridge
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Pit weighbridge

as non-automatic weighing instruments (NAWIs) and if the weight data is used as part of any commercial transaction they require approval to European weights and measures standards (in line with EN45501). This involves the bridges being tested with calibrated weights when first installed and then re-verified at regular periods, or when any critical components are replaced. Some companies insist their weighbridges are weights and measures (trade) approved, even if they are not used for commercial transactions. This ensures that the weighbridges are maintained and certified for optimum precision.

For most applications, weighbridges are quoted as having accuracies of one part in 2,500 or one part in 3,000. Therefore the displayed weights for a 50 tonne capacity weighbridge (one part in 2,500) would be in 20 kg increments, the same as a 60 tonne weighbridge with a quoted accuracy of one part in 3,000. Therefore, if the weighbridge is regularly maintained and calibrated, any weight reading should be accurate to ± 20 kg. It should be noted that this is a fixed tolerance over the working capacity of the weighbridge so the relative error of any weighment increases as the vehicle being weighed decreases. Higher accuracy (one part in 5,000) and dual range weighbridges are available, but there may be restrictions to the use (e.g. indoors only).

from one part of a site to another, or to a different site altogether. No one likes paying more for their products than necessary, but purchasing weighbridges and support services on cost alone can be false economy. A number of factors should be considered when choosing a weighbridge supplier including: • The design and build of the weighbridge itself • The pedigree of key measurement chain components (load cells and instrumentation) • Peripheral control equipment compatibility • Software functionality and software integration To ensure optimum system compatibility, there are distinct advantages for the customer if the weighbridge supplier is responsible for the design and manufacture of all critical equipment and software in these areas. This provides practical and efficient single source system responsibility. In addition, purchasers should look at the level of aftersales support a supplier can offer, together with their quality system accreditation and relevant trade association membership. ‘Cost of ownership’ may be an over-used cliché, but it is still very relevant when it comes to weighbridges especially in the medium to long term.

Of all the designs, clear evidence from the field shows that compact stainless steel canister load cells, together with well-designed rocker mounting assemblies, provide the optimum solution for weighbridges. More cumbersome single ended bending beam load cells or vulnerable double ended shear beams with ball bearing mountings are more likely to fail and generally require more ongoing maintenance. It should be remembered that weighbridge decks can be subject to relatively large expansion-contractions. This affects the load introduction angles and this places further importance on the requirement for welldesigned load cells and mounting assemblies.

Modern technology
Traditionally the weighing process in many weighbridge applications has been relatively slow and data collection has been confined to local printouts of tickets and daily tally rolls. Now more emphasis is being placed on developing key peripheral areas. This is aimed at speeding up throughput of vehicles, improving security and extending weighbridge operational periods, together with improving and simplifying data collection and distribution.

Driver operated systems
Driver operated systems (often referred to as unmanned weighbridge systems) have been one of the most effective developments for weighbridge operational efficiency and security. Such systems offer a number of advantages and remove the need to have permanently manned weighbridges. ANPR systems (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) with traffic lights and barriers can provide secure access, with additional security via a designated swipe card or key (permanent

Load cells
The load cells and their associated mounting hardware are considered to be the most crucial part of the weighbridge and are required to work under a range of harsh and challenging environments. Therefore, design and application optimisation for these essential components is crucial; not only for performance, but also for long-term reliability.

Ownership options
There are a number of ways of ‘owning’ a weighbridge. These include outright purchase, lease purchase and hire. Portable weighbridges are ideal for short-term usage or where the weighbridge has to be moved
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FEATURE and temporary use). In this way the driver terminal can provide a complete material handling management system, which is easy to use by both vehicle and site operators. Such systems can be pre-programmed with a wide range of data relating to the vehicles using the weighbridge, including owner information, tare weights and materials. Vehicle tare weights typically remove the need for double weighing (in and out). Not only do driver terminals speed up weighing operations, they also extend the available working period for weighbridges.

Concrete weighbridge

Weighbridge software
Bespoke, yet configurable, software packages play a vital role in modern weighbridge systems and these can now be tailored for specific applications. These systems are designed for the seamless integration with existing management systems such as Sage, SAP, JD Edwards and Microsoft Navision. Integration with remote inventory control systems can bring important benefits in ensuring optimised stock holding of key raw materials. Dedicated grain storage software packages ideally complement weighbridge installations where critical weight data is an essential part of multi-source grain management and distribution. Modular construction makes them suitable for all sizes of storage facilities at single or multiple sites. Furthermore, they are designed to co-ordinate all the operational, management and fiscal requirements. Powerful database resources, combined with secure web access, provide unrivalled control and data management whilst direct integration with standard accounting and quality packages completes the offering.

Service and support
Service and support is a critical issue for weighbridge operators especially for equipment working in harsh environments. The new technologies are bringing important changes to the way in which servicing can be optimised and this is particularly useful at remote unmanned sites. Any weighbridge breakdowns have a rapid and major impact on daily operations

and therefore effective servicing and trouble shooting is very important. However, traditional methods of servicing do not necessarily cater for the changes in the working pattern of a particular weighbridge. Typically estimates are made to establish the frequency of servicing, often with the emphasis on minimising costs. Most of us are familiar with the built-in service monitors on modern cars, which assess servicing requirements based on a combination of factors including time, mileage and how the car is driven. This technology is now available for weighbridges advising, for instance, when the next service is due based on time, number of weighments or a combination of both. The system can also record a history of peak loads, which may be above normal operating capacity and detrimental to the working of the bridge. This information can be useful in determining why, for instance, a particular weighbridge is going out of calibration or suffering from excessive component failure. Although regular servicing and maintenance can help to minimize problems, predicting what and when things will go wrong is very difficult with traditional weighbridges. Therefore, the ability to offer remote maintenance service support can save considerable time and effort especially for equipment operating in harsh, remote areas.

With such a system installed, any problems with the weighing equipment are automatically flagged up at the supplier’s offices. Details are immediately forwarded to the local engineer who can then dial into the weighing system remotely and make a risk assessment of the situation. In many cases, the engineer can carry out a range of checks and where possible rectify the problem without having to visit the site. If not, then if appropriate, plans can be made to carry out any remedial work during the next scheduled visit, thereby minimising the disruption to the site operation.

Modern weighbridge systems can offer considerably more than weight information and their integration with other technologies is bringing dramatic changes to a wide range of industries. However the quality of the data they provide is still totally dependent on sound mechanical design principles and well defined installation procedures. Customers should avoid buying on price for perceived short-term gains. More inforMation:
Tel: +44 1246 456729 Fax: +44 1246 260844 Email: Website:

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This digital Re-print is part of the September | October 2013 edition of Grain & Feed Milling Technology magazine. Content from the magazine is available to view free-of-charge, both as a full online magazine on our website, and as an archive of individual features on the docstoc website. Please click here to view our other publications on
September - October 2013

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In this issue: •
Sieving technology in feed pellet production Mixed integer optimization:
a new step in formulation software

first published in 1891

The holistic approach to avoid losses in the feed mill

a new risk in maize production?

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the workhorses of industrial weighing

High-precision sensors:
the ideal solution for measuring grain humidity

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