Weighty Issue

Features - Software Focus

Recyclers can maximize production efficiency with effective inventory management.

October 21, 2011

Capturing weight readings and load information is a crucial component to managing any well-run recycling center. Recycling applications, including collecting, buying or selling materials, require precise weight measurements to not only maximize operational efficiency but also to ensure accurate billing. With large amounts of materials entering and leaving recycling centers each day, it is crucial to accurately track and log data. Using automated inventory management systems can help recycling facilities improve data management, providing continuous access to the most current information.

While numerous scale solutions are available to accommodate any recycling application, without the aid of an indicator to store and transmit data, the scale alone will not provide the inventory management functionality the industry needs. Indicators integrate with scales to offer the sophisticated data-logging capabilities necessary to increase process efficiency while enhancing production visibility. By interfacing with existing plant equipment and systems, indicators can collect, analyze and display crucial product inventory data, providing users with the real-time status updates required to continuously deliver the most up-to-date inventory information.

Early Inventory Management
Scales have long since moved beyond the balance system, using weight-setting stones to determine weight accuracy or measuring based solely on the amount of volume a material makes up. Even after the invention of modern scales, without indicators these scales were typically only used to determine and display the weight of objects. These solutions required users to manually track material quantities and record load weights.

This type of inventory management operation can be prone to mistakes, because operators can inadvertently overlook weight measurements, invert numbers or forget to record a load. This may drastically alter inventory data, which can lead to billing inaccuracies and substantial profit losses. Further, accurately managing inventory within the recycling industry can become particularly challenging, as materials of differing amounts and types are frequently moved in and out of the same facility.

In place of traditional systems, today indicators can be used to automate inventory management, combating many of the common inadequacies associated with manual operations by easily tracking data without the need for any additional labor. Scales can be directly integrated with plant devices, which allow data to be automatically transferred to the center's networking systems as materials are weighed, stored or shipped from the facility.

Indicator Technology
As the "brains" of the scale system, indicators are highly intelligent devices that can be designed to complement virtually any weighing application in any industry, including diverse recycling applications. Indicators are capable of collecting and displaying complex data, enhancing existing inventory management systems or creating a customized process to suit specific data management needs while also minimizing human error that can be experienced with manual operations.

In light of the adaptability of this technology, operators can select full-featured indicators, while only implementing the performance capabilities needed to achieve the exact level of sophistication required for their inventory management needs. This enables the indicator to grow and adapt to new recycling processes or to meet more stringent requirements as the company grows. Also compatible with a wide range of industry-standard interfaces, such as Ethernet or Fieldbus, indicators can provide quick, seamless integration with existing networking systems, enabling flexible data transmissions.

By supporting bar code scanners and using wireless capabilities, Wi-Fi-enabled indicators provide remote operation, collecting weight and diagnostic information and immediately communicating it to the facility's computers. Indicators can quickly input product identification information, allowing users to track materials from the moment they enter the facility and enabling real-time status updates to ensure the most current inventory data.

Further, indicators capable of hosting numerous scales or controlling multiple automated processes allow operators to monitor multiple production lines. By configuring each system with its own individual measurement criteria, programmed routines, control devices, sensors and peripherals, data can be gathered and categorized from each scale instantaneously—maximizing inventory management efficiency.

Additionally, indicators can provide continuous accumulations for each system. For instance, operators can view horizontal bar graphs that dynamically show over or under readings or use easy-to-decipher pie charts that provide fill recognition, monitor inventory status or provide process progress reports. Plus, by inputting target weight values, including upper and lower weight limits, an indicator can display a visual message, such as "Correct," "Under" or "Over," allowing operators to quickly identify whether a load meets specified weight requirements.

Constructed with a bright, easy-to-read LED display, indicators can provide control over crucial weight information as well as various status annunciations, while their durability and integrity enables them to withstand diverse environments and demanding applications. Models composed of stainless steel can deliver high-quality performance in heavy wash-down and corrosive environments, while configurable digital vibration filtering can provide stable readings even in the toughest environments.

In the Field
Because of the rapid influx and outflow of materials, recycling centers depend on effective inventory management to ensure efficient operation. For facilities that collect aluminum cans, for instance, implementing an indicator solution can both increase process automation and simplify inventory management.

As cans are collected, they are weighed and moved into a holding cell, where they are stored until enough aluminum is collected to meet the criteria for processing. Indicators provide users with an ongoing accumulation, or awareness, of the weight of the holding cell, and, once it reaches the precise weight, the indicator will signal the system to activate. By keeping a running tally of the weight and amount of materials, the indicator can eliminate the need for manual monitoring and operation, reducing labor while enhancing inventory accuracy.

Alternatively, paper or plastic recycling often requires these products to be packaged into bales, which allow them to be quickly and easily moved and stored. To do this, facilities often rely on forklift scales, enabling the bales to be weighed en route. By combining a forklift scale with a programmable, in-cab indicator, operators can collect and store a multitude of information about a load as it is being transported.

For example, using built-in wireless capabilities, the indicator can record the identification number, weight, origin and location of a single load of paper or it can be used to track the same data on every load of paper throughout the entire facility.

Using Wi-Fi features, the indicator can transmit load data directly to the facility's management systems, automatically inputting inventory information into office computers, without any additional operator action. The ability to lift, weigh and record load data not only consolidates multiple weighing steps but also automates inventory management and minimizes production downtime.

In an industry responsible for tracking multiple and diverse loads, effective inventory management is key. Indicator technology can provide the data logging features necessary to capture and store information and quickly share it with facility computers and other network devices, ensuring the most up-to-date and accurate data for efficient inventory management.


The author is global product manager for Avery Weigh-Tronix (www.wtxweb.com), Fairmont, Minn.