The Nuts and Bolts of Indicator Technology
by Don Halbert
Precise weight measurements are critical in aggregate material handling operations as they directly impact many aspects of production, from inventory accuracy to customer satisfaction and overall profitability. To achieve the necessary weighment precision, indicators are an essential component of scale systems–significantly improving weighing operations and enhancing production efficiency. Today’s highly intelligent, digital weight and scale indicators are designed for virtually any weighing application to increase the visibility of data and process efficiency.
Defining an indicator
A simple definition for a scale indicator describes it as a device that allows the operator to read the weight and control the scale. Today’s indicators have expanded beyond these basic principles and can now function as a “behind-the-scenes” process management tool. Indicators still obtain weighments that can be stored and recalled when necessary, but they also provide connectivity capabilities that allow the indicator to communicate with plant devices and computers to further automate production.
As an intuitive weighing solution, indicators feature simplistic programming functions, allowing users to customize performance to meet specific needs. They also deliver consistent, reliable readings with highly visible displays that allow indicators to be viewed in a variety of lighting situations, such as dim lighting conditions, direct sunlight or reflected light.
Presenting rapid response times, flexible input/output options and multiple units of measurement, indicators can adapt to fast-paced environments, providing the accuracy and versatility necessary for a wide variety of material handling applications.
Further, indicators ensure loads meet strict legal-for-trade weights, as well as demonstrate that each load contains the exact amount of materials it is purported to have, eliminating under- or over-valued packages. Indicators with networking capabilities can effortlessly integrate with plant devices to easily collect and convey critical data. Plus, for additional flexibility, indicators offer internal battery power for mobile applications and provide a serial, USB or Ethernet interface for printers or PC connectivity.
Indicators are available in multiple housing options, such as aluminum and stainless steel, with mounting flexibility that enables them to adapt to diverse situations. For instance, panel mount enclosures provide protection against dusty or wet environments, while indicators featuring IP ratings, such as IP69K, can withstand high pressure and heavy washdown conditions.
Advancing the technology
In order to increase automation and efficiency in diverse material handling processes, indicators have become faster, smarter and more versatile and can achieve advanced performance capabilities in weight measurement, process control and effective communication.
Communication networks are critical components of modern manufacturing and processing facilities, therefore implementing indicator solutions that fully integrate with existing plant systems provide a scale system that is accessible from any computer for remote analysis of real-time data, system configuration and diagnostics. Additionally, indicators can deliver flexibility by monitoring operations and performing data acquisition via a web browser. This provides users with immediate operational updates via e-mail, as well as unaltered data transmission via FTP.
Additional indicator features such as simultaneous display of multiple scales, user-configured displays, direct process control, network communications and programmable softkeys, are designed to function in fully integrated environments. Indicators offer compatibility and communication with previous and new peripheral technologies so they can be programmed to measure, monitor and control virtually any weight-based operation.
Along with monitoring all connected scales, sensors and control devices, indicators can also perform maintenance on its own internal systems. Any faults or errors initiate “Operational Warnings” that are clearly spelled out on the indicator display, and if the indicator is connected to a fieldbus, detailed descriptions of functional issues can be viewed at any access point along the network. E-mail messages can also be sent directly to designated personnel both on and off-site, minimizing downtime.
Further, error reporting and programmed response are system-specific, which means that problems occurring within one system will not interrupt the operation of other scales or processes controlled by the indicator. To ensure continued operation as soon as possible and to prevent the loss of valuable data, indicators maintain downloadable system logs containing a detailed record of overloads, underloads and traffic counts.
For operations that require users to manage multiple scale systems, indicators can store multiple TAREs and numeric/alpha numeric IDs in its internal memory, providing easy retrieval for future use. Display buttons for common weighing requirements, such as counting, checkweighing and process control, allow operators to switch between applications with push-button ease. Plus, to monitor multiple scales and operations, multi-segmented graphs provide detailed information regarding product inventory, production status and cumulative weight data at a glance.
Indicators in action
For applications that require users to monitor and manage the movement of large quantities of materials on a daily basis, indicators can track and store data about each load, improving inventory management and increasing revenue. By interfacing these indicators with forklift trucks and floor scales, businesses have a fully programmable scale system, with indicators that can record ID numbers, load and accumulated weights, as well as customized data for management information and control. Further, these indicators can be linked to printers, barcode scanners, computers and other peripherals for integration into existing networks, allowing effortless data transfer and management from anywhere in the operation.
About the author: Don Halbert is the global product manager for Avery Weigh-Tronix.