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Processing & Services: Processing scales

Processors capitalize on scale technology advancements

By Lauren Kramer
August 01, 2008

In 2002, when Gainco represented a line of scales and indicators for the meat, poultry and seafood industries, the Gainsville, Ga., company received continuous customer feedback that there were no indicators on the market that held up well to food processing conditions. Scale failure rates were high, and maintenance expenses were problematic.

So in 2004, as part of an in-depth market study, Gainco executives interviewed maintenance and plant managers and collected data on the challenges of operating scales in those particular environments.

"Processing plants are wet, damp and experience extreme ambient temperature shifts from production to sanitation, cleaning and sanitizing chemicals," says Jim Petersen, Gainco's director of marketing and business development. "Water and condensation were the two main issues we had to deal with, primarily affecting the circuitry inside the scale, which results in downtime and accuracy problems."

The company learned that some processing plants were covering their scales with plastic bags, which caused a slew of new hygiene and food-safety problems. Keypad failures were high, with some display panels offering poor visibility. And durability was an issue, with scales failing under high-pressure wash downs and extensive handling and movement.

"We learned that every time the processors were touching their scales, it was costing them money," Petersen says. "So we started product development to resolve these problems."

The company came up with a line of DuraWeigh scales, all of which include Infiniti indicators, electronic instruments used to receive or send information from a load cell when weight is applied to them. One of the key features of the DuraWeigh Scales is its IP69K rating, a European water and dust ingress rating model, the highest standard protection in the industry.

Gainco has a variety of scales in this line, one of which is the Infiniti Bench Scale, which boasts a robust design offering improved calibration accuracy, durability and operating performance. The portable scale sports a built-in handle and stainless-steel construction, protecting it against damage from moisture.

"Accurate scales are good business for everyone, and honest weight is the best program," says Robert Nagle, VP of operations at John Nagle Co. The 121-year-old, family-owned Boston business has a selection of scales in its processing plant, and when the time comes to replace them, Nagle goes straight to his scale repairs person.

"We look closely at what's available on the market, but we also rely heavily on recommendations from our scale repairman on who makes the best scale and offers a good warranty and a product with longevity," he says.

Nagle advises seafood processors on the market for a new scale to look long and hard at the longevity of the scale manufacturer and the warranty offered.

"There are people that make things but don't want to stand behind them," Nagle explains. "I like to see at least a five-year warranty on a scale, and I think people should give business to those who stand behind their products. If the scale is American made, all the better to support our own workers, especially in this economy."

Just don't focus solely on price, he cautions.

"Price should be only one factor, but value is paramount. You want a user-friendly scale that will be reliable for the long term, and that comes with some sort of guarantee. And think about the reassurances offered by the company," Nagle says. "Can they deliver the product when you need it? Will they replace it when it's broken? And if you have a breakdown, how quick will their response be?"

Marel is well known for its work in marine scales with motion compensation, designed for use onboard fishing vessels and factory trawlers.

"We are traditionally spending over the industry standard of 7 percent in our product development to improve our equipment," says Stella Bjorg Kristindottir, marketing manager for Marel.

The Icelandic company's most recent model for seafood processors is the M2200 general-purpose programmable indicator, released five years ago. The watertight scale has advanced programming possibilities and a large LED display, as well as weight and measures approvals.

"The M2200 allows our customers to have one scale that can be programmed on site to take on 
different applications, such as weighing, sampling, batching, data gathering and control of conveyors and pneumatic valves," says Kristindottir. The scale has a numerical keyboard and can be programmed to send data to a host computer using Ethernet connections.

Depending upon the type and size of the weighing platform, the M2200 costs between $3,289 and $7,000 for a land scale and between $7,500 and $12,000 for marine scales.

"The marine type of M2200 is more costly because of its two load cells that enable motion compensation," says Kristindottir.

Marel offers equipment that is reliable and durable, says Mike Breivik, VP of operations at Glacier Fish Co. The Seattle company processes Alaska pollock, cod and Pacific whiting and uses Marel's earlier model, the M2000, in conjunction with the M2200, which Glacier purchased last year.

"The M2200 offers more functionality, and we'll be upgrading to another of these scales soon so that we can enter average fish weight and start and stop times for our different processing lines," Breivik says. "This is money well spent, and I'd recommend it to any fish processor considering equipment upgrades."

Knowing what bucket size is needed for weighing product and the speed at which product needs to be weighed is crucial before buying a processing scale, says Anthony Del Viscio, president of Combiscale. "What's important is the size and the amount of buckets and the speed required to handle the application," he says.

The Chicago company developed multi-head weighers, circular scales ideal for weighing frozen shell-
fish, three years ago. Available in 8-, 10- and 14-head models, they 
interface with packaging machines for full automation.

"Until quite recently the Japanese controlled this market with patents, but since their patents ran out, we've been able to manufacture these scales at a lower price," says Del Viscio. The 14-head weigher retails for approximately $50,000. "In the past, it cost three times that."

Combiscale recently introduced a Windows-based control touch screen. "It has a camera for troubleshooting so you can visually see product running and remotely tweak the machine if necessary," he says. The optional extra costs $10,000 but will soon become standard on all of the company's machines.

Analyzing your processing needs and environment in conjuction with warrantees and services offered by the scale manufacturer will save processors time in the long run.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia



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