Weighing problems can strike suddenly or persist over time. Either way, they are expensive. Faced with both types of problems, Littlejohn Grain found a simple solution to reduce maintenance cost and downtime for its vehicle scales.
Littlejohn Grain is an agribusiness that deals in corn, soybeans and wheat. As a family-owned company for four generations, it operates six grain storage facilities throughout eastern Illinois. During the peak season, the scales at those facilities weigh about 500 trucks of grain per day.
Grain from local farms is delivered by truck to the storage facilities. At each facility, inbound trucks are weighed on a truck scale. After being unloaded, the trucks are weighed again to determine the net weight of the material they delivered. Ultimately, the grain is shipped by rail to end users. The railroad scale at the Littlejohn Grain facility in Martinsville, Illinois, weighs as many as 30 trains annually.
Over the years, the railroad scale has experienced frequent problems. Rodents gnawed through the load-cell cables, causing damage that shut down the scale. Each time a cable was damaged, the company had to replace both the cable and the load cell that were permanently connected to it. Combined with periodic lightning damage, the problem was so persistent that the facility began stocking replacement parts to minimize downtime.
The cost of keeping the railroad scale operating was significant. In addition to repairs, the railroad charged the company demurrage fees of $10,000 per day for each train when the scale was out of service.
“The rodent problems were easily causing us to replace load cells once a month,” says Doug Littlejohn, vice president and general manager of Littlejohn Grain. “It wouldn’t be unreasonable to put cost at $15,000 to $20,000 a year if you included downtime along with the maintenance.”
To solve the problem, Littlejohn turned to Koenig Scale, the local METTLER TOLEDO distributor. Instead of continuing to replace damaged equipment, Koenig recommended upgrading the railroad scale with POWERCELL PDX load cells.
Those load cells use heavy-duty cables covered with braided stainless steel to resist rodent damage. For added protection, Koenig routed the cables through flexible metal conduit. In the unlikely event that a cable is damaged, quick-locking connectors allow it to be replaced without the expense of purchasing a new load cell.
The POWERCELL PDX network also avoids lightning problems. Each load cell has a built-in surge protector designed to prevent lightning damage. Independent testing has proven the load cell’s ability to withstand lightning strikes up to 80,000 amperes.
Shortly after the railroad scale was upgraded, disaster struck the Martinsville facilities’s truck scale. The older mechanical scale seems to be working well until it collapsed into the scale pit when its extension lever broke. An inspection revealed cracks in the main lever and stands, making it apparent that trouble had been brewing for some time.
The need to repair the scale was urgent. While the scale was down, trucks had to be rerouted to another facility to be weighed and unloaded. Then the grain was shipped back to the Martinsville facility at an additional cost. Littlejohn Grain could not afford to continue this unwieldy process for long.
There were good reasons not to repair the lever system. First, there was no guarantee that the remaining components had not suffered damage that would shorten their lives. Second, lever systems use antiquated technology that allows damage and weighing errors to go undetected for long periods of time.
Saving time and money
Again, Koenig Scale recommended POWERCELL PDX load cells. Converting the scale to POWERCELL PDX technology promised to save both time and money. Installing the new load cells was a quicker and less expensive job than repairing the broken lever system. Because a certificate of conformity already existed for the conversion kit, the facility was able to start weighing without the delay or requesting a variance from the State of Illinois.
The POWERCELL PDX load cells provide the benefit of a predictive-diagnostics system. Unlike lever systems and analog load cells, the technology constantly monitors every load cell in the network to verify its performance. If service is needed, the predictive-diagnostics system alerts the scale operator.
The new technology also opened the door to new communication options. It allowed the facility to install a wireless remote display and proceed with plans to interface the scale to a personal computer for more efficient processing weight data.
The upgraded scale have performed well with no maintenance problems.
“I’m guessing we’ll save $10,000 to $15,000 a year just from these two installation,” says Doug Littlejohn. “Of course, we have five other scales besides these that we may change over time.”
Learn more about METTLER TOLEDO POWERCELL PDX load cells
Story from the METTLER TOLEDO Vehicle Weighing News 10