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Modern Trucking Techniques
‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist’
Wireless onboard scale helps owner-operator maximize payload, productivity

At a time when the average highway tractor has more computing power than an Apollo-vintage lunar module, OOIDA member David Bicheno of White Swan, WA, will remind you that trucking is still about moving the most payload over the road quickly, efficiently and within the bounds of local weight laws.

   Bicheno and his Kenworth W900 haul lumber and other flatbed loads, primarily throughout the Pacific Northwest on a 40-foot and 22-foot maxi-set, topping out at 105,500 pounds gross combined weight across seven axles.

"Of all the technology that's supposed to help truckers be more productive, my wireless onboard scale actually delivers," he said.

"When you don't have an accurate scale at the loading area, it's anybody's guess whether the vehicle is at capacity until it goes across an in-ground scale. Having the scale onboard eliminates the guesswork."

At the mill where Bicheno picks up lumber, trucks aren't allowed out of the gates unless they are loaded close to capacity.

"If you pull up to the scale at the mill and you're overweight, you have to go back, offload or shift the freight around, and get in line to re-weigh. If you're underweight, you have to go back, take on more payload, and get in line to re-weigh," Bicheno says. "Either way, you lose at least an hour."

So this past spring Bicheno installed Smart Scale, an inexpensive, accurate, wireless onboard scale for trucks, tractors and trailers with air suspensions.

Made by TruckWeight Inc., Smart Scale includes a sensor with an integrated antenna, DOT fittings for the vehicle's air line, and a hand-held receiver. The sensor measures temperature and pressure changes in the air suspension and relays the data to the hand-held receiver using a low-powered radio transmitter.

A small computer in the receiver interprets the information and provides an axle weight and gross vehicle weight measurement that's accurate to within 150 pounds. It produces readings once per minute, and every three seconds during a 15-minute span when the sensors detect the truck being loaded. The wireless receiver has a range of 100 feet.

Bicheno said he installed and calibrated the scale in less than an hour with no special skills or tools. The weatherproof, shock-resistant and non-corrosive housing requires no regular maintenance, uses common AA batteries and the sensors are accurate in temperature extremes ranging from 40 below zero to 158 degrees.

Onboard scales are gaining in popularity for two reasons, says Peter Panagapko, president of TruckWeight.

"To protect their infrastructure investments, jurisdictions are supplementing roadside scale houses with portable scales they can put anywhere," he explains. "Enforcement is strict and the fines are steep. The second reason is the migration from mechanical suspensions to air-ride suspensions on vans, flatdecks, logging trailers and other trailers."

Market acceptance, however, has been slowed by the price and complexity associated with hardwired onboard scales.

"That's why we're wireless," Panagapko said. "The cost to equip a tractor and trailer with a Smart Scale is $1,430, about half the cost of a hard-wired scale when you factor in installation costs and downtime."

The simple, do-it-yourself installation lowers the cost of ownership and speeds up the return on investment.

Whether you're hauling general freight, asphalt, aggregates, steel, farm products or lumber, the guy running the loader or lift-truck knows approximately how much freight to put on the trailer. But gut-feel, air gauges and bucket scales are no assurance the truck is leaving the loading area within a few hundred pounds of your rated capacity every time.

"Those extra pounds are the difference between making money or not," Bicheno said. "The hour I save because I can throw straps on the load while other guys are repositioning freight or sliders or check-weighing again is the difference between making money or not."

He said the wireless scale helps him load with precision, efficiency and confidence that he's in compliance when he passes over a government scale.

"So much onboard technology is for big fleets, maintenance people and computer experts," Bicheno said. "I'm a one-truck owner-operator. The best part about my TruckWeight scale is that it's affordable and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how it can help you be more productive."