AN Online Weighing and Measurement Magazine
WAM Publishing Co was a bi monthly magazine for users of industrial scales. The publisher was David Mathieu. It's table of content offered articles about:
- Coming Events
- Featured Products
- Weighing Products
- Measuring and Metering Products
- Featured Article
- People & Companies
Form 2003 though 2007 it offered its readers a wide range of timely articles. The layout of the magazine evolved along with its e-Table of content. After its domain registration expired WAM disappeared from the web. My father read WAM so I was familiar with this publication.
Recently I discovered that the domain was available, so I bought it with the goal of recreating some of its original content from archived pages. And since there was so much content available I chose two articles and a blog entry that I felt defined the e-magazine's essence. I definitely didn't want someone else purchasing the domain and re-purposing it for something that had nothing in common with the original WAM website.
Each author of these articles are experts in their field. Take for example the first artical titled Weights and Measures In the United States. Mike Belue is founder of Belue Associates, a niche oriented technical consulting firm specializing in the weights and measures industry. Niche market places are fascinating. Often times the general public is totally unaware of such industry specific marketplaces. I help create software / apps for a local Salesforce consultant within the healthcare marketplace. My work impacts a large number of people. Yet the very specific type of work I perform by creating custom data analytics software for hospitals and medical industry related businesses is not on the radar for regular folks. Nevertheless, my work directly affects patients by helping hospital to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. One example is the new wear-able technology and fitness apps that my company creates for hospitals and clinics. It allows doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals a rare and honest glimpse into patients' everyday lives. By using medical data analytics to identify and better manage high-risk, high-cost patients insurance companies and hospitals will be able to see if such patients would benefit from early interventions that could keep patients in better health and reduce medical costs later. The excitement about the potential of healthcare data analytics is only tempered by the technology we have available and by the privacy and ethical concerns of how this personal health data is used. Likewise the impact of weights and scales is enormous in all aspects of our lives. Most of us don't even think about it. The visitor who reads some of the articles available may gain a better appreciation for weights and scales.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PAGE CONTAINS SELECTIVE ARCHIVED CONTENT FROM THE ORIGINAL SITE.
Since the site will not be exactly as you remember it, please be indulgent
Now back to 2004 when the WAM bimonthly was offering insightful information to industrial scale manufacturers and users.
Weights and Measures In the United States
By F. Michael Belue 2004
It’s always a pleasure to welcome a hands-on guy from the industry to the pages of WAM. This is Mike Belue’s first of many columns to come. I believe you’ll find his columns informative and timely. He primarily will cover all facets of the regulatory side of the weighing and measurement industry. If there is a particular topic you’d like covered, we encourage you to contact Mike directly. — Editor.
As a prelude to my first article for Weighing and Measurement, I want to give a little background on myself. I am a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University. After two years in an industry unrelated to weighing and measurement, I started my career in the fluid measurement industry with Bowser Inc. in 1962. This was soon after the company moved its Pump and Meter Division from Ft. Wayne, Ind. to Greeneville, Tenn. During my years at Bowser and with other companies that produced liquid meters, gasoline dispensers, flow control devices and filtration equipment, I also had the responsibilities of working with regulatory and safety agencies. In 1989, after leaving Southwest Energy Controls in Bonham, Texas, I formed my company, Belue Associates. Believing that my 25 plus years of engineering responsibilities within the measurement industry were key to the future of Belue Associates, I chose to direct my efforts within the industry and with the disciplines I felt were my strong suits. Having had responsibilities with UL and weights and measures during my corporate career, these became the focus of my consulting efforts.
To give some credence to my weights and measures experience. I have attended some 26 NCWM Annual Meetings and as many Interim Meetings. Since 1980 I have attended every NCWM Annual and Interim Conference. While in industry I attended a number of Regional Association W&M Conferences. Since entering business as Belue Associates in 1989, I have attended all of the four regional conferences every year. I have served on the NTETC Measuring Sector since its inception in the early 1980s including two years as chairman of the NTETC Measuring Sector. I have published my own newsletter Weights and Measures News and Views for Industry since 1989. Additionally I have written articles for trade magazines and association newsletters all pertaining to weights and measures activities.
Weights - Measures in the marketplace
Practically every commodity bought and sold in he United States comes under the jurisdiction of weights and measures. The accuracy of devices used to weigh, measure or count and/or calculate the price of these commodities are critical to the many different parties involved in the transaction. Errors in either direction (e.g., overstating or understating the accuracy) mean that one party to a transaction is getting more than he is entitled to and the other party is getting less. What assurance is there that the weighing, measuring, calculating and counting devices are accurate?
The short answer is that these devices are designed, tested and maintained under established specification and tolerance standards. Testing is performed by weights and measures personnel from state, county or local jurisdictions at the initial installation and periodically during the life of the equipment. The basis of the testing and inspection, to help assure uniformity, are standards established by the National Conference on Weights and Measures, Inc. (NCWM). The long answer follows.
The assurance network
While the federal government has no regulatory authority in weights and measures as it does in other areas like environmental protection and occupational safety, the federal government is an active partner with NCWM. This cooperative agency is the Weights and Measures Division (WMD) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST/WMD provides technical advisors on the Board of Directors (BOD), standing committees and NTETC Sectors of NCWM. Additionally training and the publication of several NCWM Documents are under the purview of NIST/WMD.
NCWM is comprised of some 2600 members. Approximately 54 percent of these members are state and local weights and measures officials; approximately 34 percent are U.S. Industry members; the remaining 12 percent of the membership is from U.S. government, foreign government and retired membership. Just as with industry in recent months, the economic situation has not been kind to NCWM. In the past five or so years total membership has dropped by some 14 percent. The biggest percentage of the decrease has come from U.S. industry membership. Just five years ago the ratio of public and private sector membership was almost 50-50.
In the view of this writer, NCWM membership is a necessary bargain for any industry even closely related to weights and measures. For a membership fee of $65 one gets a copy of Handbook 44, Handbook 130, agendas that include proposed regulations for the NCWM Interim and Annual Meetings and access to the members only section of the NCWM web site (www.ncwm.net). Membership applications are available from the web site.
Weights and measures regulatory power rests with state, county and local governments. Uniformity of state and local laws and inspection methods is attained via the workings of NCWM. The National Conference’s scope of activity goes far beyond the measurement industry that has been my involvement. Almost all devices used to weigh, measure, indicate and record commercial transactions are regulated by the various weights and measures jurisdictions. The areas would include gasoline dispensers, metering systems, supermarket scales, price scanners, taxi meters, grain moisture meters, parking meters, berry baskets, packaged goods and many more.
The NCWM has established and maintains three basic documents to ensure uniformity of specifications for and inspections of weighing and measuring devices. Handbook 44, Specifications, Tolerances, and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices is sometimes referred to as the “bible” of weights and measures. Handbook 44 contains basic specifications, tolerances and user requirements for devices used in commerce throughout the United States. It is the guide for manufacturers in developing equipment to meet weights and measures requirements and weights and measures inspectors in assuring devices are performing properly. With few exceptions, states adopt Handbook 44 into their state laws.
Publication 14, National Type Evaluation Program - Administrative Procedures, Technical Policy, Checklists and Test Procedures is a document providing added detail of device compliance to meet the requirements of Handbook 44. Publication 14 and NTEP will be further discussed in the next section of this article.
Handbook 130, Uniform Laws and Regulations in the Area of Legal Metrology and Engine Fuel Quality is used as a model for jurisdictions upon which to base their laws and regulations pertaining to the many facets of weights and measures. The purpose of Handbook 130 is to achieve, to the maximum extent possible, the standardization of weights and measures laws among the various states and local jurisdictions in order to facilitate trade between states, permit fair competition among businesses, and provide sufficient protection to all consumers in commercial weights and measures practices.
National Type Evaluation
Forty-five of the 50 states have regulations requiring devices used for commercial trade to be evaluated by NTEP. At least three of the five remaining states are proposing adoption of NTEP into their regulation and already look favorably upon devices that have been evaluated under NTEP. The NTEP program was developed in the early 1980s to provide uniformity in the type evaluation process. Prior to the inception of NTEP there were some 15 individual states that had their own type evaluation criteria. Manufacturers had to prove state by state that their devices were capable of meeting weights and measures requirements before placing equipment into commercial use within those jurisdictions.
Publication 14, previously mentioned, is updated annually to include changes made to Handbook 44 at the NCWM Annual Meeting. Publication 14 expands upon the general criteria of Handbook 44 to provide more detailed information as how to comply with the intent of Handbook 44 specifications and tolerances. Several National Type Evaluation Technical Committee (NTETC) “Sectors” comprised of weights and measures officials and industry members meet to develop the NTEP criteria. Several states have established NTEP Laboratories and are responsible along with the NTEP Director for evaluating equipment to assure compliance to Publication 14 requirements. Manufacturers submit devices, data and specifications to the NTEP Director; a testing (NTEP) laboratory is assigned; and the evaluation process begins. Generally the testing involves a combination of laboratory, manufacturers test facility and field-testing. The inspector from the testing laboratory will review the device making point by point observations and tests according to the “Checklists” that are part of Publication 14. When the device has been determined to meet the requirements, a Certificate of Conformance (CC) and CC Number are issued.
Many tests conducted under the NTEP process are practically impossible to conduct in routine field-testing. These include requirements of operation under power fail conditions and certain environmental influence factors. NTEP testing helps to assure the devices will operate properly under severe installation conditions.
Beyond type evaluation, most jurisdictions require weighing and measuring devices to be checked by a licensed service person or weights and measures official at the time of installation and before being placed into commercial service. Thereafter, state, county or local inspectors periodically make on-site inspections of the device to determine if it is still within compliance. Some devices are tested annually, some at different intervals depending on the manpower available and/or the compliance rate for the device type. More frequent inspections are performed where there are customer complaints of suspected inaccuracies.
The accuracy of the device, of course, is a major focus of on-site inspections. Accuracy is evaluated using the tolerances adopted in Handbook 44. The device is required to meet acceptance tolerance upon initial installation and in the first 30 days after it is placed into service. Thereafter, maintenance tolerances, roughly double the acceptance tolerance, in most cases is applied. If a device, regardless of the length of time it has been in service, fails to pass the maintenance tolerance and is cited, it must pass the acceptance tolerance after repair or re-calibration before being placed back into service.
Even devices that are within tolerance cannot use the tolerance to the advantage of the seller. Handbook 44 states that devices cannot be set predominately in favor of the seller. The interpretation of what is predominately in favor of the seller varies among jurisdictions.
In addition to checking accuracy, the weights and measures official makes an overall inspection of the equipment. Agreement between the device and the console or cash register is determined. The printed ticket is reviewed to make certain it is in agreement with the visual indication on the device. Certain requirements of quantity, unit price and total price are required on the printed ticket for compliance.
When a device is found to violate accuracy tolerance or other requirements, the weights and measures official has several options. He may tag the device “out of service” until the correction is made, issue citations, or give the owner/operator a specified time period to correct the deficiency. The specific action depends on the severity of the problem and its impact on the public. Sometimes repeat violations by the same facility will weigh into the equation of the punishment.
How NCWM works
The National Conference on Weights and Measures, Inc. has two national meetings each year — an Interim meeting in January and an Annual Conference in July. The Interim Meeting provides a forum for input on issues that have been presented to the Conference’s various committees throughout the year.
Industry members or groups; state, county or local jurisdictions; NTETC Sectors; NTEP laboratories; or individuals may present items to the Conference. Before a Confer-ence Committee considers an item, it must have been forwarded by one of the four regional associations or an NTETC Sector. This procedure helps to assure the item is of national interest, has a significant affect on commerce or is needed to correct some current problem. All of the NTETC Sectors and the four regional associations have meetings in the fall, after the NCWM Annual Conference. This allows input from these groups to be placed on the agenda for consideration by NCWM at the Interim Meeting in January. The various committees decide, based on input whether the item should be withdrawn (W), made informational (I) to allow more input, made a voting (V) item or be delegated a developing (D) status to more precisely develop and define the item.
The Specifications and Tolerances (S&T) Committee is responsible for maintaining Handbook 44 and the Laws and Regulations (L&R) Committee for Handbook 130. Each of the regional associations has S&T and L&R Committees. At least one member from the national committee serves on the regional committee. The BOD establishes other sub-committees and work groups when special projects arise, requiring specific expertise or oversight. As with other corporations, NCWM, Inc. has a Board of Directors that is responsible for administrative policy and other functions of NCWM. The NTEP Committee reviews the deliberations of the various NTETC Sectors before the actions of the Sectors are formally adopted. NCWM has no salaried employees. The organization is assisted by a management company to establish annual meetings, administer NTEP, provide meeting agendas to the membership and a variety of other tasks too numerous to list.
Items designated as voting (V) by the Committees are voted on at the Annual Conference in July. These items become effective on January 1 of the following year unless they are given a future effective date. Only public sector members are allowed to vote on items that are of a technical nature (generally S&T and L&R items). The voting is divided between two houses, similar to our federal government. The house of States Representatives allows one participant vote from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories. The person voting must be present and registered for the conference. No proxy voting is allowed. The House of State Delegates is comprised of all present and registered weights and measures officials. For an item to pass there must be a majority in both houses and at least 27 positive votes in each house. An item can receive a majority vote and still not pass if the 27-vote rule is not met. In this case the item goes back to the committee responsible for re-evaluation.
The preceding is a quick overview of the various facets of our weights and measures program. Volumes could be written to fully explain our complex system of weights and measures, NTEP, NCWM and interactions of the various groups. I trust the brief explanation has been of some aide in helping to understand the nature and inner-workings of our complex weights and measures program. It is a program type unique to the United States. Again, for those readers not members of NCWM, I want to emphasize the need for the industry to become involved and active within NCWM. It is an important component to our products from the initial development stage to their introduction into the market place. May God continue to bless our United States of America.
About the Author
Mike Belue is founder of Belue Associates, a niche oriented technical consulting firm specializing in the weights and measures industry. Belue publishes Weights and Measures News and Views newsletter and has written for numerous trade publications. He may be reached at Belue Associates, 1319 Knight Drive, Murfreesboro, TN 37128; phone 615/867-1010; e-mail: email@example.com.
Principles of Metrology
Imagine a world with no regard for accuracy. What would happen if no one could agree on terms of time, length, weight or the amount of electrical energy in a volt? It would be impossible to know for sure that a pound of meat really was a pound or a gallon of gasoline really a gallon.
Advances in electricity and electronics this past century have made accurate measurement of many different properties essential. We wake up to electrical alarm clocks, cook in microwave ovens and regulate the heat in our homes with thermostats. All of these devices depend on accurate voltages, currents and resistances to function properly.
Metrology is the science that provides us with the accuracy we need to get on with business and our personal lives. It is within metrology that international definitions for measurements are agreed upon. Calibration is the action of metrology. Through calibration, the actual accuracy and integrity of a measurement is established. Calibration, then, is the process that provides the confidence that our measurement results are accurate.
A measurement uses an instrument as a physical means of determining a quantity or variable. Measurement correlates numbers to quantities: a pound of meat, a gallon of gasoline, 10 volts or 1,800 miles. A quantity is assigned a number and a unit that people readily understand.
So, how are the numbers and units assigned? Someone had to be the first to say, “This is what is meant when I say kilogram/meter/liter/volt/ampere.” This is where unit definitions come in to play. A standard unit is merely the agreed upon definition of a unit of measure. A unit might be weight (kilogram), volume (liter), volt, or length (meter) and so on. The “caretaker” for these internationally agreed upon defined units is the International Committee of Weights and Measures [Bureau International des poids et mesures (BIPM)] located in France. Units are agreed upon between countries via treaty.
The abbreviation SI is taken from its French name, Système International d’Unités. The General Conference of Weights and Measures established it in 1960. The United States and most other nations subscribe to this conference and use the SI for most legal, scientific and technical purposes.
Each country has some process for deriving measurement units from the definitions. This may be accomplished in one of three ways. In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) determines, maintains and disseminates measurement standards. In Germany the Physikalish-Techniche Bundesanstalt (PTB) is the official standards organization. Some countries rely on the organizations in other countries. Still others use a combination of sources. Keep in mind that differences do exist between the standards of various countries. These differences are measured and recognized so that there is little confusion.
The strongest force driving the development and practice of metrology and calibration is the need for accurate information in trade and industry. Some of the oldest laws in existence deal with the need for dependable honest measurements of grains, oils and metals, which were among the principle items of early commerce. These laws were aimed at answering the question, “Am I getting what I paid for?” This category of measurements is part of legal metrology. Legal metrology concentrates on protecting the unwary from the unscrupulous. An example of this is the legal requirement to have gasoline pumps calibrated at regular intervals.
Technical metrology, on the other hand, deals with questions of “fitness” for intended use and compatibility. Modern industry relies heavily on measurements for standardizing components. In industry, calibration makes it possible to achieve the accuracy, precision and interchangeability that make mass production feasible. Calibration is the provider of confidence that components manufactured all over the world can come together in a single location and fit.
Calibration is the highly refined measurement process that compares test and measurement instruments of unknown accuracy with well-defined standards of greater accuracy. The purpose is to detect, eliminate by adjustment and report any variation in an instrument’s accuracy. The accuracy of an electrical measurement, for example, is an expression of the closeness of its result to the true value. High accuracy indicates a close approach to the true value of the item being measured.
A simple example:
A car will not start. A voltmeter is used to read the voltage of the car’s battery. The voltmeter says that the battery reads 12 volts. But, how is it possible to know that it’s really 12 volts? What if the actual value is really ten volts? Then there may not be enough power in the battery to crank the engine. What if it is really 14 volts? If it is, the battery is probably good and the problem is elsewhere in the car’s starting system. If the meter had recently been calibrated, the user could be confident that the reading was accurate.
By complying with international standards such as ANSI/ISO/IEC 17025 and using internationally agreed upon definitions of units, measurements are assured to be compatible and traceable anywhere on earth. Companies that comply with metrological standards and practices reduce their rework costs and the number of faulty units shipped, both of which translate to lower production costs.
Where Does the Confidence Come From?
To answer this question, we’ll look at an example that will help illustrate what calibration means and introduce some basic metrological terms.
This example features a pressure meter used by a manufacturer to set up a production process. To insure that their instruments measure accurately, this company periodically sends all of its test and measurement equipment to a calibration laboratory.
When the calibration lab receives the meter, a technician starts by using a calibrator to check or verify its performance. The calibrator is essentially a very accurate source that produces stimuli in the various units needed for the calibration — a device whose accuracy is known to be within a tightly specified tolerance. The technician connects the test leads of the meter to the calibrator’s output terminals. The calibrator then produces a signal that is read by the meter. Since the technician knows how accurate the calibrator is, he considers the meter to be “in calibration” if its reading agrees with the calibrator’s. It may not have to read precisely the same as the calibrator; it may only need to read within ±1 percent of the calibrator setting. For example, if the calibrator were producing a signal that emulates 100 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, the meter would be within its specification if it reads between 99 and 101 PSI. This portion of calibration is considered verification.
If the meter is within the tolerance specified, it has passed its verification and needs no further calibration at this time. (Remember this is a simplified example. A meter may be verified at a several different levels and on different functions.) It is usually given a sticker that shows the date it was calibrated and that it passed.
If the meter did not pass the verification tests, it is then adjusted. (Note that some devices cannot be adjusted. In this case various actions might be taken such as the development of correction tables.) This is the second part of calibration. Adjustment involves repairing the instrument or adjusting specific circuit components until the instrument passes another “verification test”. When it passes, it’s given a calibration sticker and sent back to the end-user.
As an instrument is being calibrated, each step is thoroughly documented with records of the tests that were performed and at what points, the tolerances and the noted results. These records are required in order to make the calibration traceable.
The act of calibration did not end when the meter was sent back to the production department. To keep the calibrator accurate, it too is periodically compared to a standard of higher accuracy. Likewise, that upper level standard is compared to another and perhaps another, until eventually a comparison is made to a legally established national standards laboratory such as NIST. These inter-comparisons are referred to as a chain of traceability.
To make this concept clearer, we will modify the example slightly. The meter might be used to test pressure on some process affecting airplanes. The company that manufactures and tests the airplane is legally required by the government (FAA) to prove that the measuring instruments used in the process were calibrated, just as described previously, and that the calibrations are traceable. This means that the measuring instruments can be traced, via a chain of documented calibrations, back to a legally defined national standard for that measurement.
To sum up this simplified traceability chain, the steps were:
- • The meter was sent to a cal lab and compared to a calibrator.
- • The calibrator was sent to a standards lab and compared to a working standard.
- • The working standard was compared to a reference standard that always stays in the standards lab.
- • The reference standard is compared to a transfer standard.
- • The transfer standard is sent to the National Measurement Institute where it is compared to the legal parameter.
Think of traceability as the pedigree of a measurement, much like the bloodline of champion animals. From a particular calibration job, it should be possible to trace each measurement all the way back to national standards. This trail of calibration is carefully recorded along with the parameters of the procedure including the conditions of the test, instruments used and the time between calibrations.
Some Basic Terms
When discussing metrology, it is necessary to have a common understanding of the meaning of certain terms. They are words used every day, but in the context of calibration they take on a very exact meaning.
Common Terms Defined:
- Accuracy is a qualitative expression of the closeness of a measurement’s result to the true value.
- Precision is a measure of repeatability. A high precision indicates the ability to repeat measurements within narrow limits.
- Resolution is the smallest change that can be detected. With today’s digital instruments resolution can be thought of as significant digits. It is the smallest increment that can be measured, generated or displayed.
An example of these concepts involves measuring a resistor whose true value is 1,234,567 _. The multimeter used to measure this resistor consistently reads 1.235 M_. Without the additional resolution required, it does not conform to the measurement requirements of the resistor. Even though the meter conforms up to a certain point in reading the true value, a greater degree of resolution is required in order to make a precise determination of the true value of the resistor.
Uncertainty is a quantitative term that represents a range of values wherein the true value may lie and how confident the cal lab is that it is so. Uncertainty and confidence is determined using statistical tools. Although it is common to refer to instrument specifications as “Accuracy Specs”, for the most part instrumentation specifications are specified terms of uncertainty rather than accuracy.
A measurement is subject to many sources of error, some of which may make the measurements too high, others too low. While the goal is to keep these errors as small as possible, they cannot be reduced to zero. Thus, in any measurement process the task remains to try to find out what errors exist and how large they may be. For this reason, information about the sources of measurement error is indispensable.
Three types of errors impact measurements: Random, Systematic and Gross. Random errors are due to generally unknown causes and are only detectable when repeated measurements are made with a seemingly constant setup and consistent technique. It is often noted that when measurements are repeated, the result is not always the same. If the reason for these variations is not obvious, then it falls into the category of random errors. Think of them as the gremlins of metrology.
Systematic errors relate to the instruments being used or external influences on the instruments. These may also be called offset errors, as they cause the measured value to be offset by a fixed amount. Examples of these are loading, thermals, drift-rate, leakage currents and external noise.
The third type of error in measurement is gross errors. Gross errors are those which can be strictly controlled and are caused by the metrologist. Examples of these might include misreading the instrument, making incorrect adjustments, using the wrong instrument, computational errors, or making errors in recording calibration data. These are errors that can be avoided by care and attention.
Metrology is the science of measurement. In the context used here, it is that portion of measurement science used to maintain and disseminate a consistent set of measurement standards. It is used to provide support for the enforcement of equity in trade by weights and measurement laws and to provide data for quality control in manufacturing.
Calibration is the portion of metrology that verifies our measurements are in accordance with established standards. More specifically, calibration is a highly refined measurement process in which measurement and test equipment instruments of unknown accuracy are compared with well-defined standards of greater accuracy. Its purpose is to verify the operational integrity of measurement and test equipment.
Traceability means that there is a link that can be documented between the accuracy of an instrument and the highest level of standards as maintained by a national or international laboratory. The highest-level of standards are referred to as legal standards, meaning that they are recognized among several nations as being a standard of reference.
The above article was supplied by the Fluke Corporation, P.O. Box 9090, Everett, WA 98206.
Is it Time to Reposition Your Enterprise?
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 06, 2006
It was back in the 1970s when the weighing industry last went through a major change—the electronic scale entered the marketplace. This was a technological breakthrough that was very profitable and grew the industry to new heights.
Now, some 30 plus years later, the weighing industry is once again on the cusp of major change. But this time it isn’t going to be a new technology to up-tick the profits. This time it’s going to take some creative moves just to make sure our companies survive
The man was right who said, “Those who take no care for the future, soon sorrow for the present.” And to prepare for the future is neither simple nor logical. No blueprints or instruction booklets or problem-solving hotlines come with it. It’s tough.
Scale dealers are under ever-increasing pressure by end users that impose onerous terms and conditions and make unreasonable price demands. These days, the end users are asking more and more from scale dealers, but they still expect you to cut your prices while demanding terms in their favor.
What’s a dealer to do? If you are losing ground in terms of market share and earnings, “repositioning” your enterprise may be the path to renewal.
I think dealers need to create a distinctive strategy that will get them out of depending on the sale of new products where there are only marginal changes in market position. The bottom line for a product-driven strategy is best product wins! But in today’s world, end users basically don’t give a rip about what hardware they use as long as they get the data needed to optimize their operations. In the end user’s mind, a scale is a scale is a scale. In fact, according to some dealers I’ve talked to, the end users of today go out their way to make the buying of scales a commodity purchase.
Perhaps it’s time for you to tilt the playing field to your advantage and change the rules of play; because selling more products at lower and lower prices certainly won’t ensure survival of an organization.
That’s why I believe that those in the weighing industry have to start doing some air castling about where they go from here. I know that many of you have already begun to change the way you do business, and if not, then you certainly need to think about it. The fact is you can’t live on hardware sales alone. You have to grow your business in service and value-added capabilities. You have to build something around the scale, otherwise it’s just “my scale is better than your scale.”
One area that is a natural playing field for scale dealers, it seems to me, is systems integration. You may already be doing this, but not getting paid for it.
One of the significant trends in the manufacturing and production processing companies is that they no longer have in-house process and control engineers. Most companies don’t replace them as they retire, and generally turn these engineering functions to other departments, usually IT.
As technology companies differentiate themselves by becoming ever more specialized, no firm can deliver from in-house resources everything they need. Many corporations are therefore calling in “solution providers” or system integrators to coordinate the work of several vendors in order to deliver one contiguous system. The system components may include temperature, pressure/flow, controls, sensors, material handling, as well as the weighing devices.
This is a good opportunity for you. If your customers don’t have the expertise (and they probably don’t), then they need to get if from you or a consultant (guess who they are using). As I mentioned earlier, end users are looking for data. Capturing this information and doing something with it is very valuable to them, even if they treat the hardware as a commodity, the data and information is valuable.
Today’s end users want solutions to complex problems. They want the pieces of automation to fit together to meet their needs. They don’t necessarily care about the uniqueness of the technology they use.
Not only can you integrate the appropriate components for your customers’ automated manufacturing processes, you can help them with their regulatory requirements. Who knows regulatory compliance—HB 133, HB-44 and ISO 17025—better than you do? You can help highly regulated customers validate that they indeed have a good process and their measurement devices are in spec.
By taking on the job of systems integrator, you get paid for your know-how. If you don’t have the expertise in a particular segment, you can collaborate with those who do, acting much like a subcontractor. After all, you probably know more about this customer whom you’ve served for umpteen years than any consultant. Who would know their needs better than you?
If you already act as a system integrator, we’d like to hear about how you got started and some unique experiences. — Dave Mathieu, Managing Editor
POSTED BY DAVID MATHIEU