Material Handling
Monday | 15 December, 2008 | 7:22 am

Lifting burdens

Written by By John Loos

December 2008 - Everything’s connected. At face value, that sounds like a simplistic, New Age philosophy. But in terms of manufacturing technology trends, it’s perhaps the most accurate adage to summarize the movement toward interconnected machines, processes and people through networking software. Companies want accurate information fast and delivered to them in their preferred format.

The industrial weighing world is no different. Whereas in the past sluggish and rigid peer-to-peer weighing systems were the norm, today fully networked, fluid solutions that allow end users to send and receive weighing information any number of ways are changing the way companies weigh, track and handle their materials. What’s more, this technology is now starting to permeate the metals industry.

Measurement Systems International, Seattle, a crane scale manufacturer that provides industrial electronic scales, tension dynamometers, load monitoring instrumentation, RF wireless data acquisition and signal processing equipment, is helping lead this networking trend. The MSI-9000 CellScale network solution aims to provide the industrial weighing industry with efficient, simultaneous oversight of sensor inputs and outputs, as well as deliver crucial data in real time to information systems through its analog-to-digital signal processing and its secure wireless network.

"The CellScale technology evolved out of a different product that we were making before, where we were using 900-megahertz modems to transmit data from a crane scale that we’ve been making for years," says Jonny Hendrix, West Coast regional sales manager for MSI. "That was when we embarked on the new CellScale technology to replace the older technology that was going away."

Information now
With previous RF technologies, a common problem was the overcrowding of frequencies, which made it difficult to tune systems for the sending and receiving of transmissions. CellScale eliminates this problem by employing frequency-hopping spread spectrum modems to keep weighing information traveling through uninterrupted channels.

"The 2.4-gigahertz modem has worked significantly better with much more reliable communications," says Jeff Brandt, product marketing manager for MSI. "We don’t have any of the issues that we used to deal with from the RF standpoint. Being able to set up a network of master/slave-type devices so that they’re all communicating on the network is what’s really helped us to not only capture the weighing information but also get that information to where the customer needs it so it can be utilized fast."

Although customizable to specific applications, CellScale systems come standard with 64 networks of scales through a 2.4-gigahertz modem, a radio link with 500-foot indoor range and 1,000-foot outdoor range, a real-time clock, two scale inputs and six terminal connections, as well as programmable pushbutton inputs.

"In the old days, the customers were used to having manual-type crane scales," says Greg Randall, account executive for Grand Rapids Scale Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., an authorized MSI distributor. "They’d lift something up, they’d see what the weight was and they’d record that manually. With the technology the way it is today, not only do they want to record that data, they want a time and date stamp. They want bar coding where they can actually scan in a particular part number or an item number and have all of that data, and then implement that into their inventory control or processing system. That’s where the advances of the CellScale system allow the customers to go. Not only do they get the weight from the scale, but the sophistication of the CellScale, in addition to the indication devices that MSI offers, gives the customers that step further, and they can start to record data and get it into their data collection systems faster, easier and with a much smoother transition."

Industrious technology
MSI provides weighing solutions to a wide array of industries, including aerospace, mining, forestry, automotive, petrochemical, agriculture, nuclear and marine, but it’s also established a growing presence in the metals industry, particularly within steel service centers and smelters. Considering the wide amount of heavy loads these companies handle each day and the precise measurements needed, CellScale technology has proven to be an advantage.

"We’re getting into systems in the service centers with the coil handlers where we have high-torque load cells that we’ve developed so that they can actually integrate the weighing systems within the power rotators," says Brandt. "The increase of productivity is tremendous for those service centers. Now they don’t have to pick up the coil and take it all the way over to a floor scale, set it down, pick it back up and move it back to the next part. As soon as the coil handling equipment lifts the coil, they’ve got the weight information. They know how much is left on the coil and can move it right to where it needs to go next."

Another growing beneficiary of CellScale technology is the commercial engine manufacturing industry. For engine manufacturers, CellScale has been employed to determine if there’s oil in a completed engine before it’s tested, cutting out a step and preventing the damage incurred by firing up an oil-less engine. One major commercial engine manufacturer that uses a CellScale system for such purposes says it’s found the technology reliable and accurate.

"One of our key businesses is commercial engines, and the main purpose of the CellScale system is to validate and verify consist before actually turning the engine on, and weight is the one of the ways to do that," says the commercial engine manufacturer. "That’s our main goal, to make sure everything’s there. The engines should all weigh within a small band. They should be consistent within a small band, mainly to make sure oil is in them, but we can also pick up missing parts, as well."

On more than one occasion, the CellScale system has detected engines without oil or a particular component, saving the company a significant amount of time and money had the incomplete engines been started up and ruined.

"We know what a standard engine should weigh within a certain band," says the commercial engine manufacturer. "With machining tolerances and such, there is variation, but we know within a certain band what each engine should weigh. Now, if it’s missing a small screw, we’re probably not going to pick that up. That’s going to fall into the area of machine tolerances and things like that. But normally a small screw won’t destroy an engine either. We’re looking for major consist errors, missing lubrication, that sort of thing. We’re just trying to avoid a catastrophe.

"Every now and then, it saves us a bunch of money," the commercial engine manufacturer adds.

For Brandt, the success of wireless CellScale network solutions in forward-thinking production environments is no surprise, considering their ability to eliminate the headaches of outdated systems.

"The older systems were more peer to peer," says Brandt. "You had a scale and you had an indicator, and that was it. Those two talked to one another, and you couldn’t do anything else. So it really only provided a remote indication. It’s taken a little time for people to understand CellScale technology and its reliability. The more we’ve done that, the more people have adopted it and have experienced the benefits. It’s been snowballing ever since." MM


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