Thursday, 31 October 2013

On the importance of getting advice.

Two  really interesting meetings this week to discuss axle weighbridge installations. And they both starkly illustrated how important it is to get good advice and thoroughly consider what the system needs to do.

Neither of these two clients would have got what they wanted just by Googling axle weighing and then buying the cheapest system they found. Axle weighing is a complex operation and specifying the right system, location, peripherals, method of operation etc are all important for ensuring the system does what you need when installed.

Buying a TV or washing machine on the web is fine and something we've probably all done many times. Just pick the model you want then Google it and see who is selling it cheapest. It doesn't matter where you buy it from because it will always be the same make and model.

But that won't work for a more complex purchase. With a washing machine you don't need to consider whether it'll be used by left or right hand drive vehicles or whether they need to do the washing in the transport office as well as the gatehouse!

It was only after a meeting yesterday with all the people involved in the requirement that we established they needed to weigh in two directions, connect to their computer network, already had a means of identifying vehicles electronically, needed to weigh foreign vehicles and were part way through a major construction project. There was more but just for a start try putting that into a search engine and see if it finds what you want!
Dynamic axle weighbridge
A properly specified dynamic axle weighbridge.

The other client is trying to buy his system 'electronically' and the lack of human involvement is making it a longer and more complicated process than it needs to be.

Frustratingly, the lack of face to face contact might mean they end up with a system that doesn't do as much for them as it could do. Suppliers have in depth knowledge of their products and what they do, customers have in depth knowledge of what they do and what they want and putting two humans with this knowledge together will always end in the best solution.

Again, try bouncing ideas off Google and see where it gets you.

Fortunately after a meeting with the main contractor, who is getting equally frustrated with his client, a specification has been put together which will probably do the job. It's just a shame that the end user could have had some additional benefits from the system by taking part in the discussion.

And by taking half an hour or so, that's all it usually takes, to discuss what you want will save loads more time, effort and money in the long run.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Looking for something cheap?

Another phrase which crops up time and time again when we get enquiries is, "I'm just looking for something cheap." I often wonder if that's how they start the conversation when they buy everything - a forklift or a new truck perhaps?

Generally we explain to these people, as nicely as we can, that they already have the cheapest system available - they just need to walk round the truck or van, kick the tyres and guess. A 'weighing system' doesn't get much cheaper than that.

Quite often these same people have previously bought something cheap and then been astonished to find that it doesn't actually do the job. Or falls apart after a short while. Or the supplier seems to vanish without trace. Buying something cheap is rarely a good idea and a saying we've heard many times over the years is "buy cheap and you buy twice."
Tyre being kicked
Kicking the tyres will be much cheaper than any axle weigher.

Only this week I spoke to someone who "just wants a light to come on" when the front axle is overloaded. But what would make the light come on? And how would you calibrate it? Or know that it was right? Or by how much it might be out? Just making a light come on in response to an overload is not as simple as it sounds.

Other people are just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of VOSA, usually if they've just been caught overloaded. Quite often they will appear before the magistrate claiming they've spent a fortune stopping overloading when in fact they've spent the least amount of money possible hoping the problem will go away. We walk away from these sorts of enquiry.

I've got little knowledge of any other industry but I know that axle weighing is more complex than it appears. And I've seen quite a number of companies enter the field, some of them in a blaze of glory, only for them to disappear a few short months later when they realise their idea to make a few quid wasn't quite as simple as they thought.

For instance, the last time I looked our OnBoard Indicators had to deal with 91 different possible axle configurations. And as the last time I looked was about five years ago, the number will have increased since then. Nobody will be able to produce a system capable of doing that on the cheap.

We all work in a competitive market and sell our products as cheaply as we can. If it was possible to produce something cheaper that would do the job then we would. But to produce something that actually works, will stay working and to have a service operation behind it if something goes wrong can't be done on the cheap.

Often buying cheap mean buying the wrong machine for the job as well. Systems range in price from £1,000.00 to over £20,000.00 and there's a reason for such a wide range so getting the right advice on what you need for the job is crucial.

A buyer I know in another industry used to have a sign on his office wall. It read,

"If you want good clean oats, you'll pay a fair price. If you're happy to accept oats that have already passed through the horse, then they come a lot cheaper."

Glad to see it isn't just our industry where people look to buy cheap.

Friday, 11 October 2013

An interesting statistic.

Keeping up with industry news is important so reading Commercial Motor and Motor Transport every week is important. And last week a startling statistic leapt out.

According to VOSA figures, 93% of the vans they weighed were found to be overloaded.

From our experience with customers we know that many light commercial vehicles are overloaded. But that figure of 93% took even us by surprise. But having thought about it for a day or so, it's probably not surprising at all.

When we started to think about some of the customers we had dealt with and what they were trying to do it becomes a less surprising statistic. And there are a number of reasons for it.

One of the most common reasons for vans running overloaded is that companies are now trying to do with a 3.5t van what they used to do with a 7.5t truck. Why? Avoiding tachograph regulations, paying for a 'professional driver', no need for a transport manager and all the other legislative hoops that need to be jumped through when running bigger vehicles.

One of our major customers had an interesting problem. Their load was changing through the day with the vehicle often getting heavier not lighter. They were delivering electrical goods and due to the rising number of collections for recycling, the drivers would frequently unload a nice shiny new light flat screen television but pick up an old and much heavier model. As the day went on, the load got heavier not lighter. They fitted the whole fleet with our OnBoard Load Indicators to prevent overloading.
Transit van weighed on a static axle weighbridge
Not overloaded as it's been weighed on an axle weighbridge.

Another common scenario is a lack of advice from bodybuilders. We know of many instances where the customer has asked for a crewcab, a tailift, a crane, a tool box etc etc and yet gets no feedback from the bodybuilder about how much payload is being use up. Only last week we went to install an OnBoard Load Indicator on a 3.5t crewcab in Irvine. With only our engineer in the cab, the vehicle weighed 3.4t and would be well overloaded as soon as the crew got in and seriously overloaded with all their gear in the back too.

It works the other way though. We went to see a customer a while back who had a TV outside broadcast van. The vehicle looked to be down on the back axle and we were convinced it was overloaded. But when we weighed it, we found that both axles and gross were just within legal limits.

Vans are a great tool but they are notorious for being overloaded. and they're dangerous when they are too. Whilst doing some research we loaded one of our own 3.5 tonners up to maximum and were concerned at how dangerous it was to drive. The steering became very light and the whole vehicle was very unwealdy.

Overloading affects the brakes, steering, clutch, suspension and just about every major component on the vehicle. With insurance companies taking a dim view of vans that are overloaded being involved in accidents, not making sure they are within their legal weight limits could prove very expensive.