Demystifying Legal-for-Trade Scales in Packaging Systems

Demystifying Legal-for-Trade Scales in Packaging Systems

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Join us for an insightful journey into the automation, integration and manufacturing world with Magnum Systems’ latest AIM podcast. This episode explores the complexities of "legal-for-trade" scales with Wayne Revell, applications engineer at Magnum Systems. He explains their role, certification process and the challenges in integrating these scales into existing packaging systems. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just curious about the manufacturing world, this episode is a must-listen.

Transcript

Mike Abare:                      

Welcome to Magnum Systems Podcast, where we'll aim to dive deep into the world of A for Automate, I for integrate, M for Manufacture. I'm your host, Mike Abare, and I'll be bringing you expert interviews, thought-provoking discussions and real-world case studies that shed light on the latest trends and developments of systems integration. Whether you're a seasoned professional who's seen it all or just curious about manufacturers who are revolutionizing their operations, this podcast is your one source resource. So sit back, relax as we aim to cover all the challenges automation and integration is solving today. Let's do this.

Welcome, everybody. Thank you for attending this session of Magnum's podcast. Today we have a guest from Magnum Systems with us. Wayne, would you take a moment to introduce yourself?

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. I'm Wayne Revell and I've worked with Magnum Systems for several years. I've been in the packaging-material conveying and material handling and storage industry since about 1988, and I'm speaking as a layman today about legal-for-trade. I'm not an expert or a USDA employee, but just trying to speak to the way that legal-for-trade influences our equipment.

Mike Abare:                      

Wayne, take a moment and explain what legal-for-trade scales are and why they're important in packaging machines, for those unfamiliar with the term legal-for-trade.

Wayne Revell:                  

The USDA and Departments of Weights and Measures requires some scales to be certified legal-for-trade. These scales are used in the sale of products that are sold by the weight that's measured on the scale times a price. The equipment that we make is more designed to fill a general size of a package that's about a certain weight, and legal-for-trade then becomes very important because you're making that calculation.

Mike Abare:                      

So when we start getting into the regulatory bodies and the regulations and the standards that are out there, tell me a little bit about that and what the terms are or what legal-for-trade scales must meet.

Wayne Revell:                  

In the United States, the regulatory body is the USDA, but the scale meets an NTEP certification, which is a term derived from National Type Equivalent Program, and this is a program that tests the devices required to make a scale, like the load cells or the weigh controller, and certifies that those meet a certain qualification. That prevents someone from tampering with the scale or cheating the scale or making the scale be incorrect for the weight that it would produce, and then by doing that, be able to cheat the consumer who's purchasing across a legal-for-trade scale.

Mike Abare:                      

So as I apply that to a retail side, I think about going to the gas pump and making sure that the scale's calibrated and you see that sticker on the gas pump, or going into the deli at my favorite meat market and they've got the scales out there that they're putting that pound of turkey meat or whatever on and saying it's $7.99 a pound and you got 1.1 pounds or something like that.

Wayne Revell:                  

Well, that's absolutely correct. The gas station is a different certification because it's a liquid pump but it's measuring volume, but it still has to be certified because you're buying 1.7 gallons or 15.7 gallons times a price that gas is that day. And in the same way, the scale at the deli counter is going to weigh up three quarters of a pound of deli meat and the price is $2.59 a pound. Another reference that people would have to have legal-for-trade for would be a truck scale where you're hauling a load of grain into an elevator and they're going to pay you for the weight of that load of grain specifically as it weighs across the scale.

Mike Abare:                      

So that's for the person that's buying the grain before it goes to the mill, or even perhaps the mill product into their plant then, is looking for that legal-to-trade to make sure, "Gee, I ordered 48,000 pounds of grain, whatever the grain might be, and I want to confirm that I'm getting 48,000 pounds." Is that what you're inferring?

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. They wouldn't be confirming they're getting 48,000 pounds. They'd be confirming they're getting 48,172 pounds times the price of the bushels or the price of the pounds. So it would confirm that the exact weight of what they received was correct, and that could be used as a calculation then.

Mike Abare:                      

So as we apply that over to the areas that Magnum is experts in, which is powder, flake pellets and seed, I think about rice as an example. I mean, I know we have customers out there that want to put rice on the shelf, whether that's for wholesale or retail purposes, and they're required to make sure that 50 pounds of rice or 5 pounds of rice equate to the correct retail for...

Wayne Revell:                  

Retail sale?

Mike Abare:                      

Yeah.

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. There's a difference. If, for instance, you went to a place like Lowe's or Home Depot and you were to buy a bag of cement, the customer that filled that bag of cement was just trying to get about 50 pounds in that bag within a tolerance range, and every bag of cement is the same price. Say it's $6 and 25 cents and every bag in that stack is the same price. And some of them may be 49.8 pounds and some of them they may be 51.7 pounds, but they're not trying to sell the bag by the weight in the bag. They're just giving the reference that it's a generally a 50-pound bag, and most packaging machinery works that way, and in that situation and in most packaging machine situations we're not required to be legal-for-trade.

Mike Abare:                      

Wayne, can you talk about how legal-for-trade scales improve the efficiency and accuracy of packaging machines?

Wayne Revell:                  

Most packaging machinery would not include a legal-for-trade scale, and in that respect, legal-for-trade is not really a requirement of packaging machinery. The NTEP and the Weights and Measures consider packaging machines as what are called pre-packaging devices, and since they're generally filling products into bags that are of a general weight, not a specific weight, they're not required to meet the legal-for-trade.

A second thought in this is that they are required to be somewhat accurate and within the tolerance of what the supplier or the manufacturer or the processor that's packaging this stuff says they will be within, and they will probably want to have a legal-for-trade platform scale that they can check the weights of packages as they go across the packaging-machine conveyors or process to stack and pallets or whatever like that.

Mike Abare:                      

So that brings up the other question then: what's the difference between a platform scale and a packaging-machine scale?

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah, this is one of the tricks that makes getting legal-for-trade approved on a packaging system so very hard. In order to get a scale approved by NTEP, you have to submit the entire device to the office in Washington DC, to my understanding, and they then take a period of time to certify it, and when the certification's done, you can build an exact duplicate of that over and over again and the certification is acceptable for that design. But we don't build anything that's an exact duplicate again and again, and it doesn't take very little to change the appearance of the machine to the point that the National Type Equivalent Program wouldn't allow that device to be copied or legal-for-trade again.

Mike Abare:                      

So it sounds a somewhat... I don't know if myth is the right word, but mythological from the standpoint of customers have this belief that they need a legal-for-trade scale or a legal-for-trade packaging machine. Yet do they really need legal-for-trade at all?

Wayne Revell:                  

Probably not in most cases for the customers that we manufacture packaging and equipment for, as we've been challenged on this in the past. It's been very seldom that a customer was actually selling product where they calculated the exact weight of the package times a given dollar amount. They in general do what I said before. They are selling by a consistent weight and just assuming every bag weighs the same amount and they're buying 10 bags or 50 bags or 1,000 bags of product, but they're assuming the weight of each bag is 50 pounds or 2,000 pounds, and the cost of that bag is a price per bag, not a price per pound.

Mike Abare:                      

So then how do legal-for-trade scales impact the overall cost-effectiveness of a packaging operation?

Wayne Revell:                  

They really, again, don't so much apply to the packaging equipment. The customer probably would want to have a legal-for-trade scale to prove that they are certified accurate. I think a lot of times, the reason that customers believe they need a legal-for-trade scale is that the company that certifies their scale makes a comment to them that they need to be able to write down the certification numbers off of the scale, which are readily available on platform scales that are duplicated and copied over and over again and are virtually all legal-for-trade. But our scaling systems are really not considered as much of a scale as just an indicator of what the weight and the dynamic capability of the machine is.

Mike Abare:                      

As we look at packaging systems then, the bag, whether it's a 50-pound bag or 70-pound bag, 80-pound bag, a 100-pound bag, seven-ounce bag, I guess the size really doesn't matter there, but as that comes off the packaging machine... I mean, a lot of customers put check-weighers in there. Does the check-weigher allow somebody to start getting a legal-for-trade, because they could actually get a weight and then say, "That bag weighed 50.7 pounds. I'm going to charge X for that"? Or...

Wayne Revell:                  

I think, and I believe we have purchased from other vendors than the ones we manufacture as check-weigh scales that may meet legal-for-trade, and another process that might accomplish a legal-for-trade design in a check-weigh scale would be to put the belt on a legal-for-trade platform scale. The issue usually comes in that there are things we need the check-scale to do and the data recording and reporting that may not be available on a standard platform scale because of the requirements of NTEP and how you can open the cabinet to recalibrate it or adjust the scale. So it may be possible to build a scale on a platform scale as a check-scale belt, but it's not necessarily practical.

Mike Abare:                      

Could you discuss any challenges or common issues that might arise when integrating these scales into existing packaging systems?

Wayne Revell:                  

Well, the challenge would be to figure out how you could do it, and the challenge would end up being that you would have to submit any packaging system that was doing the scaling to be approved by NTEP, and it would be very costly and it would be very unlikely to get certified. So you have to do any kind of accuracy certification or validation that your weights are correct by using an off-system scale that you just are double-checking against your controls.

Mike Abare:                      

And I don't know NTEP guidelines intimately, but is it something just like as I shared earlier, the gas pump, where they got to come back once a year and validate that scale?

Wayne Revell:                  

Absolutely. If it's an NTEP-approved legal-for-trade scale, the local scale company would have a certification from the USDA to come out and validate the scale's accuracy, and they can validate the accuracy and certify a non-legal-for-trade scale as accurate and acceptable to have some type of certification if you are a user and you need to tell your customer, "We have proof that our scales are accurate. We have a second-party validation." And then you can also say that we check those bags to keep maintaining our accuracy through the day or through the run, because every 20th bag, we check it on an off-system scale and validate that our performance of the packaging machine is being maintained.

Mike Abare:                      

So then how do legal-for-trade scales contribute to ensuring quality control in the packaging process?

Wayne Revell:                  

Really, all they do is help to validate that the scale that's a part of the dynamic packaging machine is in fact performing accurately.

Mike Abare:                      

And you may have already addressed this, or maybe it's just the way I'm thinking through my question here, but what happens if a scale is found to be non-compliant during that inspection process? Is there a place for Magnum in there or is Magnum out of the picture at that point, since Magnum doesn't do legal-for-trade scales per se?

Wayne Revell:                  

In the past, I have been brought into conversations with customers who were under the impression that they had to be legal-for-trade, and we were able to include the enforcing entity on the phone call. And with a short conversation, I've always been able to present the point of how the scales in our packaging machines worked versus how a legal-for-trade scale worked and always been able to convince them that we were in fact correct in our interpretation that our packaging equipment did not require legal-for-trade certification.

Mike Abare:                      

So whether it's Magnum or any other company that does legal-for-trade or gets hit with that question, it sounds like really getting the right parties on the phone, and having that conversation and understanding what the equipment or machinery's capability is, is vital to that step.

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. None of us are lawyers and certainly most of us don't go around reading the exciting documents that the government produces for all of the things that are supposed to certify and balance our lives and keep us from getting cheated. No one wants to read the tax code and know what that is unless you're an accountant.

So in the case of things like this, most people are so unfamiliar with it, when they're told they have to be legal-for-trade, it just causes them more or less to be in a panic that they have to get it done because they feel like the entity that's telling them that has knowledge and understanding of it, when in fact, a lot of times the border is so unclear that you have to decide and express which side of the border you're on and with the equipment you make and why it's that way. And it's certainly clear in their documentation, because I have not had arguments that were extended, either in Canada or in the United States, once I explained how our perspective is.

Mike Abare:                      

What advice would you give to businesses considering the integration of legal-for-trade scales in their packaging systems?

Wayne Revell:                  

I would advise them to study and communicate with the entity that is causing them to consider this and determine whether in fact it is important or not to them. The proof and validation that their packages fall within the range that they need to achieve a repeatable 50-pound package or a repeatable seven-ounce package is one thing, but if they're not going to charge by the ounce or by the pound as it goes across the scale, they shouldn't need to try to implement something that isn't practical for the system.

Mike Abare:                      

Are there any other closing thoughts for those who are listening today?

Wayne Revell:                  

I think that the NTEP certification and legal-for-trade probably came around in the late '90s, maybe early 2000s, and in the beginning, it was a very big topic. And the Department of Weights and Measures in Canada enforces this, and it was a very big topic with our customers in Canada.

We have in fact built some bulk package-filling scales or box-filling scales that we used a legal-for-trade scale as the base device in, and we didn't actually get certification for them, but because the platform scale has the certification already, the consumer or the user was able to get their local entity to accept it as legal-for-trade. So there are some ways, if local approval will allow it, that you can gain certification on a packaging system, but they probably don't meet the true intent of the NTEP law.

Mike Abare:                      

Well, thank you again for sharing, and thank you for coming in today and having this conversation. I certainly think it's a topic that, as you've shared, a lot of customers have this belief that they need legal-for-trade, and as you've enlightened us, certainly that may not be the case in a lot of circumstances, and it just drives home the point that education and communication are so vital when we're talking to customers who have that belief that they need legal-for-trade scales.

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. I'm always glad to talk about the subject and I always try to be very important to say that I am not part of those departments. This is my layman opinion of how this works, but I do believe I'm on the right track. We're glad to help our customers understand what they do and don't need to meet the requirements in their area.

Mike Abare:                      

Thanks for coming, Wayne. Appreciate your time and putting some energy into this today.

Wayne Revell:                  

Yeah. Thank you for asking Magnum Systems for help on this topic.

Mike Abare:                      

And that's a wrap for this episode of AIM. Thanks for listening and thanks for joining us today. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the topic we discussed today, feel free to reach out to us on our website or social-media channels so you never miss an episode packed with valuable insights. Please join us next time as we continue to explore the ever-evolving landscape of system integration. Until then, keep aiming for success. This is Mike signing off. Good day.