Jul 13, 2015 0 Comments in News by
Renton Truck-Scale Maker Weighs Big Changes Ahead In Waste Business


BY BILL VIRGIN / Editor/Publisher –

The Puget Sound region has several well-known, industry-leading clusters of companies, in aerospace, marine vessels and equipment and medical devices.

Then there’s one with a somewhat lower profile: Industrial scales.

The region became something of a center of companies that developed and manufactured scales because of the timber industry. Log-truck drivers loading out in the woods needed a way of knowing if their vehicles were overweight, which would trigger fines once they hit the highway.

A group of inventors got together to address that problem. Among that group was Larry Santi, whose company, Creative Microsystems Inc., is still building onboard weight measurement and recording devices.

The Renton-based company, which markets its products under the LoadMan brand, still serves the timber industry, but its customer base is much broader today. It builds scales that go on house-sized mining trucks. Its scales have been installed on 3,000 of the U.S. Army’s medium tactical vehicles. They’re used in the scrap-steel business.

But the real action these days for Creative Microsystems is in waste hauling and recycling. It’s a business that is going through a dramatic restructuring, says Alan Housley, vice president of marketing for the company. Driven by increasingly stringent regulations on waste streams and shifts in the market for recycled materials, those changes should heighten demand for not just the products Creative Microsystems makes but the information its scales generate.

“We’re a data company,” Housley says.

Founded in 1987, Creative Microsystems sources and builds local. Welding is done by a company in Kent. Machining is done by a local company that has worked with it for 25 years. Circuit boards are built in King County and in Spokane. The company has 15 employees currently, although it’s been as high as 25 at times; it doesn’t disclose revenue.

The scales industry is a crowded one, with lots of players targeting specific types (stationary, indoors, mobile or outdoors), industries, applications, technology and price points. Creative Microsystems’ differentiation comes in a combination of application, technology and how it builds its weighing units.

The company doesn’t do off-the-shelf scales. “When someone comes up to us with a truck that’s never been scaled, we build the scale to the truck,” Housley says. “We’re not going to tear up the truck, we’re going to custom-build the scales.” Of course, once that first installation is done, it has a template for other customers with the same model. Creative Microsystems sells through dealer networks and representatives and provides technical assistance on installation and calibration to end users; two original-equipment manufacturers, Heil and McNeilus, also purchase directly from the company.

The company’s specialty is onboard scales that employ “weigh in motion” technology that allows the driver to get a reading while loading. Housley likens traditional measurement techniques to trying to read a bathroom scale while also brushing one’s teeth. “You’re not going to see the scale settle,” he says. “You have to sit still. The same is true with most front­end-loader truck scales.” The LoadMan system, by comparison, uses inclinometers and accelerometers to take measurements between 30 degrees to 65 degrees of the angle of the lifting arms (to get the load’s weight and then the tare weight of the container). Not having to stop, wait for the truck to settle, take a measurement and start again makes the operation more efficient and productive.

Housley says the company aims for accuracy within 1 percent. The information is fed to a cab unit and can be downloaded to the hauler’s database.

That’s where the real value, and growth potential, lies for Creative Microsystems. Haulers have long wanted the data, to avoid overloading and underloading trucks (the latter means too many trips to the tipping station and lost productivity) and to know how to properly price their contracts with customers; by getting accurate measurements of weight, they can adjust container volumes and service schedules.

But now customers, operating under ever stricter mandates to cut or eliminate waste, want specifics on what they’re sending out. “The entire structure of waste and recycling has completely flipped to be driven by the customer rather than by the waste hauler,” Housley says. “The customers must achieve zero waste. And the only way to do that is to measure and divert” to recycling, composting and reuse.

Complicating the picture for haulers is the collapse of many markets for recycled materials and the resulting reduced revenue stream. “There’s going to be a sea change in the contract structure that the haulers are going to have to make with the cities,” he says, but however that shakes out, “We sit there in the middle, successful no matter what. They have to have the data.”

Potential customers include colleges, military bases, municipal public-works departments and large commercial facilities such as malls. Creative Microsystems has in recent  weeks boosted its marketing effort and presence to “elevate the visibility of the company,” Housley says.

Such is the potential that Creative Microsystems isn’t contemplating venturing far from its existing lines of business for growth. It does have its eye, though, on a market closely related to those it’s already in: construction and demolition.

“If you look at the waste that’s created in the United States, most of it’s in construction and demolition, it’s not in our homes or businesses or in our universities,” he says. It may involve different types of vehicles, in this case dump trucks, but Creative Microsystems has experience with those, and the waste-reduction mandates are much the same. “They have to present a plan for recycling before they even touch a building to tear it down,” and those plans call for separating the debris by type and sending it to different facilities for processing.

To do that effectively, Housley adds, “They’ve got to have scales.”

Reprinted from Washington Manufacturing Alert, July 13, 2015. Used with permission.

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