In a perfect world, every truck would be filled to capacity on every run. Shippers would always have a door open when drivers arrived, and trucks would be loaded quickly and evenly every time. You’d never have to worry about things like axle-weights, and the only bears in the woods would be looking for picnic baskets.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. In the real world, trucks often run well below their capacity. Shippers face delays that stack up and compound until trucks are left waiting; sometimes for hours. Improperly placed loads lead to excess wear on equipment and roads, and the potential for crushing fines and penalties.
Some of these problems are obvious; anyone can see the issue with getting a thousand-dollar ticket for being overloaded. But some weight-related issues are less obvious and no less damaging. How much time gets wasted waiting in line at a scale? How much more gets wasted driving back to a shipper because the load is overweight on one axle and needs to be moved around? How much more time is wasted waiting to get someone from the shipper to fix the load? How much waiting while they do? Then another drive back to the scale, and repeat until the load is right.
For a long time, these delays and return trips, wait times and lines were just an annoyance. The lost time was factored into the overall time a job took, and if the logs didn’t work out at the end of the day, drivers could always say they didn’t start driving until the load was right. With the advent of the ELD mandate, drivers are now On-Duty from the moment they start moving, even when being On-Duty means mostly waiting on someone else. Wasted time that could be made up at the end of the day before ELDs is now gone forever.
So, what can you do? Even the most experienced and conscientious driver can't be expected to eyeball a load every time. Especially when shippers give inaccurate estimates or the load does not consist of uniform product, attempting to judge by look alone can lead to costly overweight tickets. With states like Rhode Island fining as much as $65 per pound over and margins getting thinner every year, this is an area where mistakes can destroy whatever profit a run could have generated. And let’s not even talk about the nightmare scenario of impounded trucks or suspended licenses because a load was too heavy.
I'm sure some of the older drivers reading this are already thinking of one of the most common answers. Get an air gauge. These tools can improve a driver's ability to estimate the weight of a load. There's a variety of ways to install and mount these gauges but they all boil down to monitoring the air pressure in the suspension system. Mechanical pressure gauges have the advantage over eyeballing a load and can get you a closer estimate of weight. Typically, the driver has to know their truck well enough to judge what weight will equal what pressure on the gauge.
A big limitation of most of these systems is that the driver has to look at two different gauges for the information needed. They'll have to check the trailer suspension pressure, and the tractor suspension pressure, and do some quick mental math to figure out whether they're legal or not. This might not sound like much, but with a million other tasks on their mind and a tight schedule to keep, it's easy for mistakes to sneak in. And that's assuming the gauges are accurate. Air temperature and mechanical wear and tear can alter the psi to weight math, leaving gauges off by a significant margin. Unless the driver, or a member of their team, consistently calibrates, the gauge is just not going to be terribly accurate.
Most smart drivers will avoid this problem by underloading their trailer. Better to haul less than a full load than to get hit with a big ticket. Of course, underloading creates a problem for the carrier. Hauling more product typically means more money. Whether the job is paid by the pound or not, shippers want to send as much of their cargo as they can on each truck. If a shipper feels they're consistently not getting a full load on a particular truck, how long will it be before they're looking for someone else to haul their cargo?
A recent solution has been making waves with some drivers and carriers. Truck mounted scales that work with an application on a phone or tablet to generate a more accurate, more reliable weight help eliminate many of the issues drivers face. By showing the actual weight of the truck, instead of the PSI of the suspension system, they take the guesswork and mental math out of getting loaded.
For drivers loading products like gravel and grain, the real-time updates these digital systems provide can be invaluable. Being able to stop the load just before you hit max can save hours in a driver's day. No more filling to the best guess, driving to a scale, waiting in line, finding out the truck can take another couple tons, driving back, loading some more, driving back to the scale, finding out the truck is over, and so on and so on. With a system that updates as the weight changes, the driver can see where their weight is while they are getting loaded and adjust immediately. With only fourteen hours in the day to get all of your loading and driving done, wasting any of it on trips back and forth to the scale is taking money out of the driver's, and the carrier’s, pocket.
Because these newer, digital systems use wireless technology to display the truck's weight, they eliminate much of the downtime associated with installing mechanical air gauges. In most cases, a wireless sensor can be installed in just a few minutes and calibrated the next time the truck would be due for a weigh in. Everyone knows that a truck only makes money when it's rolling, so eliminating downtime should be a top priority for anyone looking to maximize their investment, whether they're a single truck owner-operator or a 500-truck fleet.
Another big advantage these newer systems bring to the table is the versatility of working with multiple trucks and trailers. With mechanical gauges, it can be tricky for a driver to grab a new trailer and know whether they've picked up the appropriate load or not. With digital systems, the application is calculating the weight based on information already stored about each truck and trailer in a fleet. For many fleets running drop and hook operations, a driver may only see a trailer once. But the application can be set up to already have all the information about the company's vehicles, and provide an accurate weight to the driver the first time they hook up to any given trailer.
Perhaps the single biggest improvement that these digital, wireless systems provide over any other method of weight management is accountability. These applications can keep track of how much weight was loaded on which truck and when. If a shipper or driver consistently overloads, or underloads, fleet owners can take action to protect their investment. Easily searched records of actual weights, not weights reported on bills of lading, allow carriers to look for patterns and correct consistent errors. Whether that means helping a driver maximize their potential or straightening out a shipper who can't get their weights right, the end result is more efficient transport and more money made.
We don't live in a perfect world. Drivers and shippers, like everyone, make mistakes. Loads that seem like they should be within the legal limit are sometimes over. Trucks that could have taken another ton or two leave shippers every day. Countless hours are wasted driving to scales, waiting in line, and driving back to shippers. Every driver I know has a story about a time they, or a driver they know, wasted an entire day trying to get a load right.
Everyone gets into trucking for a different reason, but everyone in the transportation industry has one thing in common: we're all here to make money. Anything that takes your trucks off the road, or wastes a driver's time, means less money is getting made. With the advent of ELD's and stricter HOS enforcement, time wasters have gone from an annoyance to a serious impediment of profitability. Hopefully, you've picked up some ideas on how to use better weight management to eliminate at least one of the world's imperfections from your business.