To most people, tallying bananas is just a line from an old Harry Belafonte song. To the world's agricultural industry, however, it is much more than that - it is big business. Growing, harvesting and selling bananas in today's global economy is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and one in which the value of the product is largely determined by its weight.
Like many agricultural products, bananas are classified by grade and weight, and bought and sold according to rigid specifications. Different buyers have different specifications with respect to the size and weight of bananas that they buy, and even the slightest miscalculation in weight can translate into devastating losses for a grower. A carton of bananas that exceeds the buyer's specified weight represents a loss to the grower in the form of product for which they are never compensated. Conversely, underweight cartons invariably trigger complaints and result in discounts and/or credits being issued to disgruntled customers.
So to the Marsman Banana Plantation in Davao City, Mindanao, Phillipines, tallying bananas is much more than just a line from an old song. The Philippines currently ranks as the third largest banana producer/exporter in the world, and Marsman is one of the largest growers/exporters in the Phillipines. The plantation sells its bananas domestically and on the international market, with its two biggest importers being Japan and Korea. Marsman processes approximately 1.25 million tons of bananas per year, which translates into approximately $325 million worth of annual revenue.
Up until April of 2002, Marsman, like most banana growers, relied on old mechanical scales to handle the mission critical task of weighing its product as it was prepared for packaging and shipping. Marsman, like most banana growers, simply accepted a substantial erosion of its profit margins as a fact of life stemming from limitations of existing weighing technology. That was before Microlab stepped in to introduce Marsman to the tally man of the 21st century - the Ohaus Champ™ II Electronic Bench Scale. After having been frequently called upon to service and repair the aging mechanical scales at the Marsman plant, Microlab representatives approached Marsman management with the idea of replacing their dated mechanical weighing technology with state-of-the-art electronic bench scales from Ohaus. Such a change would be no small undertaking for Marsman, given the number of scales in use at the plant, and the vital importance of weighing to the entire packaging process.
While initially skeptical of what seemed like a radical change, Marsman's management warmed to the idea after learning that electronic bench scales could not only drastically improve the accuracy of their weighing capabilities, but also reduce downtime, boost productivity and save valuable resources that had previously been devoted to service and repair of their older mechanical models. Prior to Microlab's involvement, approximately 3% of all shipments sold out of the Marsman plant were determined to be below the specified target weights of their importers, resulting in a loss of approximately 5% in annual profit. These figures don't even account for losses that result from packages that exceeded target weights, as even the most scrupulous customers are less than likely to look a gift horse in the mouth. When you factor in excessive service and repair charges, as well as downtime, the negative impact of dated weighing technology on Marsman's profitability were clearly substantial.
Microlab representatives worked closely with Marsman to determine exactly how beneficial the use of Champ II bench scales could be to their bottom line, reaching some impressive conclusions in the process:
1.Champ II bench scales would bring dramatic improvements in weighing accuracy to Marsman's operations. With a capacity of 60 kg and readability of 10 g, the Champ II represented a step up from the mechanical scales, which offered a capacity of 30 kg and readability of 50 g. The higher resolution of the Champ II products would reduce the plant's losses resulting from inaccurate measurements during packaging.
2. The Champ II balances would provide stable, accurate readings faster than Marsman's old, spring tension mechanical scales, resulting in increased productivity throughout the plant.
3. Champ II scales would actually be cheaper to purchase and maintain than new mechanical scales. Manufacturers have begun to phase out production of mechanical units, resulting in dramatic increases in the price of service, repair and spare parts on these older balances.
4. Champ II balances are easier and less expensive to service than mechanicals, as load cells and indicator boards are quickly and inexpensively replaced.
5. Use of the Champ II scales would result in substantially less downtime at Marsman. The combination of quick/easy service and battery operation during power failures results in a substantial decrease in overall downtime.
6. The Champ II electronic scales offer RS232 connections for check weighing comparisons, data compiling, networking and hard copy printouts for filing and record keeping purposes.
In October of 2002, Microlab placed approximately 45 Champ II units into the Marsman packaging house, and the results to date have been dramatic. Marsman has virtually eliminated any trace of profit erosion resulting from underweight packages since installing the electronic scales. In addition, the plant has dramatically improved its productivity and reduced expenses associated with service and repair since installing the Champ II models. In fact, Marsman officials estimate that overall efficiency has increased by approximately 8% - 10% since installing the Champ II scales. Given the tremendous success of the project to date, Marsman and Microlab continue to evaluate new opportunities to reduce costs, increase profitability and create new efficiencies through the implementation of new technology. Whatever new solutions they develop, it is safe to assume that the Champ II electronic bench scale will be a major part of Marsman's operations for many years to come.
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