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Tip the Odds on Commercial Scales

By Sean McGill - Last updated on 01/15/2016

Commercial scales come in all shapes and sizes, and many operations often can have difficulties picking out one to perfectly fit their needs.  We have composed a list of the main components to look at while shopping, as well as a brief list of the standard varieties of scales found in many commercial operations that should help you when shopping for the perfect commercial scales.

Mechanical Scales

Modern mechanical scales are the evolution of the oldest forms of trading scales.  As they have evolved further, they have started using smaller and smaller counterweights and a proportionate amount of torque to acquire their readings.  These mechanical scales come in the following varieties:

  • Portion Scales – Portion scales are most commonly in commercial kitchens, and are the industry standard for portioning out ingredients for menu items.
  • Produce Scales – These scales come in both countertop and hanging models, and feature a bowl rather than a standard flat platform to keep round produce from rolling off.
  • Receiving Scales – These scales have larger weight capacities than portion scales, and are usually built a bit heavier duty.  They are intended to be used for weighing shipments such as case boxes, etc.
  • Dough / Baker’s Scales – Dough scales and baker’s scales still utilize counterweights to measure exact portions of baking ingredients or dough.  Some of these scales require sets of counterweights and others have them on a sliding triple beam counter balance.

There are a tremendous amount of mechanical scales on the market, and often times companies will have models that seem the same, when they actually have one minor difference that makes them different.  Here are the primary difference factors that make most mechanical scales different.

  • Dial – There are several different varieties of dials that scale makers can add to the components of a scale to make them different.  First off, dials can be affixed at 90 degrees (upright), or on an angle (the exact angle varies by manufacturer).  This is primarily an issue for visibility of the dial; scales that are placed at chest level or above tend to read better with a flat face, while those resting under chest level will read easier with and angled face.  Secondly, dials will have the option of being stationary or rotating.  Since all mechanical scales are pre-calibrated (excluding baker’s and dough scales), they don’t have a tare feature.  A rotating dial allows end-users to move where zero is set in lieu of having a tare.
  • Platform – The platform for many mechanical scales will be fairly standardized from manufacturer to manufacturer.  Odds are, one manufacturer will have a standard platform that comes standard with all of their portion scales, another with their receiving scales, etc.  That does not mean, however, that consumers can’t upgrade or find scales with different platforms.  It is very common that scale manufacturers have models with extra large platforms, bowls to convert to a produce scale, and even some models with specialty platforms to hold things like ice cream cones or French fry boxes.
  • Graduation / Capacity – Scales have different capacities, and are graduated to suit their capacity.  Many of the smaller portions scales can be graduated down to increments as small as 1/8 oz., while larger scales with higher capacities will take measurements by sizes up to around 8 oz. (1/2 lb.).  It is important to know what you will be using your scale for, as many of the higher capacity scales will not be suitable for small portioning.  Additionally, many mechanical scales will have a number of options for graduation, including some with metric measurements.  Baker’s triple beam scales usually won’t have too high of a capacity, however can measure ingredients to increments as small as a fraction of a gram.  Double platform dough scales will have a notably higher capacity that can be as precise, and are only limited by the size of the platform and the amount of available counterweight.
  • Air Dashpot – An air dashpot acts as a damper on portion scales, reducing the up and down springing that can result when product is placed on a scale.  This allows the user to get a quicker, more precise reading, and can save time in operations that do a lot of weighing ( like in the back-of-the-house prep work for example), as well as extend the life of the scale components.

Digital Scales

Digital scales have become increasingly popular in the past decade or two as prices have dropped significantly and the quality of measurements have gone up.  There are four main varieties of digital scales:

  • Small Portion Scales – Small digital scales are even subdivided in their own category, as they can be intended to serve a number of different purposes.  There are some small digital scales that are intended to measure minute amounts of items like spices, and have incredibly small graduations (down near .05-.1 grams), and others that have similar sized platforms but higher capacities and graduations.
  • Large Portion Scales / Pizza Scales – There are also many portion scales that will have similar weight capacities and graduation (though some can be a bit higher) as smaller portion scales, but are designed with larger or oversized platforms.  These scales are intended to give consumers a larger surface area to measure product.  One of the most common of these larger digital portion scales is the pizza scale.  Pizza scales have a sizable platform so they can fit large pizzas, and often times will have a tare so that they can measure the weight of solitary ingredients while they are being added.
  • Digital Receiving Scales – Digital receiving scales tend to be a bit bigger than most pizza scales, but have much higher weight capacities.  They will usually still have a fairly small graduation, and some 300 lb. digital receiving scales can even measure in increments of .1 lb. or .05 kg (50 grams).
  • Price Computing Scales – For some operations, such as grocery / convenience stores or farmers’ markets, it is important to be able to price as you weigh.  These scales have key pads so prices can tallied by weight, and some have the ability to do things like enter PLU codes, or print labels.

Some of the factors that go into picking the right mechanical scale go into picking the right digital scale.  Things like graduation, capacity, and platform translate to the realm of digital scales as well.  Here are a few factors to take into consideration that specifically apply to digital scales:

  • Tare – Many (not all!!) digital scales will come with a tare option.  This tare allows things such as portion cups to be placed on a scale, and then re-zeroes the scale to take the weight of whatever is placed on the scale out of final measurements.  This is a great option to have, and traditionally models that won’t feature them built-in will have them as add-on accessories.
  • Remote Displays – Many larger digital portion scales and receiving scales will have remote displays that can be mounted on a wall or place on a countertop nearby.  This can be incredibly helpful as things that may need to be measured on a large platform still may be larger than the scale itself, and would obstruct a front mounted display.
  • Display Options – Digital displays often have a variety of different graduations that they can display their readouts in, but not always.  It is important to know the available display options, because some may have only one way to display readouts, but others may have 6 or more.
  • Water Resistance – Water resistance can be an important factor when picking out scales, depending on how they will be used.  Many mechanical scales can be put through the dishwasher should they need to be cleaned, but all have some sort of water resistance.  Digital scales are not always water resistant, however there some models that are specifically designed to be resilient to water so they can be cleaned easily.  Know the scales water resistance if you plan on washing it.
  • Power Source – Different digital scales will have different power sources.  There are many smaller digital portion scales that operate on batteries, some that come with rechargeable battery packs, and others (including nearly all the larger portion and digital receiving scales) will come with an adapter for a wall outlet.  It is important to know how you will be powering your scale when shopping.
  • Trade Legality – It is important that if you are selling items by weight that your scale be legal for trade.  Practically all mechanical scales will not be legal for trade, as they are component driven, and to ensure accurate readings for both customers and vendors, precise digital scales are the best option.  Most all the pricing scales are trade legal, and the best part about nearly all digital scales is that they can be re-calibrated.

Tags: Tips, Prep
Related Categories: Scales, Digital Scales, Mechanical Scales

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