I apologize for taking so long to write this article. The fact is, I have been meaning to write about this since the summer of 2015! Anyway, it’s about price computing scales. These are the electronic scales that you normally see at the candy shop or at the produce stand. The basic principle behind these retail scales is they allow you to place your fruits or vegetables on the scale platter, enter in how much you want to charge your customer by the pound and voila the total cost is displayed on the both your side of the scale and the customer’s side.
Since your customer is paying you based on the weight, in almost every case you will need this scale to be NTEP Legal for Trade.
Now you will hear a lot of these terms thrown around but basically the scale needs to have been submitted to NTEP and once the scale passes a series of tests, it is given a certificate of conformance, which is also known as a CoC#. Now when you purchase a digital scale you will need to make sure it is NTEP approved. We will sometimes use the phrase “legal for trade” which is a little different.
The phrase “Legal for Trade” is often misused even by many reputable dealers (including yours truly I might add). According to the National Conference on Weights & Measures, no scale is legal for trade until the regulatory authority says it’s legal for trade. NTEP Certification provides some assurance that it is manufactured to meet national standards, but there are other factors that the state inspector must consider before approving the device for use in your business such as suitability, proper installation, and accuracy.
I have to admit according to this definition we mislabel the term “legal for trade” sometimes as well. I think what they are essentially saying is that if a scale does have a Certificate of Conformance number, that means it meets certain standards, but you also need to have this installed at whatever location you’re going to be using it, and it needs to be tested by an inspector (or state certified scale technician) with certified test weights at this location, and then sealed to prevent you from changing the calibration.
Some folks like to use the word “certified” as well. Technically, you can get away with saying that but in my opinion, when you start talking about a certified scale, that normally means that an actual trained scale technician or a state inspector has checked and/or calibrated your scale and has certified it.
Ok, now that we’ve mentioned NTEP lets discuss why this is important. I work in the scale business and trust me I see a lot of scales every year. And of course as every year goes by, more and more of them are being mass produced overseas, mainly in China. Let’s just say the quality of scales can vary greatly. That’s putting it nicely. I’ve seen some scales that weighed fairly well but they were not consistent enough or accurate enough to be approved by NTEP. In fact we sell some of them. Are they good scales that are fairly accurate? Absolutely. Are they scales that you would want to sell or buy products off when money changes hands? Absolutely not.
So, anytime you are charging customers by weight (or anytime someone is charging you) you need to use a NTEP Legal for Trade scale. So what exactly is NTEP? Well, the National Conference on Weights and Measures basically issues an NTEP Certificate of Conformance following a successful completion of an evaluation of a device that is sent to them. It indicates that the device(s) described in the Certificate is/are capable of meeting applicable requirements of the NIST Handbook 44. It costs the scale manufacturers quite a bit of money and research and development costs to build a scale that meets NTEP standards.
So, how do you know if a scale is NTEP you are probably asking? Well, that is actually pretty easy to find out. You can visit the NTEP database and search by the manufacturer or the model number. You can also contact us and we can tell you as well. In fact, in most cases you should be able to look at the scale information stamped on the device and it will show you the CoC#.
This brings me to the points that I wanted to make in this article. This summer I was out visiting our local farmers market. There was a wide variety of produce available. It looked great and I am very glad I went. As I was walking around, I kept looking at the scales (this is an obsession that I now have anytime I go to an event like this, everyone else is looking at fruit and I’m trying to squint from a distance to see what scale you have). So, I like to see what brands and model numbers that sellers like to use for selling. I typically see Brecknell, CAS, Mettler Toledo, Ohaus and Rice Lake.
However, as I was walking around I found one tent that had a seller with a nice bright white digital scale. I looked over and noticed that his scale was not any brand name scale that I had ever seen. It was a scale that he had purchased somewhere for probably somewhere around $35 or $50.
The scale was not NTEP approved and there he was selling his products to customers with a scale that nobody knows anything about.
Now if you’re a customer of this person, how do you know if you’re getting what you’re paying for? As I discussed above, this scale was not NTEP approved, certainly not legal for trade, and more than likely could never pass the scrutiny of an NTEP testing. As a consumer, you need to look and see the CoC number on any scale you buy items based on weight. Ask the seller if you don’t see it. And if you are a vendor at the market and your scale is not compliant or is out of tolerance, you need to remedy that immediately because in most states devices which do not meet the accepted tolerances are rejected and cannot be used commercially. Rejected scales must be repaired and placed back into service by a registered service company before you can buy/sell off that item again.
Bottom line, if you’re in the market for a price computing scale, please work with a reputable scale company. And to be honest there are quite a few of them that will treat you fairly. I like to think that we do a good job of that as well. The overwhelming majority of our retail scales are NTEP approved legal for trade and that is the type of device we recommend that you purchase.