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the occurrence of a natural electrical discharge of very short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud, accompanied by a bright flash and typically thunder.
Most lightning bolts or strikes originate in cumulonimbus clouds (those are the big puffy white ones that have a tall column) and terminate on the ground. These are called cloud-to-ground lightning (CG) which are most common and result in 69% of all lightning events. There is also ground-to-cloud lightning (GC) and cloud-to-cloud lightning (CC). We’ll be focusing on CG lightning since this type is the most dangerous and destructive to you and your property, namely your truck scale.
It’s likely that you, someone you know, or someone you know knows someone that has been affected by lightning. On average there are 26 fatal lightning strikes (in the U.S.) with an average of 300 people per year sustaining injuries and causing over $15 million in losses of industrial/manufacturing facilities and equipment.
Now, just in case you’re the next contestant on Jeopardy and need some “striking” lightning facts, here’s a few you may not know:
- A lightning strike travels at approximately 270,000 mph. This means it would take an average teenage speed demon about 55 minutes to reach the moon.
- When lightning strikes a tree, it travels just below the bark. This layer is filled with sap and water which becomes super-heated and… POW! The bark is blasted off and the wood is splintered.
- Don’t fool yourself. Nowhere outside is safe from lightning.
- A lightning strike can inflict serious bodily harm. Injuries can range anywhere from a mild burn on your body to damage to your brain to death. *Personal note from your author: My Aunt was 12 years old when she was struck by lightning walking home from school. The resulting strike blew out her eardrum and she’s suffered with total hearing loss in her right ear ever since.
- Although the intensity of a lightning bolt makes it appear thick, the actual width of a lightning bolt is about as wide as a thumb. The small channel is so intense, temperatures can reach 30,000 degrees C. Five times hotter than the surface of the sun. Talk about sunburn.
“Hey Joe! All of that is well and good. But what about my truck scale?”
Okay, okay! Truck scales are built to withstand all types of use and abuse. The daily demands put on a truck scale are second-to-none, they’re built to take it. They’re tough and seemingly indestructible. But… (there’s always a but.)
How many lighting strikes does it take to knock your truck scale out of commission? If you answered ONE you are correct! Your truck scale may as well have a big “STRIKE ME” sign on it because it’s a magnet for lightning strikes.
Something to keep in mind. A lightning strike doesn’t have to be a direct hit. Lightning can strike the ground near your scale and be just as damaging as it seeks a path to discharge.
What can lightning do if it strikes your scale?
Simple answer? Plenty. Lightning can damage any part of a truck scale including load cells, junction boxes, cabling and indicators. Many times causing complete system failure.
More specifically, lightning can create any number of issues including:
- Fried wiring
- Power surges
- Voltage sags
- Calibration fluctuations
These all result in downtime, and nobody has time for that!
What can you do to protect your truck scale from a lightning strike?
Unless you have a serious connection with someone “up there”, there is nothing you can do to prevent lightning or a lightning strike. But there are steps you can take to protect your investment from a lightning strike.
1. Load cells with lightning protection:
A CPD-M Digital load cell has a stainless steel housing that is hermetically sealed (IP69) and impervious to water ingress. They have built-in, fast acting protection devices (transectors) to guard against damage from surge voltage and lightning events. These load cells are installed on top of non-metallic isolation discs to prevent transient voltage from being transferred through the cell body. They communicate on an RS-485 serial communication string which has been 99% resistant to any lightning or surges. The corresponding warranty even says so!
Hydraulic load cells are also a type of technology, though very old technology, that protect against lightning. In a hydraulic load cell the measured load is applied to a load platform that is attached to a piston, this piston sits in a closed chamber filled with fluid. When a load is applied the liquid is pressurized by the action of the piston pressing on the diaphragm. The change in liquid pressure is directly proportional to the force applied by the load. This liquid pressure then becomes readable by a gauge or secondary transducer.
2. Grounding systems:
Grounding is crucial for your truck scale. A good grounding system from a reputable manufacturer comes with professional installation and will include necessary shield testing and bypass cable routing to prevent issues in the case of a lightning strike. If you choose to forego a professional installation, an improper grounding system may cause you more problems than it’s worth!
3. Warranty and service guarantees:
Truck scale manufacturers oftentimes offer warranties and repair services if lightning strikes your truck scale. Warranties differ between manufacturers so you need to know what is covered by your warranty. Does your truck scale warranty offer coverage for these things?
- The cost of labor to replace a part damaged by lightning.
- The cost of the actual replacement part that was damaged by lightning.
And perhaps the best warranty question to ask, "how long, from date of purchase, is my scale covered by a lightning strike"?
4. Transient protection:
The function of transient protection is to react to sudden changes in voltage. This form of surge protection exists as a series of DC and AC protection methods in your scale house, indicator, junction box and load cells. Many truck scales systems come with some degree of transient protection.
We’ve poked a little fun in this article, but lightning and lightning strikes are a very serious concern. Your truck scale is a huge investment and often times your cash register. Once out of commission it becomes nothing more than a big, expensive paperweight.
While the steps outlined above can’t guarantee your truck scale won’t get hit by lightning, they will reduce the likelihood of damage and expensive downtime. Are you protected? Using the information provided in this article, create a “lightning strike” checklist and see where your scale stands… just remember, don’t stand outside in a lightning storm, it could end up being a very shocking experience.
Do you have shocking questions about lightning and lightning protection? The experts at B-TEK are happy to strike up a conversation!