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Jeff Playter has one of those unrecognizable careers – he is unobtrusive and behind-the-scenes, yet completely indispensable.

Most people are unaware of the existence of scale technicians, even though scales make countless everyday conveniences possible – morning cereal, bolts in car door handles, the fibers in clothing…

“There isn’t anything that doesn’t go across a scale – every machine part, every piece of corn, you name it,” said Playter, a local scale service technician and owner of Capitol Scale Company.

Playter stuck out on his own in April this year, leaving the large Illinois-based company that had employed him for 17 years. He started his own company out of the town of the Sun Prairie home that he and his wife build 20 years ago.

After spending a lot of time and energy the first few months “hitting the pavement” to get his name out there, he said business is picking up.

“Good-quality service will always prevail, in my opinion, over the price and size of the company,” Playter said. “If you are good at what you do, people will continue using you.”

Capitol Scale installs, services, repairs and calibrates any type of scale, from the smallest laboratory balance to the 70-foot platform scales that high capacity trucks use to weigh freight.

Playter said every commercial product sold today gets weighed several times before consumers touch it – crops at the harvest, raw materials at excavation, machinery components during assembly and packaging, and often once more at the time of purchase.

Playter specializes in industrial automation.  He said many factories – bakeries, concrete plants, feed mills – have become almost completely automated with the help of machines that contain scales.  The contraptions he described bring to mind images from Dr. Seuss’ imaginative children’s books.

Scale-regulated, programmable machines can be set for any combination of ingredients, which are poured into hoppers in the correct ratios by an automated combination of chutes and stoppers.

Playter has also installed scales in sorting machines that use weight measurements to determine whether manufactured parts are of uniform quality. He said the machines often use hydraulics or air jets to sort parts into designated bins.

Some machines use standard weight divisions to count pieces or bulk while a product is being packaged.  Many incorporate warning bells or lights to alert workers to inconsistencies that indicate problems with the machinery.

One machine helps a stucco factory achieve uniformity in their buckets of unset stucco product. Playter installed the bucket-sized, floor level scale platform and a programmable interface.  Operators set the machine to the desired weight and the machine automatically terminates the flow.

“It’s actually a very simple machine compared to some of the things I’ve done,” he said.

As owner of the start-up Capitol Scale Company, Playter is far from a newcomer to the Madison area scale scene. After working as a field service technician in the Madison area for nearly 20 years, he has seen the inner workings of a diverse range of area businesses.

“I’ve been in a lot of buildings in Southern Wisconsin – a lot of them,” Playter said. “I know a lot of people in the industries.”

Industries – plural. Playter has to be flexible to pull it off. He never knows where a day’s work will take him – he will receive a service call from a UW medical research lab one day and Green Valley Disposal the next.

He has had to push through rows of carcasses hanging at slaughter houses and has answered calls to smoke-filled foundries.

“You don’t even have to touch anything and you come out of there black, covered in soot,” he said.

His uniform varies also – surgical garb, hardhats, coveralls – to suit the industry he is serving any particular day.

Playter’s clientele range spans about an hours drive from Sun Prairie in all directions. He serves Dane, auk, Columbia, and Jefferson counties.

There is so much industry in this area … I don’t see any reason to go that far,” Playter said.

He has joined an established group of smaller local scale companies that subcontract each other when their schedules require it.  Playter said this altruistic business relationship would never have happened when he was working for larger companies.

“I think that’s pretty neat… in most service industries, there are territories where companies don’t overlap services… when we need something, we just call each other,” Playter said.

For example, his pick-up truck is equipped with exactly 2,000 pounds of certifiable weight, but freight-filled semis can weigh up to 200,000 pounds. Playter subcontracts Jack and Dave Derlein of D&J Scale Service in Sun Prairie when his clients need high-capacity scales calibrated. The Derleins are equipped to calibrate scales at 25,000 pounds.

Eventually, Playter plans to expand his capabilities also. He is currently working toward receiving his ISO 9000 certification, a standard of quality that he said is required by many clients.

Currently, he operates as a subcontractor of Certified Scale, adhering to their ISO 9000 certified operating manual.

Eventually, he hopes to expand his staff also, by hiring a clerk and another technician.  That way, he said, he can concentrate on the aspects of the job he likes the most.

“I’m not a salesman at all.  I like the service end, dealing with the maintenance guys rather than the sales guys,” Playter said.  “I’m more comfortable working on stuff than talking about it.”

 

The Sun Prairie Star – August 11, 2005