200 years of legal metrology in Luxembourg

Did you know that Luxembourg’s law of August 21st 1816 made the metric system obligatory for all commercial transactions? I didn’t, until I was invited to the 200 year celebration “Bicentenaire de la Métrologie Légale”, which took place in Belval yesterday. The most prominent speaker, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider, took this opportunity to announce that Luxembourg has decided to acquire an atomic clock.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider

Other speakers included ILNAS director Jean-Marie Reiff, BLM director Philippe Kadok, Professor Olivier Francis from the University of Luxembourg and Dr. Martin Milton, director of the BIPM. Mr. Kadok’s presentation contained a slide a few interesting facts about the Service de Métrologie Légale: In 2015, this relatively small sub-organization of the BLM verified 2861 petrol pumps and more than 1450 weighing instruments of all types throughout the country.

BLM director Philippe Kadok

BLM director Philippe Kadok

Several organizations with ties to the field of metrology had set up stands in the conference hall. The Service de Métrologie Légale’s stand showcased balances, weights and other measurement instruments. Sadly, recently retired director John Kirchen was nowhere to be seen.

Service de Métrologie Légale

Service de Métrologie Légale

A&D EK-610i balance used for density determination

A&D EK-610i balance used for density determination

Visitors were also invited to take a tour of ILNAS’ recently inaugurated EMC lab (used only for market surveillance purposes, not for product certification).

 

 

Ohaus Scout STX – a touchscreen scale done right

The first scale with a touchscreen display that I ever used took a while to start up, reacted sluggishly and – if I remember this correctly – required me to set up a user account before it would let me actually use it. That was a few years ago, but still, I was a bit skeptical when Ohaus announced that the newest model in their legendary Scout series would now have a touchscreen, too. However, after purchasing the cheapest Scout STX (the STX 421) and testing it extensively over several weeks, I can say that my worries were unfounded.

Startup time

As you can see in this short video, the Scout STX is even faster than the Ohaus Ranger 3000:

Settings

How many scales can truly claim to be so easy to set up that you never have to look at the manual? As an example, here’s how you change the language: Touch “Menu”, then you’ll see 8 settings, of which “Balance Setup” looks the most promising. You’ll now see another seven settings with “Language” being the first one:

Should you ever find yourself somewhere you didn’t want to go, you can simply touch “Back” to go back to the previous screen.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the only thing I actually had to look up was how to change into another application mode: Instead of going through the menu, you simply touch the application name shown in the top left corner of the screen. I’m just not used to things being so intuitive.

9 applications

The touchscreen really shines when it comes to different applications. As you can see in this video of me using the parts counting mode with auto-optimization, the STX can even replace a dedicated counting scale:

12 seconds into the video, the scale displays an entire number block to let me enter the average piece weight or number of samples. There’s simply no way to achieve this kind of application flexibility and user friendliness without a touchscreen.

Touchscreen disadvantages

One common complaint about touchscreens is the lack of tactile feedback. Fortunately, the most frequently used buttons on any scale, ON/OFF/Zero and Tare, were still kept as physical buttons on the Ohaus Scout STX.

You also have to consider that the fairly large screen needs a lot of power. The Scout STX can be used with four AA batteries, but those won’t last more than a few hours (6 according to Ohaus). It’s certainly a good idea to use the included power adapter whenever possible.

Links and further information

Using your smartphone as a scale?

So far, apps which claim to transform a smartphone into a weighing scale generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Simulators: They pretend to be a scale, but simply show a previously entered weight. Might be good for dealers wanting to rip off gullible customers, but certainly not much else.
  • Creative sensor use: Some apps try to make use of existing sensors in order to calculate the weight of an object. This could mean balancing your phone on a bag filled with air and placing an object on it while the app measures the inclination. Another app requires putting your smartphone on top of the object you want to weigh and then dropping both on a cushion. Of course, you’d also have to repeat the procedure with reference weight. Obviously, this is not exactly user friendly. While I haven’t tried any of the apps myself, they mostly received one star reviews. Unlike the simulators, which at least do what they pretend to be doing, it doesn’t look like these apps work well enough to be even remotely useful.

Therefore, I was surprised when I saw the following video featuring Peach-O-Meter, an application which compares the weight of two peaches:

It’s easy to use and seem to be working better than anything available so far. This became possible thanks to 3D Touch, a feature on the new iPhone 6s. A new layer of capacitative sensors registers how hard you press on the pliable glass:

Pressing down onto the glass bends the glass very slightly at the point of contact, shortening the distance between your finger and the corresponding capacitor plate in the array beneath the display.

Putting peaches on your screen is probably not what Apple had in mind when they introduced 3D Touch as “a new way of interacting”. Originally, the program author had planned to use grapes, but discovered that the iPhone ignored them. He’s announced that he’s purchased calibrations weights and is planning to run further tests. There’s also at least one company which is trying to develop a professional app (with “calibration cubes”).

I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads, thought I’m skeptical concerning the usefulness of such an app. Want to weigh lightweight “objects” while you’re on the move? I’m sure you’d get much better results from an inexpensive pocket scale. Using your top-of-the line device in the kitchen has its own perils and reminds me of this sketch from a German comedy show:

 

 

New Scales and Balances coming in 2014

A&D

A&D has confirmed that the SJ-WP series of compact bench scales is going on sale in Europe in the first quarter of 2014.

A&D SJ-30KWP Food Scale

To understand what’s so ingenious about this scale, you should know that until now, compact scales were either fast or they had a high degree of ingress protection. It was not possible to have both a very short stabilization time (<1s) and resistance to dust and liquids in a compact instrument. The reason for this is that the air pressure inside the housing of the scale changes when a load is applied (or removed). For accurate measurements, the air pressure inside and outside has to be equalized. Of course, this could be achieved by simply building a few holes into the housing, but then you would allow dust and liquids to enter. The conventional solution has been to use selectively permeable membranes which let air through and block water. However, air diffusion through these membranes takes time, slowing down the measurement process.

A&D’s new approach is remarkably simple and effective: By mounting the load cell outside of the housing, the SJ-WP scale achieves a stabilization time of 0.5s or less in combination with IP67 protection (dust tight and water proof up to 1m):

A&D SJ-WP externally mounted load cell

Fast, compact, resistant to harsh environments and easy to clean, A&D’s SJ-WP could be a game changer in the food industry.

You can already find further information on A&D’s website.

Adam Equipment

While I have no information on new products coming in 2014 yet, I was told that Adam is planning to add USB host functionality to a number of balances. This would allow weighing data to be written directly on a memory stick, greatly simplifying data logging and data transfer to a computer. This functionality is already available on Adam’s PMB moisture analyzer:

PMB Moisture Analyser

Kern

The first pages of the 2014 catalog show Kern’s continued focus on touchscreen scales. The new models include analytical and precision balances as well as platform scales. While Kern does not indicate who the ODM is, I’m pretty sure these devices are made by Radwag in Poland.

Kern Touchscreen Scales

A cooperation between the two companies would make sense: Kern’s strengths are sales and marketing, while Radwag is good at actually developing and manufacturing weighing instruments.

Further information will soon be available on Kern’s website.

Ohaus

The new Valor 2000 and 4000 are aimed at the food industry and are meant to improve productivity even in harsh environments. There are still some inconsistencies in the available documents but it appears that Ohaus is claiming a stabilization time of 0.5s with an IPX8 rating (no dust ingress protection; protected against submersion beyond 1m).

Ohaus Valor 4000 XW

If you’ve read this post from the very beginning, you might be wondering how Ohaus has been able to achieve this with a load cell that’s placed inside the housing. The answer is called “Flow-Through Design” and simply means that there are indeed some holes in the housing which allow air and liquids to enter and exit relatively unhindered. The electronic components are silicon sealed to protect them from fluids and condensation:

Ohaus Valor 4000 flow through design

I’m looking forward to comparing this approach with A&D’s external load cell solution.

Update March 2014: Ohaus has released a video featuring the new scales:

Smartlux (my company)

I want to take this opportunity to announce that our RS-232 communication software “232key” is going to be released this year:

Rs232 Software

Our software is designed to make it easier to transfer measurement values from any instrument with an RS-232 interface to any application which accepts keyboard input. It receives data from a scale, balance or other device via RS-232 (COM port), extracts the numeric value, formats it and “types” it into another program (“keyboard wedge”-functionality). I’ll announce the release on this blog.

Near Field Communication: A&D’s new wireless UC-324NFC scale

The following short video shows A&D’s new wireless UC-324NFC scale in action. It is the first scale in the world with an integrated NFC chip, making it very easy to transfer your weight to your smartphone. Currently, this only works on Android with A&D’s own WellnessConnected app:

Personal scales: a look back at Medica 2012

With over 4,500 exhibitors, MEDICA in Düsseldorf (Germany) is the world’s leading medical trade fair. I managed to visit the following stands last year to have a look at the newest personal scales (aka bathroom scales, bedside scales, medical scales):

A&D Medical

A&D exhibited their new line of NFC-enabled products:

  • UC-324NFC personal scale
  • UA-767NFC blood pressure monitor
  • UW-101NFC activity monitor

You can see them in action in the following video, which was also showing at the booth:

I used my HTC One X smartphone to download A&D’s Wellness Connected app, weighed myself and then transferred the weight by just holding the phone close to the scale. It doesn’t get any easier. With NFC, there’s no need to configure a WLAN or Bluetooth connection for your smart scale, just tap and go. Other than storing the weight on your smartphone, the app also gives you the option to upload it to Microsoft’s HealtVault, turning it into a veritable internet scale (without additional costs or subscription fees).

A&D medical’s new NFC products are already available in the UK from A&D’s wellness connected Webshop and from other shops such as:

The devices are being introduced to the German market this week at the CEBIT trade fair. German customers will be able to buy them from our German scales shop in just a few days. Update March 6: A&D’s UC-324NFC precision personal scale as well as the UA-767NFC blood pressure monitor and UW-101 activity monitor are now available in our German scales shop.

A&D’s MEDICA 2012 report can be downloaded here (PDF).

Seca

Wireless communication was one of the main topics at Seca, too. Weight and height can easily be transferred to an indicator, printer or computer with seca 360° wireless technology. Other topics were the Seca mBCA (medical Body Composition Analyzer) and Seca’s analytics 115 software.

Kern

While Kern’s complete catalogue is approaching phonebook dimensions, the stand at Medica stood out by it’s clear simplicity and focus on just a few products. The most interesting ones are the the new MPC, MPD and MPE series of verified medical scales (which are replacing the MPP series):
Kern MPD 250K100M medical scale

With list prices currently starting at 246,- EUR (+46,- EUR verification costs + shipping) for the MPD (shown above), GPs who still use unverified cheap bathroom scales have no more excuses!

The scales might not look as nice as Soehnle Professional’s “Vemano” design series and they don’t have any wireless communication capabilities, but then again, they start at 246,- EUR. Fierce competition between Kern dealers could lead to even lower market prices.

Other products shown were a new baby scale and wheelchair scale.

Adam Equipment

Unlike other companies, Adam Equipment traditionally shows a larger variety of scales at Medica, including precision scales for lab use. Some scales like the PGW and PGL series really have to be seen up close and personal to be fully appreciated. A picture without size references doesn’t do justice to the enormous display, so here’s me holding my not-too-tiny hand close to it:

My hand close to the giant display of Adam's PGW precision scale

This picture was actually taken at ACHEMA. I promise to take more and better pictures at future trade fairs.

Among the medical scales, the new MUW 300L with integrated ultrasonic height measurement and BMI calculation stood out by it’s shear size. I was, however, assured that it can easily be disassembled for shipping. Here’s a photo of one of Adam Equipment’s friendly employees standing on the MUW 300L with me standing on the floor:

MUW 300L at Adam Equipments stand at Medica 2012

Suitable for people up to 210cm tall.

Other scales manufacturers at Medica:

(unfortunately, I only had time for a quick glance at their stands)