A&D Precision Balances Communication Manual (GX-A, GF-A and GX-AE)

A&D scales and balances have always been an excellent choice when it comes to data transfer to a computer, printer or other devices. With a data format that has remained virtually unchanged throughout the company’s history, we have seen customers replace decades-old balances with new ones without having to adapt their existing data acquisition software.

This does not mean that the communication capabilities of A&D balances are not evolving. The new GX-A, GF-A and GX-AE models are particularly interesting because they are equipped with multiple interfaces and can be controlled by a connected computer (or PLC) via a large number of commands.

Communication Manual

Best of all, A&D has documented everything in a 56 page communication manual, which you can download here (PDF).

If you thought that my interface description of A&D’s FX-i and FZ-i balances was already quite comprehensive, you’ll certainly be impressed by this communication manual for the GX-A/AE and GF-A series, which covers more topics in much greater detail.

Table of contents

To give you an idea, you’ll find the table of contents from the communications manual below:

  1. Introduction
    1. Applicable models
    2. Features of the communication function
      1. Using standard RS-232C / extension RS-232C interface
      2. Using standard USB interface
      3. Connecting multiple peripheral devices
  2. Interface specifications
    1. RS-232C
    2. USB
  3. Connecting Peripheral Devices
    1. Cables needed to connect to peripheral devices
    2. About data output method
    3. Specific examples when connecting multiple peripheral devices at the same time
  4. Printing Weighing Values To the Printer
    1. In case of AD-8127
    2. In case of AD-8126
  5. Connecting to a PC or a PLC
    1. Quick USB mode
    2. Virtual COM mode
    3. RS-232C
    4. WinCT data transmission software (USB Virtual COM mode or RS-232C)
    5. Notes when using quick USB
  6. Data output
    1. Data output mode
    2. Weighing data format
    3. Output examples of weighing data format
    4. Other data formats
  7. Commands
    1. Control commands
    2. The <AK> code and error codes
    3. Command usage examples
  8. Error codes
    1. Error codes list
  9. The UFC function
    1. UFC program commands
    2. Examples of creating UFC program commands
  10. Internal settings
    1. How to set
    2. List of items (communication entries only)
  11. Key lock function
    1. Locking all key switches
    2. Locking specified key switches
  12. Checking the software version of the balance

Examples

One of my favorite things about this manual are the examples, which clearly presented and easy to follow:

GX-A balance: example of measuring using a container
Example of measuring using a container

Is something still missing?

In my opinion, this is the best communication manual I’ve seen from any weighing instrument manufacturer so far.

My only suggestion for improvement as far as the manual itself is concerned is to add a warning symbol next to the footnote on page 6, which mentions the 12 V voltage on pin 9. When connecting the balance to a device which also uses pin 9 in this way (such as Zebra printers), both devices could malfunction and possibly be damaged. To prevent this from happening, a custom cable must be used instead of a standard cable that connects all pins.

Tare weight and gross weight

When the tare weight is set by the operator by pressing the RE-ZERO button on the balance, it is not returned when using the “?PT” or “?T” commands. This is mentioned in the manual, but no explanation is given. It is also not possible to request the gross weight. Therefore, applications which require this data have to be designed so that the tare operation is triggered by the connected device (see example above).

Note: The UFC template language available on the GX-A/AE and GF-A balances allows the tare weight and gross weight (and of course net weight) to be sent to a connected device.

Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth

An Ethernet interface is optionally available, but it costs several times more than an external converter (such as Moxa’s NPort 5110A). If it was more affordable, it would attract more customers planning to connect multiple balances to a single PC for data acquisition purposes.

No wireless LAN option exists (so far). The Bluetooth adapter for the RS-232 interface is unfortunately not available in Europe. This makes it somewhat difficult to use the balances under a fume hood and transferring the weight to a computer outside.

MT-SICS

A&D could make the balances more compatible with existing systems by adding support for the MT-SICS protocol. While MT-SICS is not the holy grail of all protocols, it is widely used and supported in the weighing industry and by software developers. With companies such as Sartorius, Radwag, Kern (KCP) and Ohaus (on some models) offering support for what is effectively MT-SICS, I see no compelling reason why A&D could not do the same.

The balances already understand the “S”, “SI” and “SIR” commands also used by MT-SICS. When set to the “MT” data format, they come very close to sending the same replies as MT-SICS-compatible weighing instruments:

First line: character/byte number
Second line: A&D’s MT format (stable weight)
Third line: MT-SICS format (stable weight)
 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9101112131415161718
S123.45gCRLF
SS123.45gCRLF

Very close, however, is sometimes not close enough (see this blog post where communication failed because of one additional “space” character).

Reading and changing settings through commands

Finally, while these balances support many commands covering a lot of functionality,  it’s not possible to read and change most of the settings by using commands. If this were an option, a connected computer with a configuration software could change the balances’ settings in a quick and user-friendly way.  With new technologies such as WebUSB, it may eventually be possible to change the configuration of the balance directly from a web browser.

Just before publishing this article, I took another look at A&D’s global website and noticed that they have released a program called “WinCT-ParamSet” that does exactly what I suggested above. I will take a closer look at it in a separate article. I hope that the communication manual will be updated to include the commands used by WinCT-ParamSet.

Further information on GX-A, GF-A and GX-AE precision balances

A&D global website: A&D Apollo GX-AE/A & GF-A Series
A&D Europe: A&D Apollo Series GF-A/GX-A
A&D US: A&D Apollo GX-A/GF-A Series Precision Balances
Our shop (in German): Präzisionswaage A&D GX-A

Using Ohaus Defender 5000 scales with BarTender

BarTender from Seagull Scientific is “the world’s leading design and print software for labels, barcodes, cards and RFID tags.” In this article, I’ll show you how to capture the net weight and tare weight from an Ohaus Defender 5000 scale with BarTender.

Notes:

  • This guide applies to the new generation of Ohaus Defender 5000 scales (2018 or later).
  • It was created using BarTender 2019 R8 and version 1.05 of the Ohaus Defender 5000 firmware. It may not apply to future versions.
  • I’m not a BarTender expert, if you think that you have a better solution, please let me know in the comments.

BarTender communicates with a scale by requesting the weight and – if supported – the tare weight in short intervals (every 250 ms by default). The received data is then parsed using regular expressions.

Unfortunately, the “Ohaus” protocols defined in BarTender do not work with the default settings of the current Defender 5000 scales. They also don’t support requesting the tare weight. Therefore, we’ll use the MT-SICS protocol instead. As you’ll see below, this is a very straightforward solution. However, for a limited number of multi-interval Defender 5000 scales, we’ll need to modify the regular expressions used by BarTender.

Note for legal-for-trade applications (verified scales): If you’re planning to use the alibi memory (SD card) installed in the Defender 5000 indicator, please note that the solution proposed here does not create alibi records. To do so, you would have to use the Ohaus “P” (print) command instead of the MT-SICS command to request the weight. However, this would create an alibi entry every 250 ms, which is probably not what you want either. In my opinion, the communication method used by BarTender is not well suited for use with verified scales and alibi records.

Configuring your Ohaus Defender 5000 scale

Note: This guide assumes that you’ve already connected your scale to your PC. I used the standard RS-232 port found on all current Defender 5000 models. Using the optionally available USB or Bluetooth interface (SPP) would be almost identical.

Apparently, you do not need to change the configuration of the scale, as it already supports MT-SICS commands in its default “Demand” mode. However, if you want to explicitly set it to the MT-SICS protocol, press and hold the Menu button, then press 7 to enter the Communication menu, select the interface you’re using, press 2 for Setup and then change the Assignment from “Demand” to “SICS”:
Ohaus Defender 5000 scale SICS

The other settings on this screen should not matter, as they’re irrelevant for the selected protocol.

Configuring BarTender

Add Scale Wizard Step 1

Start Bartender Designer, select Administer>Weighing Scale Setup and Add Scale. This will launch the Add Scale Wizard. Click on Next.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 1

As mentioned, simply selecting “Ohaus 5000 Series” (or any other Ohaus model) will not work with the current Defender 5000 scales. Instead, select Define a model not listed above and click on Next.

Add Scale Wizard Step 2

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 2Select “Ohaus” as the manufacturer and enter a model name (e.g. “Defender 5000 SICS”).

If your scale is a single interval scale (which means that the readability does not change over the entire weighing range), select the “Mettler Toledo (MT-SICS Level 1)” protocol and click on Next. Then skip to step 3 of this guide far below.

If your scale is a multi-interval scale, things may get a bit more complicated. It all depends on the readability (aka “graduation”, “d” or “e”) of your scale. If it has the same number of decimal places over all intervals when using the default unit (kg), you can also go to step 3. If the number of decimal places is not the same, continue reading here.

Example:

Ohaus Defender 5000 scale dual interval
0.005 kg = 3 decimals, 0.01 kg = 2 decimals

Creating a new protocol

For multi-interval scales that don’t have a constant number of decimal places, we have to make a tiny change to the regular expressions defined in BarTender’s MT-SICS Level 1 protocol. Since we can’t modify existing protocols, click on New to create a new one.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 3

Give the new protocol a name (e.g. “SICS”) and click on Copy existing Protocol.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 4Select “Mettler Toledo (MT-SICS Level 1)” and confirm with OK. All fields for the commands and response patterns should now be filled in.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 5

In every single response pattern except for the last one, locate the following string:

\x20(?<Units>

Change it to:

\x20+(?<Units>

By adding a plus sign, the regular expression now matches strings which contain one or more spaces (\x20) in between the weight (or tare) value and the unit. This is necessary because some multi-interval Defender 5000 scales use two spaces after switching to the second interval:

RegexBuddy weight values with defaul MT-SICS regex

Note how the second line contains two spaces after “22.25”. With the default regular expression defined in BarTender, this weight value (and all others in the same interval) would not be captured.

I don’t know if BarTender was too strict or if Ohaus was too lax in implementing the MT-SICS protocol. I believe it’s better if I don’t comment on this any further. According to the MT-SICS protocol documents I’ve reviewed, the weight should be right-aligned and separated from the unit with one space character. However, the descriptions of MT “DeltaRange” multi-interval balances mention that the last digit is replaced by a space when the number of decimal places changes:

mt-sics
Source (PDF)

Therefore, it seems that Ohaus did nothing wrong and the regular expression in BarTender did not account for this scenario.

Note: If you’re regularly dealing with regular expression, I highly recommend the wonderful RegexBuddy software.

Your user-defined protocol should now look like this:
BarTender: Add scale wizard 6Click on OK.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 7

Select the protocol we’ve just defined and click on Next.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 8Everything in this dialog should be correctly configured for the use of a serial port (RS-232, USB or Bluetooth SPP). Click on Next.

Add Scale Wizard Step 3

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 9

Welcome back, my lucky readers who did not have to deal with protocols and regular expressions. Change the name of the scale if you feel like it and then click on Next.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 10

In this dialog, you must specify the COM port on your computer that is used to connect to your Ohaus Defender 5000 scale.

BarTender Add Scale Wizard 11

This is it! We’re done! Click on Finish, but don’t bring out the champagne just yet.

Testing your Ohaus Defender 5000 scale

Bartender weigh scale setup

Back in the Weighing Scale Setup, select the scale you’ve just added and click on Properties.

BarTender weighing scale setup properties

Click on Test Connection. If everything is correct, BarTender should show the Net Weight and Tare Weight received from your scale:

BarTender Weighing Scale Connection TestIn that case, congratulations, you succeeded. You can now use the values from your scale in BarTender.

Should you not see any weight values, you’ll find some troubleshooting information below.

Troubleshooting a scale connection

Unfortunately, communication problems with scales can have many causes and are often difficult to solve. I can’t give you extensive troubleshooting instructions here, but I’ll tell you the same thing I also tell our software users: Download HTerm, a simple terminal program. Then try to communicate with your scale using HTerm instead of BarTender:

HTERM used for scale troubleshooting (MT-SICS protocol)

Change the following settings in HTerm:

  • COM port,
  • Baud to 9600,
  • Newline at to “CR+LF” (optional, looks nicer),
  • Send on enter to “CR-LF” (required).

Click on the Connect button at the top (shown as Disconnect in the screenshot as I had already clicked on it). Then type the “SI” (send immediately) command manually into the input field (lower red arrow) and press enter.

You should see the command you just sent under Transmitted data and the reply from the scale under Received Data (marked green on the screenshot).

If communication is successful with HTerm but not with BarTender, the problem is with BarTender. If you’ve changed the regular expression as described above, double-check that you’ve not made any mistakes. Contact Seagull Scientific for further support. Please don’t ask me for help in the comments.

If you can’t communicate with your Defender 5000 scale using HTerm, something is wrong with your setup. In my experience, the most likely culprits are:

  • Wrong COM port.
  • Wrong interface parameters (baud rate, etc.).
  • Wrong type of serial cable.

Please understand that I cannot diagnose these problems for you remotely. You may want to contact your Ohaus dealer or pay a specialist to help you.


Did this article save you a lot of time? Please consider supporting my work by buying a PDF version for US$2/copy (contains no additional information).


Last updated on August 14, 2020: Added information concerning the MT-SICS response format.

LAUMAS expands to the United States and Canada

Italian weighing instrument manufacturer LAUMAS is now also operating in North America. A large stock of products is available (including load cells, weight indicators, weight transmitters and mounting kits) as well as technical support based in the US.

You can read the manufacturer’s announcement here or visit the North American website laumas-us.com.

Although most Laumas instruments are designed for use in industrial weighing applications, I have found that their innovative features and excellent price/performance ratio make them a good choice in many other areas as well. I plan to publish several projects on this blog under the Laumas tag in the coming months.

A scale that shocks you to prevent you from overeating

Like many of us, YouTuber William Osman gained some weight during quarantine. His solution: A “robot” that basically consists of a scale and a Mexican electro shock device.

With more than a million views, his video has already surpassed the previously most popular YouTube video that involved a scale.

Watch the video below (the development of the device starts at 3:03, though you won’t learn much):

I Built A Robot To Stop Over-Eating

Digitalization in Legal Metrology: CECIP webinar recording available

The European Association of Weighing Instruments Manufacturers (CECIP1) organized a webinar on ‘digitalization in legal metrology’ on June 25, 2020.  The recording is available online (registration required) and the presentations can be downloaded here (PDF).

The speakers were:

– Roman Schwartz, CIML President
– Florian Thiel, PTB & WELMEC WG7 convener
– Nick Parsons, Deputy CSO Minebea Intec & CECIP President
– Karlheinz Bahnolzer, Head Legal Metrology Sartorius & CECIP LMG President

You can also download the CECIP position paper on digitalization in legal metrology here (PDF) or sign up for a “digital transformation in legal metrology” workshop at the PTB (postponed to 2021).

1 Comité Européen des Constructeurs d’Instruments de Pesage