Free software for scales and balances with RS-232 and USB

Are you still manually entering weight readings from your scale or balance on your PC? Is your scale equipped with a RS-232 or USB (virtual COM port) interface? If yes, you can eliminate manual data entry by connecting your scale to your computer and using our free software 232key.

232key automatically types the weight into any application

Our software runs in the background, listens to the COM port (serial port) your scale is connected to and waits for measurement values sent by the scale. Those values are then filtered, formatted and typed into the application running in the foreground at the current cursor position as simulated keystrokes. This means that 232key can be used to transfer the weight (or other measurement values) into any application that accepts keyboard inputs, e.g. Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice / LibreOffice Calc, Google Docs, a form on a website, etc.

In the following example, I used A&D’s FG-60KBM scale with an optional RS-232 interface (FG-OP-23). I connected it to my laptop with A&D’s serial cable (AX-PC09-SCA) and an inexpensive converter to USB (as my laptop doesn’t have a serial port). Upon pressing the “PRINT” key on the scale, the weight was typed directly into an input field on a website:
Transferring the weight from a scale to a website

Compatibility with scales and balances

To use 232key, you’ll need a scale with a RS-232 interface (aka. serial port, COM port, EIA-232) or an interface which appears as a (virtual) COM port when the scale is connected to your PC. This is the case for many (but not all) scales with a USB interface and for scales which support the Bluetooth Serial Port Profile.

Your scale or balance also has to send the weight in ASCII format. The weight has to be the first numeric value sent* and it should only be sent once (after you’ve pressed a key on the scale), not continuously.

The vast majority of scales and balances available on the market today fulfills these requirements. Just to give you a few examples, you should be able to use 232key with most or all scales and balances made by A&D (RS-232 only), Adam Equipment (RS-232 and USB), Ohaus** (RS-232 and USB), Kern**, MyWeigh (RS-232 only) and other well-known brands. New device profiles are constantly added!

Finally, an easy way to transfer data from your scale to your PC

We designed 232key to make your life easier. No complicated configuration is required. If your scale manufacturer or model is included in the list of predefined devices, you don’t even have to manually enter the interface parameters: Simply select your scale and click on “Default” to load the settings.
Interface settings

Not sure which COM port you scale is connected to? Press the “Auto” button and 232key will try to detect the port automatically (works with all devices which have some sort of hardware handshaking functionality, e.g. scales and balances made by A&D and MyWeigh’s popular HD series).

Do you know which decimal separator (point or comma) your scale is using? Why should you! 232key understands both input formats and lets you choose which output format you want.
Decimal separator

Would you like 232key to press an additional key after typing the weight, e.g. the “Enter” key to jump to the next row in a spreadsheet? No problem, simply specify the desired key in the “Format” tab.
Additional key

All of these useful and user-friendly features are available for free! Additional functionality is available in the paid “Plus” version of 232key.

Download and documentation

Please visit our product website 232key for further information and to download our free software. Should you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them in our support section or as a comment below.


* We’ve added an exception to this rule for scales and balances made by Adam Equipment.
** Affiliate links.

Update May 2018: Write the weight to a file

232key is a great solution for sending the weight from your scale to an application running on your PC (as simulated keystrokes). In some cases, however, it makes more sense to record the weight to a file which is later opened in Excel (or other applications).

This is particularly true for unattended data logging applications running over long periods of time. Another example are applications with high data rates (several weight values per second) which would overwhelm a virtual keyboard wedge like 232key.

For these use cases, we’ve recently released Simple Data Logger, an easy to use solution for recording the weight sent from your scale to a CSV file. You can read more about it on this blog or on www.smartlux.com/sdl.

Easily weigh aquatic animals using submersible scales

Regularly recording an animal’s weight is essential for keeping track of its health. However, weighing can be a traumatic experience particularly for aquatic and semi-aquatic animals as they have to be removed from the water where they spend all or most of their life.

Fortunately, several weighing instrument manufacturers have addressed this issue with new submersible scales. One such scale is the Ohaus Valor 2000W, shown below being partially submerged to facilitate the weighing of one of our company’s turtles:

Weighing a turtle on a semi-submerged scale
Turtle “Alpha” basking on top of the scale.

Thanks to it’s unique “flow-thru design which channels fluids that may enter the housing through strategically located drain holes”, this scale immediately sinks to the bottom of the aquarium while remaining fully operational. All that’s left to do is to wait until the animal takes a rest on the weighing pan and record the weight. There’s no better way to weigh aquatic reptiles, fish and marine mammals!

Available in capacities from 1.5kg to 15kg, Ohaus’ Valor 2000 can be found here.

How accurate are smart scales?

Are smart scales accurate weighing instruments or just simple bathroom scales with expensive connectivity features? To find out, I tested the Withings WS-30, Fitbit Aria and A&D UC-324NFC using class M1 weights.

A&D UC-324NFC Fitbit Aria Withings WS-30
Creative Commons LicenseThis image by digitalscalesblog.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Preparation

Each of the scales had not been used before and was configured as instructed by the manufacturer. This included signing up for an account with Withings and Fitbit. In the case of A&D’s UC-324NFC, I took advantage of a function available in the Wellness Connected  app which let me “calibrate” the scale by entering the local gravitational acceleration.

The scales were tested under similar conditions with a stable temperature of around 22°C and were placed on a flat, hard surface. The Withings and Fitbit scales were left alone for a night after the initial configuration as I wasn’t quite sure how they determine the zero value: unlike older electronic scales, you don’t have to switch them on and wait for them to show ‘zero’, instead, you step right on (the UC-324NFC determines the zero point after you step off).

Test procedure

I used 20kg weights to test the scales at 40, 60, 80, 100 and 120 kg. This procedure was repeated 3 times for each scale (I did a lot of weight lifting that day).

test
Creative Commons LicenseThis image by digitalscalesblog.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Results

The first column gives you the nominal weight (in kg) and the next three are the values as shown by the scales.

Withings WS-30

4040.240.240.2
6060.360.360.3
8080.480.380.3
100100.3100.4100.4
120120.4120.4120.4

Fitbit Aria

4040.240.240.1
6060.260.260.2
8080.280.280.2
100100.3100.3100.3
120120.3120.3120.4

A&D UC-324NFC

4039.9539.9539.95
6060.0059.9560.00
8080.0080.0079.95
100100.00100.00100.00
120120.00120.00120.00

As you can see, A&D’s UC-324NFC was the most accurate scale, never deviating by more than 50g from the true value. Its 50g resolution and gravity compensation function certainly paid off.

However, the Fibit and Withings scales did a great job, too. Looking at the measurement results in each row, you’ll see that they are either identical or off by just one scale interval (100g). We can therefore say that these scales were slightly less accurate, but still very precise* (or that their repeatability was still excellent). As far as your body weight is concerned, you’ll generally be less interested in absolute values and more in tracking changes (“am I loosing or gaining weight”) and these scales would be perfectly suitable for this purpose. Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised that Fitbit and Withings didn’t use the location I had entered during account creation to adjust the scale for the local gravity acceleration. This would most likely have improved their accuracy.

Overall, the results are very good. As far as I can tell from this test, you’re not just paying for the “smart” features, you get accurate scales, too.

Further information / where to buy:

Disclosure:

  • Some links above are affiliate links.
  • My company used to sell A&D’s UC-324NFC in our German scales shop, but we don’t anymore. The Withings WS-30 and Fitbit Aria were purchased at retail prices, A&D’s UC-324NFC was purchased with a dealer discount.

*Meaning of accuracy and precision (as used in this article):
Accuracy and precision explained


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RS-232 troubleshooting: fake chips

RS-232 is still the most popular interface for balances and scales. It is often described as “simple”, however, when things don’t work as expected, finding the cause can be difficult.

This article does not aim to be a comprehensive RS-232 troubleshooting guide (for this purpose, please refer to this PDF document from Agilent Technologies or the troubleshooting section on our 232key website). Instead, it is supposed to raise awareness of an issue that is often ignored: counterfeit ICs.

When you’ve tried everything and still can’t reliably communicate with your scale via RS-232, there’s a chance a fake chip may be the cause.

Just a few weeks ago, the thought of encountering counterfeit ICs in digital scales had not crossed my mind. Thanks to FTDI’s recent attempt to “brick” counterfeits via Windows Update, fake chips are now a hot topic on the web. While I don’t agree with the way FTDI tried to punish the end user, I wish the controversy had occurred a few weeks earlier. This would have saved me a lot of time.

Back then I was doing the final QC for several scales which were about to be shipped to a customer. The last item on my checklist was “bidirectional communication using RS-232”, something I had done many times before with this exact model. What should have taken a few minutes ended up taking me several days and nearly drove me crazy because the problems I encountered were difficult to replicate. Eventually, I arrived at the conclusion that something was very wrong with the MAX232CPE+ chips, which are responsible for converting TTL signals to RS-232 levels. After doing some research on the internet*, I started to suspect those chips were counterfeit. It seemed like a far-fetched idea** at the time, but I still desoldered them, took a few pictures and sent them to Maxim Integrated.

Fake MAX232CPE+ and MAX232EPE+

Counterfeit MAX232CPE+
Fake, fake and fake.

Thankfully, I received a reply in less than two hours:

“Yes these parts are counterfeit, they do not match markings of lots we manufactured.”

Now extremely suspicious of all MAX232s***, I disassembled a few more scales from 4 different suppliers. 3 contained ICs belonging to the MAX232 family, so I sent the pictures to Maxim Integrated, too. In addition to the chips used by the scale manufacturer which had prompted me to start this investigation, one chip used by another manufacturer was also flagged as counterfeit.

Counterfeit MAX232EPE+
Counterfeit MAX232EPE+

To be fair, my sample size is too small to draw meaningful conclusions regarding the entire weighing industry. However, if you’re in the business of making weighing instruments and were blissfully unaware of this issue, I hope this article serves as a wake-up call.


* I found documents like this one (16 MB PDF presentation by SMT Corporation) or this one (100 KB PDF, University of Conneticut), this article by Maxim Integrated and even videos of YouTubers walking through huge electronic component malls in Shenzhen where almost everything is counterfeit.

** Though not quite as far-fetched as the manufacturer’s idea that “static build up from the polystyrene packaging in road transportation” was to blame.

*** And also seriously angry at having wasted so much time doing something the manufacturer should have done. I won’t do any naming and shaming here, though.


Update October 3, 2017: Several articles concerning this issue have appeared since I originally wrote this blog post.

Solution: Err 8.2 on Ohaus Defender scales

If your new Ohaus Defender shows “Err 8.2”, you have probably not yet removed the shipping spacers. These protect your scale from damage during transport, but have to be taken out before use.

1. Remove the stainless stainless steel platform pan. You’ll see 4 red plastic shipping spacers wedged between the overload protection screws and the upper frame of the platform:
Ohaus Defender 3000 shipping spacer

2. Remove these spacers by hand or with an adequate tool (without turning the overload protection screws):
Ohaus Defender shipping spacers removal

3. Place the stainless steel pan on the platform. Your scale is ready to weigh.