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.
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 with 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.
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.
Visitors were also invited to take a tour of ILNAS’ recently inaugurated EMC lab (used only for market surveillance purposes, not for product certification).
The first scale with a touchscreen display that I ever used (not made by Ohaus) 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.
As you can see in this short video, the Scout STX is even faster than the Ohaus Ranger 3000:
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.
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, you can see that the scale displays a numpad 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.
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
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.