The industrial weighing industry is changing thanks to the integration of modern technologies into weighing displays. Although it has taken longer to adopt than in mobile phones, computers, and navigation devices, manufacturers are now integrating the same kinds of display technologies in new
Touch Screens Saving Time
Scale manufacturers like Avery Weigh-Tronix are integrating time saving technologies into almost every aspect of scale production. Displays are a small piece of the whole system, but Ron Adams, West Coast Sales Manager says that for most of their customers buying high end systems, “weight control is critical.”
The newest technologies offered in small and large scale indicators are OLED graphic displays and color thin film transistor (TFT) touch screens similar to those used in computers, mobile phones, and navigation devices. The new interfaces are cleaner and easier to use than older screens with PC keyboards with 101 keys. Touch screens now have larger areas to touch and descriptive icons to bring up information while processing.
At one large avocado producer, Adams says scale display screens are linked to a massive control plant. As the product comes from large boxes, one screen in a massive control plant shows the production floor with 25 scales in a line. Data can be viewed and touch screens can be redesigned to fit whatever you want at that time. “All of the processing information had been available before, but now it’s easier to display it to people. Operators have access to the data that is fed into the system, and they don’t have to be a computer wizard to access it with keypads,” he says.
Integrating Simple Measurements with Complex Operations
Adams says display technologies have slowly evolved, and “as an industry, we’re late in getting involved with them.” He says the newest display updates combine touch screen human interfaces with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on a production floor.Having an integrated display helps whenever there is a demand for real time process control. At a food processor performing a check-weighing operation, samples are put on a scale from a production line and weighed, and the scale feeds the information through a PLC to the touch screen to provide real time audit trail feedback about the quality control of the operation.
As a scale manufacturer, Avery is a third-party supplier of touch screen displays that is beginning to integrate them with other food processing instruments. Adams says that an industry trend is to see more technologies that link a simple instrument with a more advanced PLC and software, so the devices can “talk” and control an entire plant. Whether it’s hoppers feeding baking or mixing systems or products on a conveying line, when something crosses a scale, the weight goes back into the controllers.
Combining new displays, PLCs and new software packages in this way, a scale can now provide much more information to a user about the item being weighed. Adams describes a recycling plant that has a single display that contains the entire database of inbound and outbound materials. Trucks arrive, drive across a scale and are weighed. An operator sees the truck and with a touch screen, identifies what type of product it contains (concrete, green, wet, or recyclables), what city, and the recycling codes if it needs to go to another location.
Higher Resolution Technologies Help Users See and Understand Data Better
In the past, LEDs brought brightness to a screen so scales could easily be read outdoors. The newest color OLED screens allow measurements to be made much faster and under a wide range of lighting conditions. They help in difficult-to-see applications, either where the display is physically located more than 5 meters away from the operator or where the lighting is poor. In the transportation industry, LED and OLED remote or auxiliary displays are commonly used in unattended vehicle scale applications, where the driver of a truck may be getting their weight ticket via a kiosk.
Felix Klebe, Indicator Group Manager at Mettler Toledo, a manufacturer of industrial weighing products, says users typically upgrade or install an entire weighing terminal, not just the display. But in remote displays, commonly used in truck scale applications, LEDs are upgraded by themselves without upgrading the weighing terminal also.
Higher resolution screens also allow manufacturers to provide information to operators using more graphic symbols. Icons and pictures can be more intuitive than text, and work well where English may not be well understood. One example is the use of colored backlight displays in check weighing applications that change color and display whether or not the weight is in tolerance.
Color displays are more reliable for operators on the process control lines since they don’t have to look at fast changing numbers and can see large regions of color, not small lights. They are used for rapid weighing and portioning measurements, and make it easier to view results from wider angles, helping operator ergonomics and terminal placement for viewers of many sizes.
More Technologies Coming
Klebe says MT is creating future display enhancements with lower power for battery and mobile weighing applications. In applications where an operator follows a recipe shown on a weighing terminal display, more touch screens and intuitive and powerful human-machine interfaces (HMI) will make it easier to navigate through formulas or add user input than a keypad which could involve multiple key presses.
Moving Data Easier: Wi-Fi and Wireless
Another way displays closely integrate with overall operations is with wireless and Wi-Fi technology. Signals are incorporated into displays with WiFi cards and sealed plastic enclosures, and are huge time savers.
In a food processing plant, instead of tasking employees to manually enter target weights into scales, which could involve walking to multiple locations, wireless capabilities allow managers to send the sample weights to scales from a PC at another location nearby.
Fred Cox, VP of Sales at Cardinal/Detecto Scale says Cardinal is also creating software that would incorporate Wi-Fi data from scales to be read on Android and iPad devices.
New wireless technologies are also helping in truck scale markets. Normally, a remote visual display or scoreboard needs serial cables and conduit. Cardinal’s new wireless truck product named SNAP communicates data from weight indicators to remote displays located nearby. Cox says this technology saves installation time, and removes the need for wires, protecting the system from lightning.
Another new related technology is Ethernet connectivity in panel mount displays. These displays can monitor weight on a tank or hopper, and the data can be viewed or controlled from anywhere in the world from a PC over an IP address. Cox says panel mount weight displays are popular because Ethernet connectivity is available to anyone. This helps the industry save time on the control side, since several devices can be set up in one network. It removes one of the manual parts of the process: users don’t have to walk up to a unit and push a button.
About the Author
Debbie Sniderman is CEO of VI Ventures, LLC, an engineering consulting company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.