Secondary scale integration means the scale is being integrated into an already engineered system, (typically a dedicated software application). This requires support, rather than engineering, since the specific compatible scales have already been engineered.
Here are some proven principles for component integration into any system:
• Effective planning
• Professional engineering
• Matched components
• Capable/effective management team.
There are four scale integration types; each one comes with its specific integration issues: 1) University Research; 2) Industrial R&D; 3) Industrial Test; 4) Commercial OEM.
In all cases, remote support software and downloadable safe freeware is used to assist our dealers and their clients remotely with computer configuration, driver installations and scale communication validation.
Scale Integration – University Research Projects
Scale integration for university research can quickly become high risk, high maintenance and low reward. To avoid this, start by asking about the research goals. You’ll often hear, “We want the scale as sensor (force or mass) in our (undisclosed) research apparatus,” or “A scale is just a force sensor, it should work.” Scale integration support for university research frequently becomes explaining why scales are more than force sensors, and then providing connectivity support.
Start by pointing out that scales are designed for human use, manual sample loading (humans again), at human speeds (ditto). Then explain parameters need resetting for computer use with research apparatus. Take a moment to discuss managing the zero at power on/off in consideration of the test apparatus sitting on the pan. Corrections and auto-tare need to be considered since research seeks raw unprocessed signals.
Ask them about the scale environment – chemical exposure, temperature stability, electrical static (avoiding homemade plastic enclosures), and if any strong magnetic or electric field are present. You should inform and caution them appropriately. Provide reminders about expected high signal drift including temperature related drift – expected with the corrections turned off. I always suggest the best temperature controlled location. After this, scale integration for university research is just computer connectivity and software. Computer skills vary wildly within the labs. If you can get them on the right track, validate a working scale talking to a computer, they’ll generally handle the software matters.
Scale Integration – Industrial R&D and Industrial Test
Scale integration efforts for industrial R&D support revenue-generating products or services. There’s a written goal, time and budget. The difference between Industrial R&D and Industrial Test may be where the system ends up, as the same project engineers may do both. Industrial integration cases have professional engineering - unlike university research.
In today’s lean production, the scale integration efforts on the production floor are typically managed by manufacturing engineers and production support tech staff. They’re the production problem solvers, usually loaded at overcapacity and in triage mode. If the weighing professional shows real interest in the problem to be solved, often they effectivily become a trusted consultant partner on the weighing part of the project. This established trust may determine who gets the order initially, and who gets business when rough spots occur down the road.
Scale Integration – Commercial OEM
Helping Client Integration by Remote Computer Support
All scale integration cases include computer integration and require scale-to-computer validation. In the past, scales and computers were often shipped back and forth during integration efforts. Small scale integration efforts were impractical if not done local. More recently, difficulty of modern computer integration has caused others to avoid the headache.
Remote computer support over the Internet has changed the situation. A scale support technician can remotely view a client’s computer from their office desk, essentialy becoming a “local onsite” expert for their client’s computer matters. Remote support is a common practice today, but not yet in our industry.
At Intelligent Weighing Technology, we provide remote support as a dealer service for scale integration opportunities throughout North America. We also provide informal remote support training to dealers who ask.
Remote Computer Support to Validate Scale Integration
Remote support solutions are available in most organizations if you ask. We use TeamViewer, GoToMeeting, or any available remote application. We act as trail guides—to keep the client on the right track and away from dead-ends. Throughout this process, we make informed recommendations, but leave the decision making and hands-on to the client. Remote scale validation can be effective no matter who initiates the remote session, as long as you have a client with basic computer skills.
Using Remote Computer Support and Freeware for Validating COM Ports
COM ports can be fully validated remotely using free downloadable software: ComTestSerial, from MicroRidge. Once the client downloads and installs ComTestSerial, we’ll train them on COM port setup, teach them scale data capture over COM ports and demonstrate remote command operation. We offer pre-programmed ComTestSerial program files for any scales upon request.
If ComTestSerial is taking data and sending commands to the scale by a COM port, then scale to COM port communication is validated on the computer. This is easily done remotely and has been effective for any scale to COM port integration.
Differences between Remote Computer Support for Wedge or COM Port Integration
Wedge solutions that don’t use COM ports are simple to validate by remote viewing in any Windows software that takes data from a keyboard. We use Notepad, since it’s still included with all Windows versions. If the Wedge is working for Notepad, it should work for any Windows software that reads the keyboard.
Software Wedge solutions that take data from a COM port may also be validated by ComTestSerial and remote support. ComTestSerial will show if a scale is communicating with Windows COM ports correctly. If so, any software wedge that uses COM ports should be able to read the scale data.
Direct COM port applications using compatible commercial or custom client software (that use COM ports for data or control), may also be validated by remote support and ComTestSerial. Same as software wedges, if ComTestSerial is working with a COM port, then any compatible software should then be able to read scale data from that COM port.
Remember, once the COM port is validated to the scale by ComTestSerial, the COM port must be released by shutting down ComTestSerial—before any other software attempt to use the COM port to communicate with the scale.
Bringing it All Together – Summary and Three Take Away Rules
Scale integration requires careful needs assessment to understand client requirements. Always start with computer integration goals, since these will expose most challenges. Wedge or COM port solutions may be considered, depending on degree of human operation, or possible interference and the need for remote command support. Wedge solutions are easier to implement and more universal, but need operator discipline to operate reliability. COM port solutions are more capable and reliable—even with undisciplined operators. And they are needed for remote scale control.
Remote computer support can be used to remotely validate any scale integration solution or Windows software using a wedge solution. Remote computer support using ComTestSerial can remotely validate scale communication to the computer COM ports for any scale integration by COM ports—to any software with compatible scale commands and data formats.
There are only three rules for successful scale integration projects: 1) Q&A to understand client goals; 2) Simplest connectivity that does the job; 3) Remote support to prove it works.
ComTestSerial is free downloadable Windows utility software for serial port testing from MicroRidge System Inc. http://www.microridge.com/comtestserial.htm
TeamViewer is a trademark of TeamViewer GMBH. GoToMeeting is a trademark of Citrix Systems, Inc. Windows® is registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
Rich Puestow is Application Support Manager at Intelligent Weighing Technology, Inc. He is an analytical chemist with instrumentation and computer integration background for government, research and industry. Website: www.intelligentwt.com.
Intelligent Weighing Technology, Inc. is a wholesale master distributor and value added integrator for weighing products and components, located in Camarillo, CA. With its 8,000 square foot facility, Intelligent Weighing Technology offers a high level of product inventory for faster shipping. Every balance that leaves this building has been checked out and calibrated by expert staff to make sure you get the best product available. Built on a cornerstone of quality, precision, and service, Intelligent Weighing Technology provides its customers with the equipment they need, right on time.
Call 1-866-920-3000 or visit us at www.intelligentwt.com