Analytical Balances – Troubleshooting & DIY

Troubleshooting Your Balance

The first step of troubleshooting is to clean your balance. To do this, you will need rubber gloves, fine tweezers, an anti-static bristle brush, canned air, Kimwipes, and any anhydrous alcohol. Once you’ve assembled your supplies, unplug the device and remove any batteries.

If any liquid is spilled, soak up the bulk with Kimwipes and then carefully remove the rest with lint free swabs.

Next, remove the platform and carefully sweep away any dust and debris using the anti-static brush. Use canned air to blow out any surfaces that are hard to reach. Do not pick the balance up and shake it, the internal components are extremely fragile.

Important! In place of an anti-static brush, you can use any bristle brush in combination with an anti-static gun, so long as the device is unpowered.

After any solid debris has been removed, wet a Kimwipe with the anhydrous alcohol and gently wipe the exposed surfaces of the balance. Gently use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean deep surfaces and grooves. Allow adequate time for the alcohol to fully dry before replacing the weighing platform or your measurements will be impacted by a slow drift until drying is complete.

Important! Methanol, ethanol, and isopropanol are all suitable as long as they don’t contain any percentage of water. Do not use acetone or you will mar the plastic casing.

Once the device is clean, you can begin to check for common problems.

In some older devices, calibration weights are maneuvered into position by sliding a lever. If this lever is bumped accidentally, it can lead to inaccurate measurements. The process is automatic in most newer balances, but you may need to reduce the frequency as certain models auto-calibrate themselves every 15 minutes by default.

Interfacing With Your Balance

Interfacing with a balance is one of the most powerful ways to boost productivity. Interfacing is a way of letting your computer communicate with your balance, which means that your computer can tell your balance what to do, and request information. Anything you can do with a balance can be controlled by a computer, and modern analytical balances ship with this ability built-in.

You can read the balance output, tare, clear, print, calibrate, alter the settings, and even move the draft shield if it’s mechanized – all from your computer. You can even do it from home! This empowers you to automate repetitive tasks, and monitor the change in mass over extended periods of time (∂m/∂t) without expensive special equipment.

Most balances have separate manuals specifically for interfacing. Although these aren’t normally packaged with the balance, they’re usually available online or by request. Unfortunately, most instrument manufacturers have a frustrating tendency to require cords with awkwardly shaped connectors, so your first hurdle will be to acquire that cable. These can be extremely expensive from the manufacturer. For example, the “MiniMettler” is priced at approximately $350. We recommend searching for an aftermarket knock-off.

Once your computer is connected, you’ll need to choose software to communicate with the balance. The manufacturer’s software is a good starting point. These can usually perform basic tasks, but lack any useful customization. Most scientists will need the flexibility offered by a Hyperterminal client such as Realterm. These allow the scientist to communicate directly with the balance, and can automatically run simple scripts at regular intervals.

The most powerful option with the greatest flexibility would be data acquisition software, such as LabVIEW or DASYLab. These allow you to fully customize the collection and analysis of data without actually needing to program. The price range for a full commercial license can exceed $1000, but non-commercial licenses are usually available at a reduced price for academic & non-profit labs.

 

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