Just like any other well-oiled machine, analytical balances require maintenance to ensure they are operating at peak performance and accuracy. Laboratories rely on equipment to produce repeatable, accurate and reliable results. As is the case with other lab equipment, analytical balances need to be kept clean and calibrated regularly at the very least. Preventative maintenance is highly recommended by expert service technicians but some measures can be taken on your own. We've seen balances that are 10, 15 and even 20 years old still operating in our customer's labs. Incredible, right? This is accomplished by taking special care of the balance thus extending it's life.
Properly maintaining and calibrating your lab balances not only helps to extend the life of the instrument, it also ensures that they are providing reliable measurements. Not to mention, repairs that are the result of neglect can be costly and are easily avoidable.
Here is some advice on how to properly maintain your analytical balances.
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Performing regular calibration checks are absolutely necessary to ensure your analytical balance is measuring properly. Some balances come equipped with an internal calibration feature. A reference weight along with a motorized mechanism is built into the balance which it uses to automatically perform calibrations based on preset parameters. Some allow the user to perform the internal calibrations on demand through prompts in the menu. In either instance, the internal calibration function is a convenient feature to keep the balance within spec. Although these balances perform these calibrations internally and in some instances automatically, it is still a best practice to manually calibrate your balance regularly as additional verification.
Analytical balances without the internal calibration function require all calibrations to be performed manually. To do this, you'll need the appropriate weighing standard, which are most often available from the manufacturer of the balance. After preparing the balance for calibration through the menu, the weight is placed on the weighing pan and the operator visually verifies the readout is accurate, while also prompting the balance that is it as well.
Keeping your analytical balance clean is not only recommended, but required. Debris that has built up inside of the weighing chamber can influence weighing results and hinder weighing accuracy. Most analytical balances utilize glass draft shields and stainless steel weighing platforms. It is recommended to use a non-abrasive cloth like lint-free microfiber towel to wipe down the inside of the weighing chamber. Use a mild cleaning agent that is safe for use on stainless steel. Lightly dampen the towel and carefully wipe down the platform and inside glass. When cleaning the weighing pan, remove it first and then wipe it down. After you've dried it completely, simply put it back into place. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the weighing pan as damage can occur to internal weighing components. Make ABSOLUTELY SURE not to allow fluid or debris underneath the weighing pan and into the internal weighing mechanism as this can cause binding or serious damage.
To clean the outside of your analytical balance, also use a mild detergent that is safe for plastics and display screens. There are plenty of multi-surface mild cleaners that you can pickup right from your local grocery or hardware store. Keeping the external components of the balance clean helps prevent buildup that can find it's way inside the balance and also maintains a clean look. We've seen balances that have been neglected and over time sludge and dirt buildup can wear out keypads and degrade the housing. Just like anything of value, it's important to keep them clean both inside and outside.
DISCLAIMER: It is recommended that you follow the guidelines for cleaning your analytical balance as stated in the user manual provided by the manufacturer.
Above all else, ensuring proper use of an analytical balance will help prolong the life of the instrument. Damage caused by improper use is one of the most common reasons we see lab balances on our service bench. Proper training can save a lot of headache down the road. Any operator using an analytical balance should be trained on proper use, maintenance best practices and basic troubleshooting. Here are a few common mistakes you can avoid to prevent unnecessary repair costs:
Exceeding the weight capacity of the balance is a quick way to damage internal weighing mechanisms. Do not put more weight on the pan than is recommended. Even with overload protection, you'd be surprised how easy it is to exceed the overload protection limit when dealing with small capacity analytical balances. Likewise, do not rest objects or press down on the weighing pan.
Avoid moving the balance as much as possible. Each time you move it, you're increasing the potential of dropping the instrument which will almost certainly require replacement. If you do need to move it, use a cart or other transport apparatus to help reduce the changes of a fall.
Do not stab the keypad. Seems simple right? You'd be surprised how often we see damage to the keypad or display caused by operators poking at them with pens, utensils or even knives in food labs. We get it. These things happen. But try to avoid it as much as possible.
Keep analytical balances out of extremely dirty or dusty areas whenever possible. Buildup of dust can cause binding and other issues with sensitive internal components. If you absolutely must use your balance in a dirty environment, be sure to clean it often and protect it as much as possible using covers and draft shields.
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Even when you're not using your analytical balance, there are steps you can take to maintain reliability and accuracy. Simple dust covers are a great way to keep the balance clean and free from debris. They are usually very cheap and worth every penny. If you plan to store the balance for a long period of time, it is a good idea to unplug them and tuck them away somewhere they won't be disturbed. Equipment closets or storage rooms are ideal when applicable. Otherwise, simply placing them inside of a cabinet or well out of the way of busy production areas will help prevent unwanted bumps, falls and spills. We'd also suggest powering up the unit and performing a calibration on them from time to time to ensure they are in tip-top shape should you need to use them in an emergency.
To sum it all up, maintaining your analytical balance takes just a little bit of planning, training and elbow grease. It's well worth it to keep the instrument accurate and reliable. And heck. It sure doesn't hurt the old pocket book either.
Need your balance repaired or professionally calibrated? Contact our balance service division M2 Calibration to make an appointment.
Updated January 8th, 2020