Who uses serial scales?

I was recently on a west coast virtual meetup event and there was a discussion about plugins and someone chimed in asking “who uses serial scales?” (or something like that…) With 20+ years of experience working with Claris FileMaker Pro customers in a warehouse, it’s fairly common for us to interface with these devices.

First off, scales used on a shop floor are very industrial and expensive. The Mettler Toledo PS60 looks to be bomb-proof and costs over $500. While current PS60’s have a USB interface, older models rely on the trusty serial protocol. We recently did a shipping integration where a customer had a flashy new dimensionalizer (that cost thousands of dollars) with a serial interface.

Mettler Toledo PS60

Talking to Serial Scales from FileMaker Pro

Interfacing with a serial scale from FileMaker Pro is easiest with a plugin like MBS or Troi Serial. Both work equally well for this use case. In the scripts below we go thru a simple process – we open a serial port, we then send some data to the device (based on device spec, some require a CR/LF or some other characters), then we receive a response back. Some scales return fractional values so we then apply a modifier as needed to get a proper weight in pounds.

Capturing the weight with MBS
Capturing the weight with Troi Serial

Note that on the Mac, you need to have an adapter for a serial scale. The preferred Tripp-Lite/Keyspan USA19-HS adapter requires drivers which will not work with macOS Big Sur. There are some serial to Bluetooth adapters which will provide connectivity for macOS.

The Keyspan USA19-HS Adapter

But what if you don’t like plugins? If you’re in the mood for a science project, you could build a microservice with a Raspberry Pi that communicates with a serial or USB scale, but then exposes it to FileMaker thru CURL. But why waste time when using a plugin is so simple?

If you don’t like science, another alternative is PrintNode, a paid service that installs on your desktop and provides an interface to scales (and printers) thru HTTP requests. PrintNode requires a bit of setup and configuration but is very powerul. One benefit of PrintNode is you can then capture weights using your app with FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect. This opens a whole new world to mobile warehousing.

Alternatives to Serial Scales

Some USB scales are simply serial devices with a USB adapter. When you look at them from the operating system, they require a driver and show as a COM port or some variant. Other USB scales act as HID devices and require special applications to communicate with them using a USB vendor and product ID. We’ve found that dimensionalizers have the ability to communicate over IP using simple HTTP requests.

NRGship solutions for FileMaker have the ability to communicate with scales using serial, HID, PrintNode or IP. NRGship allows you to quickly integrate UPS, FedEx, USPS and LTL validation, rating and shipping into your app.

Please contact our Sales Department for further information if you need help communicating with scales from your own FileMaker Pro app.

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Here’s how to get high quality output with thermal printers and FileMaker Pro

Thermal printers like the Zebra GX420d have a command language called Zebra Programming Language (ZPL) which should always be used to provide the highest quality output. While you can print other data to these devices, the quality is severly degraded because it’s essentially printing an image which gets converted to a black and white 200 dpi image. For example, if you were printing a barcode you may incur scanability issues, but it also looks unprofessional due to pixelation. While it’s not hard to create ZPL code, the free FileMaker FM ZPL Helper tool can be used to create templates for thermal labels with ease using a subset of the print language. Once you have the ZPL code, it can be sent to networked Zebra printers very easily. NRG Software provides helper applications for printing to USB connected printers without the need for third party drivers.

Product Labels

We created a UPC label on 2.5×1.25″ label stock as this would be a common type of label to print from FileMaker. The label on the left was printed with ZPL while the label on the right was printed from a FileMaker layout containing text and a container with a barcode image using the macOS driver. The barcode and small text on the right is highly pixelated and is not of the quality you’d want to place on product. One other issue is Page Setup. We’ve found that you need to create the actual label layout smaller than the actual label which leads to wasted space. If you make the layout the actual size with zero margins and keep Page Setup to match the label size you will get blank labels in-between as shown below.

Here is the ZPL code for our SKU label:

^XA^FO0,30^AS,50,^FB800,1,,C,^FDProduct Name^FS
^FO530,90^AS,50,^FB100,4,,C,^FDColor Info $Price^FS
^FO210,90^BY3,,100^BC,100,Y,,,A^FD799033162358^FS^XZ

Once we have the ZPL code, we can do a simple HTTP POST using Insert From URL to output to the Zebra printer as shown in the script below. This simple script can be utilized for printing from FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, FileMaker Server or even Web Direct so as long as they are on the same network.

Note that the HTTP POST method above only works with newer networked Zebra printers. Older Zebra printers, Zebra-compatible (ZPL) or those with USB connections require more complex scripting. Printers like the Rollo are compatible with Zebra label rolls but cannot print ZPL code.

Shipping Labels

In this example, the label on the left was created by NRGship UPS for FileMaker using ZPL while the image on the right is a GIF image printed directly to the device thru the OS driver. All of the barcodes are pixelated, which can lead to re-labeling by shipping carriers. Another benefit of Zebra printers for shipping labels is free label stock – both UPS and FedEx provide free labels, whereas proprietary label stock for Dymo printers can be costly.

If you need help printing labels to thermal printers from FileMaker Pro, please contact our Sales Department for further information. We can provide great insight into desktop and portable Zebra printers, label design, and more.

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FileMaker Pro Image Magnifier

We were recently working on a project where a container field contained a detailed image and thought it would be useful if the user could zoom in on some areas.

With a FileMaker web viewer you can make use of JavaScript to add funtionality in FileMaker that doesn’t exist. With a quick Google Search we found a library that allowed magnification of images. We then created a test HTML document that magnified an image. That text was copied into a global template field and we replaced the image URLs with slugs. We then created a calc field in FileMaker to replace the slugs with container data encoded as Base64. In the video below, you can see how we went thru the process of adding the calculation. You can download our sample file here.

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What’s the best way to ship from FileMaker Pro?

With NRGship and FileMaker Pro you have two options for shipping and choosing between them often depends on what makes sense for your workflow.

Integrated shipping is our preferred method and it allows you to utilize the full capabilites of NRGship across your organization on the desktop or iOS. We often suggest that things start during order entry with address validation. This ensures that the recipient information is correct before the order ever hits your shipping department, and allows you to have a clean address in your backend CRM for future use. From your order, it’s easy to add simple rating functionality based on the content of your order so that you can charge your customer based on the estimate, or provide expedited service options based on a certain delivery date. Once the order has shipped, cost information can be returned back to the order along with the tracking number. The tracking number then provides visibility right on the order without having to check the carrier software or website. With integrated shipping you can seamlessly utilize the power of your shipping carriers without ever leaving your own database.

Overview: Integrated Shipping

Keyed shipping most closely resembles the process you would have using carrier software integrated with FileMaker. You would key in an order number and the data would appear in the shipment. The shipping staff then adds packages, validates the address, runs rates and produces the shipping label. After shipment, the cost information is returned back to your order so that you have visibility across your organization. Since NRGship is built with FileMaker Pro, you can leverage it’s functionality to provide far more complex shipping than you could with the carrier software alone.

Overview: Keyed Shipping

NRGship is a Carrier Certfied provider that powers hundreds of businesses who ship UPS, FedEx and USPS with FileMaker Pro without the need to setup external services or perform complex API coding. Contact our sales staff to setup a time for a demo of NRGship and see how it can improve your entire business.

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NRGship Pro update adds requested features

The Q1 2021 update of NRGship Pro includes two new features requested by customers. Favorites allow you to save common shipments for repeat shipping which can greatly simplify complex multipackage or international shipments. The continuity camera allows you to use an iOS device to add a photo of your shipment so that you can capture what was placed into a package. Please watch the videos below for a brief overview of these new features.

Overview: Favorites
Overview: Continuity Camera

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