Mechanical Scales vs Digital Scales: Which is Better?
When you’re looking for a scale, you might wonder what the difference is between a mechanical and a digital scale and which one you should purchase. In this blog, we’ll discuss the differences between mechanical vs digital scales in terms of their basic use, applications, accuracy, reliability, robustness, whether they’re futureproofed and trade approved. Then, you’ll be able to decide if you should buy a digital scale, or if a mechanical scale is adequate for your needs!
Mechanical vs Digital Scales: Basic Use
Using any scale for the first time can be a learning curve – some steeper than others. Of course, practice makes perfect, but it’s certainly more convenient when the process of using the scale is quick and easy. So, mechanical and digital scales, how do you use them at their most basic level, and which is easier?
There are generally two types of mechanical scales, the dial scale being the more popular for everyday use while the Triple-Beam Balance is used more frequently in educational environments.
A dial scale is usually made up of a weighing pan elevated above a base with a dial that may look like a clock embedded into it, for reading the weight. Each line on the dial represents a specific weight amount, just like each line on a clock represents one minute. Depending on the dial scale you have, that weight amount may be different, so it’s important to check the manual to guarantee you’re reading it right. The pan on some dial scales, such as kitchen scales or older medical scales for weighing babies, is a detachable bowl, which needs to be tared off the scale by turning a nob underneath the pan that moves the pointer to zero so that your weight results don’t include the weight of the bowl.
When you place an item onto the scale, the pointer will move to the corresponding number on the dial. If the result is a nice round number like 200 grams, then you’ll have your answer immediately. If not, count the number of lines beyond the closest round number and add up your total.
A mechanical balance, also known as an analogue scale, has the weighing pan on one side, a fulcrum in the centre and three beams with weights and a pointer on the other side. Because the weighing pan on a mechanical balance is on one side rather than in the middle, when you place an item on the pan, that side will lower, like a seesaw with only one person riding.
To balance the item, first set each weight to zero. You’ll be moving them along the notches until the weights at the end provide enough force to equal the weight on the pan. The first weight that you would move would be the heaviest. On Adam Equipment’s TBB Triple-Beam Balance, Inscale’s only analogue scale, the heaviest weight is on the beam with measurements ranging from 0-500 grams. Move that weight slowly along the notches until the pointer at the end falls just below zero, and then move that weight back one notch. Depending on how light the item that you’re weighing is, you may not even need to move this weight.
Next is the middle weight on the beam with measurements from 0-100 grams, slowly moving it along the notches until the pointer is just below zero and moving it back a notch. Finally, use the lightest weight on the beam from 0-10 grams. This weight should be slid along the beam until the pointer at the end hits exactly zero. Once that happens, add up the total of each weight (hope you’re good at math!) and you’re done.
Digital scales, on the other hand, do all that maths for you and display the result nicely on a screen set into the base or indicator, no matter which kind of digital scale you buy. Instead of a fulcrum, digital scales use electrical signals that are converted from the force of an item’s weight, no beams required. All you need to do is turn the scale on and place an item on the pan, clearly recognizable numeric results pop up in seconds!
Mechanical vs Digital: Applications
Often, you’re not buying a scale just for its weighing function, but also for the other features it offers. The more your scale can do itself, the less time and effort you’ll have to spend to figure out an alternative, and likely more expensive, way to do things. How do mechanical scales measure up against digital scales in this regard?
Mechanical scales will provide a weight reading, but that’s it. Other than some, such as Adam Equipment’s TBB, having a weigh-below hook and the ability to provide density determination, a mechanical scale is there to give you a weight reading only.
The average digital scale can perform checkweighing, parts counting and percentage weighing. Advanced or specialised scales may offer functions such as peak hold, dynamic ‘animal’ weighing, accumulation, PLUs (Product Look Ups), and more. This gives you so many opportunities to use your scale for tasks that might ordinarily be done manually. For example, if you frequently find yourself counting small pieces for inventory, the parts counting function on your digital scale (or a counting scale in its own right) will be able to determine how many pieces are in a pile just based on the initial weight of one piece. Imagine the time saved!
Mechanical vs Digital: Accuracy
The whole point of a scale is accurate readings, right? Which one wins then?
Mechanical scales – a dial scale, particularly – is, for the most part, only as accurate as the angle at which you’re viewing the results. If you’re looking at the dial from a high angle, you may record a completely different result than if you’re looking at the dial from head-on. The pointer is not flush against the dial, and neither does the pointer on a triple-beam balance touch the sides. This slight distance is enough to create the illusion of a result when viewed from the wrong angle.
Additionally, mechanical scales have decent readabilities such as 0.1g for lower capacities like 3000g and below. However, the higher the capacity of a mechanical scale, the higher the readability as well, and as an example, on a 32kg capacity scale, the best mechanical scales can compete with is typically around the 5g mark.
Digital scales encompass a wide range of categories, from semi-micro and analytical to compact and floor scales. It’s super easy to find a scale that fits your needs in terms of readability and capacity. If you need extremely precise results in a laboratory, an analytical balance with a low readability and low capacity is the best choice. If you’re weighing heavy boxes in a warehouse, a floor or platform scale with higher readability and capacity is the scale for you.
Digital scales such as Adam Equipment’s 32kg-capacity CKT 32UH Bench Scale has an accuracy of 0.2g. Even their 48kg CKT has an accuracy of 0.5g, far outstripping the capabilities of an equivalent mechanical scale.
Mechanical vs Digital: Reliability
When you purchase a scale or balance, you want to know that you can rely on it to work properly and give you accurate results at all times. How reliable are mechanical scales against digital scales?
Mechanical scales can operate without batteries or power, meaning that if you’re working in an environment with limited-to-no electricity, you don’t have to worry about your mechanical balance dying and can continue working. It can also be used instantly – no wait for your balance to power on or calibrate. However, vibrations can cause the pointer to move, impacting your results. It’s important to work in a controlled space so that nothing causes errors and make sure to take a record of the readings immediately since the balance itself won’t record or keep them.
Digital scales can work plugged into the wall or with rechargeable batteries. The rechargeable batteries allow you to work in environments with inconsistent or unreliable electricity as well!
Luckily, digital scales are less sensitive to vibrations, so it’s not required to stay perfectly still when weighing to get accurate results. Some digital scales even have a hold feature that freezes the results after you’ve taken an item off the pan, allowing you time to record.
Mechanical vs Digital: Robustness
Durability is an important feature in a balance or scale, you want it to last a long time so that you get your money’s worth. Scales are expensive! Their quality should match their price.
Mechanical balances aren’t fragile, per se, but they do have a lot of moving parts, which means more opportunities for something to go wrong. It’s important to make sure that a mechanical scale never handles a heavier load than its capacity, as it can damage the internal components and prevent it from providing accurate results in the future. As far as protection against moisture goes, mechanical scales have no electrical parts, so getting wet has no effect other than possible rust issues.
Many digital scales offer overload protection, so even if you accidentally place an item on the scale that weighs more than its capacity you won’t do any harm to its internal components. This can be extremely handy and prolongs the scale’s lifespan. Plus, digital scales typically have fewer parts to go wrong than an equivalent mechanical scale.
If a digital scale has an IP rating, it features protection against water and dust. The highest IP ratings we offer are IP68, for total protection against dust and water ingress even when submerged, and IP69K, which can handle hot temperatures as well. When you’re working in a dirty, wet, humid or messy environment, a scale with an IP rating guarantees that it will work perfectly. In industries such as food production, it also ensures ease of cleaning, making it a breeze to keep your work area hygienic. See our blog, IP Ratings Explained, for more info!
Mechanical vs Digital: Futureproof
It’s 2022 – everything is technologically advanced these days, even scales!
Mechanical scales cannot connect to a printer or computer software, so what you have is what you get, and you’ll need to manually enter anything that you need to be printed or charted.
Digital scales often have RS-232 and/or USB interfaces so that they can easily connect to computers and printers. Connecting to a printer will allow you to create a thorough record of weight readings to compare data over time, find consistencies easily, and reduce human errors that may occur while recording data by hand. You can also connect to a computer to utilise software like Adam’s DU software. DU makes it simple to create charts and analyse data immediately. Taking advantage of this ability will make your life a lot better by saving you time and effort.
Mechanical vs Digital: Trade Approval
A trade approved scale is required in the UK when you want to sell items by weight. Trade approval is an extra step to ensure that your scale is accurate so that your customers get what they paid for, and you don’t give anything away for free! But what’s the difference between mechanical and digital balances in terms of trade approval?
Class III mechanical scales are now less common than their digital counterparts since it is not so easy to get the accuracy and reliability in a mechanical scale!
We offer many trade approved digital scales here at Inscale that are suitable for selling items for weight. For example, Adam’s SWZ ‘Swift’ Price Computing Retail Scale features 100 PLUs so that you can input the unit price for your 100 most frequently weighed products and bring them up when necessary. No more memorizing prices or searching through catalogs! If you’re interested in learning more about retail scales, you can check out our recent blog What Are the Benefits of Portable Retail Scales?
Which One is the Winner?
Why Should I Buy a Mechanical Scale?
Mechanical scales like Adam Equipment’s TBB Triple-Beam Balance may not be great for serious business, but it's excellent in schools as an educational tool because they’re cheaper than digital scales and can be as robust if treated well.
Dial scales look great if you need a kitchen scale at home and you’re going for a ‘rustic’ look, especially because the detachable bowl is ideal for small amounts of ingredients.
Overall, however, digital scales are your best bet! Which one do you need? Get In Touch with Inscale’s team here for recommendations!