Setup Serial Lab Device-to-PC Connections

Setup Serial Lab Device-to-PC Connections

Estimated reading time: 8 min

Setup Serial Laboratory Connections to Network PCs

RxWorks supports a number of laboratory devices that communicate using serial connections. Serial connections are used in many industrial applications because of its simplicity, low-cost, and compatibility with many computing platforms.

The “original design scope for serial communication” did not include the ability to transmit data across a network. Additional software is needed to integrate serial devices into your practice network.

Use this guide if the any of the following apply to your practice:

  • It is not possible or practical to physically connect one or more laboratory devices to your server.
  • Laboratory devices are present in one or more sites in a multi-branch practice.
  • Laboratory devices are connected directly to PCs in your main or branch clinics.
  • To successfully setup & test serial laboratory devices you will need:

  • The setup instructions for sharing serial ports (this article).
  • Specific instruction for setting up your supported laboratory device. You can reference our online manual article “Introduction To Lab Manager” to see if yours is supported.
  • 6 Steps to a Successful Laboratory Setup

    There are 6 basic steps to follow to connect serial laboratory devices. These are:

    1. “Connect your Laboratory Device” – Physically connect the device (See specific instructions for your machine).
    2. “Test Serial Connection to the Host PC” – Check that your machine is communicating with the PC it is connected to (Use this article as a guide).
    3. “Install NSPK” – Install ‘Network Serial Port Kit’ software on the host PC and Server (Use this article as a guide)
    4. “Create a ‘Virtual’ Serial Port” – Share the physical serial port from the PC and create a ‘virtual’ serial port on the server (Use this article as a guide).
    5. “Test communication on the ‘Virtual’ Serial Port” – Check that the shared serial port is transferring data successfully (Use this article as a guide).
    6. “Setup the Laboratory Device in RxWorks” – Configure RxWorks to communicate with your laboratory device(s) (See specific instructions for your machine).
    This article will guide you through steps 2 to 5 above. Steps 1 and 6 relate to specific settings for each type of laboratory device.

    Things To Check Before You Begin

  • A PC must be near enough to the laboratory machine for the serial cable to reach it.
  • The PC must be connected to the practice network.
  • The PC must have a spare serial port. A USB to Serial converter can be used if a spare serial port is not available.
  • RxWorks Support technicians must have remote access to the PC.
  • The user account used for remote access must have administrator rights.
  • Step 1 – Connect Your Laboratory Device

    Each laboratory device has unique connection requirements. The physical connection to the devices should be setup before testing. Individual settings for the following serial laboratory devices can be found in this Online Manual:

    Oxford Science Forcyte™ Haematology Analyser

    Abaxis®

    VetScan HM2™
    VetScan® HM5
    VetScan® Classic
    VetScan VS2®

    Hemavet®

    Hemavet® 950LV
    Hemavet® 950 & Hemavet® 950 FS
    Hemavet® 1700

    IDEXX

    VetTest® Chemistry Analyzer
    SNAP® Reader
    IDEXX VetAutoread™ Hematology Analyzer
    VetLyte® Electrolyte Analyzer
    LaserCyte® Hematology Analyzer

    Nova Biomedical

    Stat Profile® Critical Care Xpress

    If you are unsure of the correct device setup for your practice, contact your laboratory device representative or an RxWorks Support Technician for assistance.

    Step 2 – Testing Serial Communication to the PC

    Once you have setup the physical connection between a serial laboratory device and a PC, test the connection to ensure it is active. The next two sections will guide you through the correct test procedure.

    Enable The Laboratory Device To Transmit Data

    Check the setup procedure specific to your laboratory device for additional steps required to start serial communication. Begin testing the connection once data transmission is enabled.

    Check Serial Connection From The Device

    There are two PC utilities that can monitor serial ports and verify your laboratory devices are communicating. The two utilities are “PuTTY” and “Hyperterminal”.

    Hyperterminal is built-in to Windows 2000, XP and 2003 Server, but is has been removed from later operating systems. Use ‘PuTTY’ if you are using Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10, or Server 2008.
    Using Hyperterminal

    On the PC your laboratory device is connected to:

    1. Click Start > Programs >Accessories > Communications > HyperTerminal.
    2. On the New Connection Screen, enter any name, e.g. LAB. Click OK.
    3. On the ‘Connect To’ window, leave the Phone Number blank. Click OK.
    4. Select the COM port that the laboratory device is linked to from the ‘Connect Using’ drop down list. Click OK.
    5. Change the Bits per Second to 9600.
    6. Click OK to begin monitoring.

    Many laboratory devices require a manually transmitted result to trigger communication. Idexx devices begin transmitting automatically within 40-60 seconds. The appearance of the text indicates that the laboratory device is communicating successfully on the serial port.

    Using PuTTY

    On the PC your laboratory device is connected to:

    1. Download the free PuTTY.exe utility from the internet.
    2. Double Click and RUN the PuTTY.exe file.
    3. In the main window, select the connection type radio button ‘Serial’.
    4. Enter the COM port number (default – COM1) and check that the speed is set to 9600.
    5. Click OK to begin monitoring.

    Many laboratory devices require a manually transmitted result to trigger communication. Idexx devices begin transmitting automatically within 40-60 seconds. The appearance of the text indicates that the laboratory device is communicating successfully on the serial port.

    RxWorks Support Technicians require remote access to PCs hosting laboratory device connections. It is difficult to diagnose laboratory device issues without access to the host PCs. Please consult with your hardware technician if you are unsure of the remote capabilities of your laboratory PCs.

    Step 3 – Installing ‘Network Serial Port Kit’

    A 3rd party software product is required for the server to be able to receive serial device data across your network. The product that RxWorks uses is called ‘Network Serial Port Kit’ (NSPK).
    The cost of the NSPK licence is included with the purchase of the Lab Manager Module and can only be used in conjunction with RxWorks.
    NSPK must be installed on the server and on any PC workstation that has a serial laboratory device connected to it.
    The same software version of NSPK must be installed on the server and host PCs.

    What does NSPK do?

  • NSPK allows remote Serial/COM port data to be sent over a network using TCP/IP.
  • Remote serial ports are ‘virtualised’ on the server. Serial laboratory devices appear as if they were physically connected to a serial port on the server.
  • All RxWorks laboratory tasks can be run and managed centrally from the server.
  • Removes the need for a copy of RxWorks to be installed on the host PCs.
  • Installing The ‘Network Serial Port Kit’

  • Installation, configuration, and licencing of the NSPK software is usually done by an RxWorks Support Technician
  • NSPK is installed on both the server and workstation PC(s) in a client/server configuration.
  • NSPK must be installed on each PC workstation with a serial laboratory device attached.
  • The NSPK installation process is the same for all machines but is configured as a client/server from within the program.
  • The windows user installing NSPK requires administrator rights to complete the installation successfully.
  • Follow these steps to install NSPK on a server or PC workstation:

    1. Double Click and Run the Network Serial Port Kit setup file to begin the installation.
    2. Click ‘Next’ to begin the installation.
    3. Accept the licence agreement & click ‘Next’.
    4. Enter the licence key to activate the full version of the product.
    5. An RxWorks Support Technician will assist with this step.

    6. The default installation directory is should be used unless otherwise advised. Click ‘Next’ to continue.
    7. Choose to install desktop and start menu icons, and install for ‘All Users’. Click ‘Install’ to continue.
    8. Installation will now begin. When the installation is complete choose to launch the application.

    If you are prompted to reboot the PC, close all open applications and reboot as requested.

    Port 33600 must be given access through your server and PC firewall to allow NSPK to successfully receive data from the remote PC’s serial port. Alternatively, you can add these processes to your firewall ignore list: “NSPK.exe” and “nspksvr.exe”.

    Step 4 – Creating a ‘Virtual’ Serial Port

    Start creating a ‘virtual’ serial port after NSPK has been installed on the server and the host PC. NSPK requires some configuration so the server can begin receiving data from your laboratory device.
    The two steps required for each laboratory device setup are:

  • The physical serial port on the PC workstation must be shared.
  • The shared serial port must be ‘virtualised’ on the server.
  • Sharing The Serial Port On The PC Workstation

    Follow these steps to share a serial port from a PC to your Server:

    1. Open ‘Network Serial Port Kit’ from the desktop or Start Menu.
    2. Click the ‘Share Serial Port’ icon.
    3. Select the physical COM port that your laboratory device is connected to from the drop-down list. Click ‘OK’ to begin sharing the port.

    The shared serial port will be visible in the main NSPK window.
    The program will now wait for an incoming connection from NSPK installed on the server.

    RxWorks Support Technicians require remote access to PCs hosting laboratory device connections. It is difficult to diagnose laboratory device issues without access to the host PCs. Please consult with your hardware technician if you are unsure of the remote capabilities of your laboratory PCs.

    Creating Virtual Serial Ports On The Server

    Follow these steps to link the server to the serial ports shared from your PC(s):

    1. Open the Network Serial Port Kit program from the desktop or Start Menu.
    2. Click the ‘Add Connection’ icon.
    3. Select an unused COM port number from the drop-down list.
    4. This will assign a port number to the new ‘virtual’ COM port on the server.

    5. Select the ‘Remote Computer’ radio button and enter the IP address or the name of the network PC that is sharing the physical serial port. Click ‘Next’ to save the settings and start the link to the remote PC serial port.

    The server will search for the shared serial port on the network.
    A new serial/COM port will be created on the server once a connection is established.

    A successful connection to a remote serial port is displayed in the main NSPK window.

    Port 33600 must be given access through your server and PC firewall to allow NSPK to successfully receive data from the remote PC’s serial port. Alternatively, you can add these processes to your firewall ignore list: “NSPK.exe” and “nspksvr.exe”.

    Step 5 – Testing Communication on the ‘Virtual’ Serial Port

    It should be possible to check communication on the server’s new ‘virtual’ serial ports once you have configured the link in NSPK. You can do this check using the same serial port monitoring utilities as used for the PC test outlined in “Step 2” – Testing Serial Communication to the PC
    When using the serial port testing utility, make sure that the correct COM port number is entered. The COM port number should be the same COM port number used when you created the virtual serial port.

    The virtual serial port may not become fully active until you have rebooted the server. If you are prompted to reboot, or have not rebooted since installing NSPK, do so at this point.

    Step 6 – Setup Your Laboratory Device in RxWorks

  • The physical connection to laboratory devices should be completed and tested before RxWorks can begin communicating with them.
  • Each laboratory device has unique setup requirements in RxWorks.
  • Finish the device setup in RxWorks to begin receiving results from your machine
  • This Online Manual has detailed instructions for completing the setup specific to each type of laboratory device.

    Troubleshooting Serial Laboratory Connections

    Here are some general checks that you can do if your communications tests fail or you find that laboratory data is not being received into RxWorks.
    You should also check the specific troubleshooting steps for your type of laboratory device.

    The Troubleshooting Steps

  • Check that the laboratory device is switched on and is ready to transmit. Some devices take some time to start up before they are ready for transmission.
  • Ensure the PC connected to the device is on and working normally.
  • If the PC is on, can it access other network locations or the internet? If not there may be a network issue with that PC.
  • Check the specific connection details for your device & make sure all connecting cables are securely attached.
  • Check the condition of the device cables for damage.
  • Port 33600 must be given access through your PC and Server firewalls – check that this port is not blocked by security products. Alternatively, you can add these processes to your firewall ignore list: “NSPK.exe” and “nspksvr.exe”.
  • Serial Port sharing through NSPK must be temporarily switched off when testing the serial port on the host PC. If sharing is not switched off the port will report as being ‘in use’.
  • Check that the software version of NSPK is the same on the server and all host PCs.
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