The smart buyer’s guide to test and measurement equipment

Tuesday, 01 December, 2009


Unfortunately, many people base their test and measurement equipment purchasing decision on price, availability and misleading sales information.

This buyer’s guide was designed by Celemetrix* to assist installers and technicians select and decide on the appropriate investment criteria for their test and measurement equipment. This information will ensure that:

  • The right type of test equipment is purchased;
  • Detailed technical purchasing criteria is developed;
  • No over-investment is made;
  • The product is selected to adapt to changing technical market requirements (futureproof);
  • Maximum output of the product is delivered to the company; and
  • Minimal ongoing maintenance costs are incurred by the company.


Product category selection

The three types of tester product categories are:

  1. ‘Go/No Go’ testers;
  2. Commissioning testers; and
  3. Research and development testers.

1. ‘Go/No Go’

This product group is focused at the lower end of the technology spectrum and is used as a red-light/green-light validation tool. This test equipment is commercially attractive and can provide the right levels of value, as long as the required functionality is very structured.

Issues

  • Low functionality set;
  • Provides limited visibility as to what the fault is;
  • Not suited to service or link-commissioning testing; and
  • Result summaries are very basic.

Benefits

  • Used for fast fault validation;
  • Very easy to use; and
  • Low commercial investment.

These products are generally suited to maintenance-only environments to validate network fault conditions.

2. Commissioning

This product group is focused at the lower-to-middle end of the technology spectrum and is used primarily to commission and fault-find communication services and links. They provide a comprehensive range of testing and monitoring functions to validate, isolate and commission OSI Layers 1 to 4. This test equipment is generally more expensive than the ‘Go/No Go’ test solutions and provides a greater level of functionality that delivers an increased benefit to the business and therefore better return on investment.

Issues

  • Medium to high levels of complexity for correct product selection;
  • Requires a medium level of skill by the operator to obtain maximum benefit;
  • Requires the operator to have a medium level of understanding of the associated technologies; and
  • Larger in size than ‘Go/No Go’ testers.

Benefits

  • Faster isolation and resolution of associated activities;
  • Often have remote control capabilities;
  • Product automation will ensure minimal testing time;
  • Comprehensive capabilities to resolve network issues;
  • More likely to conform to international standards;
  • Preferred industry tool for network issue identification and resolution; and
  • Results can be uploaded to central management systems.

Commissioning tools are the most widely purchased equipment on the market today as they provide the greatest levels of flexibility and capability to deliver real value to the owner.

3. Research and development

This product group is focused at the high end of the technology spectrum and is used to emulate and stress test communication networks. This test equipment generally requires significant commercial investment and will also require allocation of funds for ongoing maintenance to ensure equipment currency to international standards.

Issues

  • High investment levels;
  • Complex instruments to operate; and
  • Users must have a high level of understanding across the associated technologies.

Benefits

  • Supreme functionality;
  • Provides high level of benefits during the architectural and scalability phases of network development; and
  • Easily upgraded and therefore has a long investment life cycle.

Five keys to selecting and purchasing testers

1. Technology solutions

Many companies select test and measurement equipment mainly on price and availability (‘I need it now’). Few select a product based on researched and validated technical criteria. Companies should develop a detailed technical plan that satisfies their customer base and ask their clients what they expect now and in the foreseeable future.

Product selection criteria must include:

  • Performance: Fact not fiction. This is the most underestimated element. When put to the test, many products fail specifications. Develop a test plan and test all brands in accordance with this plan. Don’t deviate from it.
  • Technology suitability: Combine today’s and tomorrow’s needs.
  • Field suitability: Involve staff.
  • Screen ergonomics: How long does it take to learn the interface?
  • Test automation: Time is money. Measure this aspect.
  • Battery life.

2. Reporting

Test and measurement equipment is used to acquire a result and this is what is important to clients. The time needed to generate reports is critical. For example, if a company creates 100 reports per year and the time needed to generate these reports can be reduced by 40–50%, it can improve its efficiency and profitability significantly. Customised report generation can take up to five hours, which could equate to 500 man hours per year. Saving 500 billable hours for the same result should be a very important factor. Organisations that do not quantify the time needed to generate reports adversely affect their profitability every day that equipment is operational.

Reports should:

  • Be exportable in a CSU/Excel/PDF compatible format;
  • Be automatically generated in most circumstances;
  • Be generated on site in a PDF format;
  • Include equipment configuration details;
  • Be provided in soft and/or hard copy;
  • Automatically upload to a PC/laptop or be exportable via USB; and
  • Look professional to clients (not a data dump).

Reports should include:

  • Instrument used (including serial number);
  • Test set-up and configuration;
  • Date and time;
  • Test result summary; and
  • Company logo.

3. Equipment interface - ease of use

Do not underestimate the importance of a software interface. After spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment, prepare to spend more dollars on training if staff cannot use it efficiently on an occasional basis. Research shows that operators need to use an instrument five to seven times after training to be proficient, otherwise time and money will be wasted completing any project. If staff struggle to obtain test outcomes, is this a training issue or user-skill issue? The solution is to conduct detailed product training (ask supplier for product specific training) and to conduct specific technology training.

Generally, modern equipment is reasonably easy to use. What challenges most people is the technology behind the task. In many instances, users are either:

  • Obtaining incorrect measurements;
  • Interpreting results incorrectly;
  • Inputting poor and incorrect parameter/configuration settings, thus producing incorrect results; or
  • Submitting results without checking for validity or accuracy due to a lack of knowledge.

Reports are the permanent interface a company has with its clients. Poor reports equals poor reputation.

4. Product mean time between failures

Product availability is critical to that asset providing value to a business. Without the equipment, it may not be able to complete key projects that sustain its financial security. Often companies purchase test and measurement equipment that can only be serviced overseas.

If test and measurement assets are purchased based on price and technical capability only, the buyer may find that the equipment is unavailable for 4–12 weeks per year due to calibration and repair periods. A product purchase should be backed by an after-sales support guarantee including:

  • In-country calibration and calibration adjustment capabilities: Many companies offer calibration verification but if it fails the equipment will require further work to be performed by the manufacturer overseas. This adds cost and delays.
  • In-country PCB repair: Many companies claim to offer repair services but only provide board swaps. This repair approach actually increases repair costs tenfold. In some cases, a simple power supply fault can cost $12,000. A simple capacitor change costing 4-6 hours + parts would result in a faster turnaround time and significantly lower cost. The equipment supplier should be considered as a business partner - not a supplier - and therefore should be held accountable.
  • Backup units: Suppliers should make available a backup unit when equipment comes in for service. Beware! Companies offering this as a free service use their sales demonstration equipment when the situation arises. Unfortunately, this means a company will never get a backup unit as they will only have one or two products for demonstration in each line. It is a misleading and undeliverable promise. Instead, purchase from a company that has a suitable quantity of backup units available at a set and agreed fee. Be prepared to pay about 0.5-0.8% per day of the purchase price for a ‘hot swap’ replacement product.
  • Performance guarantees: When a product goes in for calibration and repair, make sure a turnaround commitment is obtained from the supplier. If they commit to five days, negotiate to get a backup product for free if the period is greater than their guarantee (excluding unforeseen issues). More than 80% of equipment is adjusted during the calibration process - similar to the timing of a vehicle’s pistons in the engine to maximise its useable life - so it is imperative that tuning test and measurement equipment is undertaken to maximise the useable life of the product.

What is the difference between certification and calibration? Product verification is only suitable for digital products such as ethernet products. Products associated with analog technologies, including optical and RF, are inherently variable and it is valuable to ensure that these products are tuned (calibrated). Products that are not calibrated regularly have a reduced useable life of 30% and/or have a maintenance repair cost four times more than products that are serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Upgradeability

Modern test and measurement equipment is designed to provide for future changes in technology via software upgrades, new hardware modules or factory retrofits.

It is very important that the technology plan includes the potential changes to a company’s technical needs and its selected product accommodates these changes.

Beware of the factory retrofit. This usually means returning equipment to the manufacturer and in 4-6 weeks they return an ‘upgraded’ product. In most cases this means they have given over a new product and the user is likely to pay dearly for this exercise.

All major technology upgrades should be done with consideration of what new products may have been released to market since an original purchase. Users may be surprised to find products that are less expensive, more capable, deploy next-generation hardware and are more efficient to use.

Summary

Develop detailed technology selection criteria backed by comprehensive after-sales support programs. Be careful of those companies that cannot commit to definitive after-sales service and support outcomes. Calculate the real benefit each instrument can provide to your organisation and the costs of associated down time.

* Celemetrix is an independent company capable of offering a range of advisory services to organisations understanding the importance of correct product selection.

Related Articles

How to effectively test a transistor

Like any other component, a transistor may malfunction or be damaged. In this article, we show...

Intrinsic safety in electrical environments

Intrinsic safety has been vital in shielding workers from workplace accidents in settings that...

ESV addresses concerns about power pole fires

Following the St Patrick's Day fires last year, Energy Safe Victoria has released a draft...


  • All content Copyright © 2022 Westwick-Farrow Pty Ltd