Minimize the Legwork!

I hate plumbing projects! Actually I really do not hate them. Rather I hate having to make the three or more trips to the hardware or home improvement store that seem to be required to get a project-any project-done. Even with painstaking planning on my part, extra time and legwork creep into the job, adding frustration and taking away from the satisfaction of a job well done. EXPANDED VERSION ON-LINE

By Dick Johnson November 1, 2002


I hate plumbing projects! Actually I really do not hate them. Rather I hate having to make the three or more trips to the hardware or home improvement store that seem to be required to get a project- any project-done. Even with painstaking planning on my part, extra time and legwork creep into the job, adding frustration and taking away from the satisfaction of a job well done. Evidently respondents to Control Engineering ‘s 2002 Handheld Instrument Product Focus Survey have similar views when it comes to spending unnecessary time on a job. Survey results show that multifunctional devices are preferred in all areas of meter use.

Handheld meters provide the simplest testing method for testing and calibration of process instrumentation and testing electrical parameters that exist in the sprawling manufacturing facilities. Today’s handheld meters have brought new meaning to the terms: advanced electronics and component miniaturization. Component miniaturization means everything from microprocessors to sensors to communication/networking components. The simple twist of a dial or push of a button brings measurement capability over a wide range of values.

Multifunctional meters also use advanced assembly and packaging techniques and the commodity pricing of many electronic components to offer a useful variety of devices under $150, many under $100. Not all multifunctional meters fall into the low price category. And it is these devices that benefit most from the productivity increases that multifunctionality brings to test and measurement equipment.

According to Luann Piccard, vp and general manager, Communications Test Equipment business unit, Agilent Technologies (Palo Alto, CA), ‘We focus on making equipment that increases productivity without increasing the cost of test. Whether in the plant or central office, whether measuring datacom, telecom, or enterprise networks, technicians want a single platform to cover all their measurement needs. This led Agilent to develop modular, plug-and-play platforms that provide, not just the fastest possible measurements, but simultaneous data acquisition and algorithm processing. Integrating it all into the smallest, lightest, and most rugged devices possible lets technicians test when and where they need to, in the least amount of time.’

What’s important?

Even though use of multifunctional meters offer a productivity advantage, respondents to the survey voiced very specific thoughts about what factors make a handheld test and measurement device, either single- or multivariable, worth purchasing. Top of the list and mentioned by 89% of the 241 total respondents to the survey conducted by Reed Research was accuracy/repeatability. Durability was rated very important by 69% of the respondents. Ease of use and easy-to-read displays were also of great concern to respondents with 61% and 56%, respectively, listing them as very important.

‘Other’ factors drew 48% of the responses. These include calibration and certification issues, compatibility with other data gathering equipment, service life, and overall size of the package-small being preferred. Price and availability issues rated at the bottom of the list of very important factors in choosing handheld test devices. Cost was very important to 33% of the respondents. Warranty was mentioned as very important by 30% of those responding and, finally, availability/quick delivery rated last, by 22% of those answering the questionnaire.

…and for what measurements?

The most-frequent types of measurements taken using handheld test and measurement equipment have changed since this survey was last run in September 2000. The accompanying chart shows the ‘line-up’ for the present study. Handheld calibrators saw the largest leap in use going from fifth in the 2000 survey to second in the present one.

According to Jim Shields, senior product specialist for Fluke Corp. (Everett, WA), there are reasons why field calibration of instrumentation has proliferated.

‘Modern, compact, handheld tools are now available with accuracy equal to or better than most of the bench equipment they superceded. Not only can calibration be performed in the environment in which the field devices are installed, but the requirement of removing/reinstalling the devices, and lugging them back to the shop is eliminated,’ Mr. Shields says.

‘Other significant forces driving calibration requirements include the custody transfer, FDA GMP regulations, and OSHA and EPA regulations. Compliance with these regulations requires a paper trail documenting the calibration of key process instrumentation. Handheld devices can now document field calibration so that results captured in the field can be uploaded to a PC and stored using calibration maintenance management software,’ Mr. Shields adds.

While electrical parameters remain the most common values measured, three of the ‘big four’ process variables (temperature, flow, and pressure) follow closely behind calibration. Following these are: event frequency, level measurement, and the ‘other’ category, which lists more specialized measurements. Actually, with the exception of the big increase in use of handheld calibrators, placement in this survey mirrored the results of the previous one.

Handheld test and measurement tools now provide the ability to take a wide variety of measurements in the field. And with the technology that exists today, one device now offers its users the chance to do them all with much less legwork.

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Handheld Instruments

For more information on these products, visit the manufacturer’s website shown at the end of each item. For more manufacturers of these products, visit the Control Engineering Buyer’s Guide at . System integators are available at .

DMM has loop calibrator, power supply

Everett, WA – The Fluke 789 ProcessMeter combines a digital multimeter and a loop calibrator in one handheld tool. Additionally, the 789 adds a 24-V loop power supply and a display that is said to be 200% larger than the earlier 787 model, with enhanced backlighting and two brightness settings. Other improvements include a HART mode setting with a built-in 250-Ohm resistor, increased battery performance with four AA batteries, 0-100% mA span check buttons to toggle from 4-20 mA, and an infrared I/O serial port compatible with FlukeView charting and analysis software. Price is $695. Fluke Corp.

Analyzer tests, certifies cable networks

Palo Alto, CA – FrameScope 350 is said to be the first handheld analyzer that verifies performance of key network services and combines full Category 6 cable certification with active network testing. Offering installers and maintenance technicians two tools in one reduces testing costs.

The analyzer’s color touchscreen allows in switched Fast Ethernet and TCP/IP environments to quickly isolate and resolve protocol, configuration, performance and cabling problems. Its AutoTest performance test suite uses objective performance metrics to measure the response times of key network services, eliminating the expense and complexity of baselining and allowing under-performing services to be located quickly and efficiently. Agilent Technologies

61/2-digit DMM breaks speed barriers

Austin, TX – Engineers can reduce the time it takes to make accurate measurements with the PXI-4070 FlexDMM, a full featured 61/2-digit digital multimeter in a single-slot 3U PXI module. The FlexDMM delivers the accuracy of a 61/2-digit unit along with the advanced features and throughput of higher resolution devices that can cost thousands of dollars more. Features include a 1.8-MS/sec fully isolated digitizer mode, self-calibration, and offset compensated ohm measurement. National Instruments

Pocket laser IR meters

Stamford, CT – OS8885 and OS8886 laser infrared meters are moderately priced instruments for use in a wide range of applications, including HVAC, safety and fire inspections, plastic molding, asphalt manufacture, screen printing, and measuring ink/ dryer temperatures. Both meters feature one-hand operation.

These Class II laser products also feature noncontact temperature measurement with laser circle sighting, 8:1 field of view, and a temperature range of -20-785°F. Accessories including a soft case, battery, manual, and wrist strap. The OS8886 is designed with an audio alarm for temperature limits, as well as adjustable emissivity. Price starts at $129. Omega Engineering

Measure, document temps digitally

Santa Cruz, CA- PhotoTemp MX6 is said to be the world’s first integrated infrared thermometer and digital camera. PhotoTemp takes noncontact temperature measurements, while documenting them with digital photographs. Designed for in-plant use, the device photographs, shares, and stores critical measurement results. It accurately shows the temperature measurement area with its True Spot coaxial laser sighting system and highlights it in a picture in the context of nearby objects. Temperature, location and date/time data are superimposed on its images, when viewed on a computer or in reports. Up to 100 temperature measurements and photographs along an inspection route can be taken and stored for later downloading into a PC for analysis and reporting. Raytek Corp.

Single probe measures three variables

Vernon Hills, IL – The Oakton waterproof pH/Con 10 meter measures pH, conductivity and temperature. The IP67-rated waterproof device now includes an improved three-in-one pH/conductivity/ temperature probe with a 10-ft submersible cable, making this meter ideal for industrial, environmental, laboratory,and water quality applications.

The pH electrode features a double-junction reference, with an increased fill volume for longer life and a protective/storage cap. The pH/Con 10 meters feature pushbutton calibration, a hold function that freezes readings, automatic shut-off to conserve batteries, and automatic temperature compensation. Cole-Parmer Instrument Co.

Portable calibrators

Newnan, GA – ”Handy” Calibrators CA51 and CA71 are comprehensive generating/ measuring instruments for calibration and equipment checking needs. Generating and measuring operations can be performed at the same time. Selectable generated signal and measurement signal options include voltage, current, resistance, thermocouple, resistance temperature detector, frequency, and pulse. AC voltages, including supply voltage, can also be measured. Both instruments are small and lightweight, incorporate rotary switches for intuitive handling, and are said to be easy to operate, even without a manual. Yokogawa Corp. of America

Handheld oscilloscopes

Beaverton, OR – TekScope THS700 Series Scope/DMM combines a full-featured real-time oscilloscope with a True RMS digital multimeter in rugged, battery-operated instruments. Scope and meter modes can operate simultaneously and independently on the same or separate signals.

The high-resolution, backlit display and pop-up menus permit easy viewing of many features. These include cursors, video trigger, voltage and resistance measurements, and storage of waveforms, data, and instrument setups. Additionally, they offer comprehensive triggering characteristics, including delay, pulse width, and video. Tektronix Inc.

Handheld digital manometer

Michigan City, IN – Series 409 wet/wet handheld digital manometer is designed to take liquid pressure reading. Units are highly accurate (

The lightweight instruments are housed in strong, extruded aluminum cases with large, easy-to-read liquid-crystal displays. Pressure units are displayed instantly in the user’s choice of psi, in. H2O, in. Hg, mm Hg, kPa, bar, or mbar. Dual 1/8-in. NPT(F) connections are provided. Dwyer Instruments Inc.

Mass spectrometer-based helium leak detector

Rockville, MD – MKS Instruments has introduced Pico, said to be the world’s smallest mass spectrometer-based helium leak detector. Pico measures helium escaping from pressurized lines and is used as a diagnostic tool to locate leaks. It is targeted at the semiconductor, refrigeration, automotive, and power industries. Its small size and graphical interface allow mobility of measurements and ease of use. MKS Instruments