Seven vital tools for a “go bag” in the field

For field projects, it’s good to bring a bag with tools that might come in handy for specific purposes or to prepare for any unforeseen challenges that sometimes come up.

By Evan Pederson, Maverick Technologies June 1, 2016

Over the years, the contents of my "go bag" have been refined and updated. The "go bag" is a duffel bag that is used for assignments at a customer site. Many of the items have been suggested by more experienced engineers. Others have been added based on personal experience. The contents might change depending on the project, but these seven tools are almost always in the "go bag."

1. Networking gear

There are a number of good options now for compact wireless routers, and this means that setting up a temporary wireless network for use during commissioning is cheap and easy. There are models that are small enough to fit in one’s pocket while being durable enough to put in an electrical panel. Of course, adding a wireless access point to your control network, even if temporary, does carry some risk that must be evaluated. Security and information technology (IT) concerns might override the convenience. For those cases, a couple of Ethernet cables (including one 50′ long) and a small switch are in the bag.

2. Compact USB keyboard

This one is surprisingly useful for certain field assignments. Compact wired models can be very inexpensive (less than $15 online), but there are also more expensive compact models available.

3. Power strip

This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It’s another one of those items that can save endless frustration and make you a hero to your coworkers.

4. Portable hard drive

I keep a dedicated portable hard drive just for software and ISO files that have been useful over the years. It includes legacy versions of programmable logic controller (PLC) software, various productivity tools, password recovery images, disk utility images, and even virtual machine images of older operating system (OS) versions. It’s easy to take the Internet and the ability to search for and download software for granted. Sometimes, though, you’re on your own with whatever you happen to have with you once you’re on-site.

5. Serial cable

If you ever have to go online with a PLC without an Ethernet connection, the odds are good that an RS-232 serial cable with a null modem adapter will do the trick. With fewer laptops including a serial port now, it’s good to have a USB to serial adapter on-hand.

6. Precision screwdrivers

If only needed for occasional use, it’s generally not hard to find a screwdriver to borrow. Nevertheless, a set of small precision screwdrivers are an invaluable asset to have. Depending on the project requirements, a set of good, double insulated screwdrivers might be necessary also, but that’s likely something you’ll know in advance.

7. Multimeter

Possibly the "king" of this list, a multimeter may be either a no-brainer or something you can’t even carry with you, depending on the rules and expectations of different customers. As a troubleshooting device, a good multimeter is a bit like a stethoscope for a doctor. You don’t want to be caught without one when you need it. It’s also worth carrying an extra battery and fuses.

What are some tools you’ve found useful when you’re in the field?

This post was written by Evan Pederson. Evan is an engineer II at Maverick Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. Maverick delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization, and more.

Maverick Technologies is a CSIA member as of 6/1/2016.