Test, Measurement Device Purchases on the Rise

'Entropy happens! Therefore, follow-on maintenance and calibration is critically needed on a scheduled basis. Belts fray, sensors drift, and performance declines (not unlike our human analog)," explains Bill Southard, president of DST Controls, a system integrator. Keeping a control system in peak condition over the long haul requires users to be ever vigilant in their choices and uses of test...

By Dick Johnson August 1, 2004
  • Calibration critical

  • Devices used for continuous, batch processing

  • Trend to multipurpose instruments

  • Demand for thermal imaging

‘Entropy happens! Therefore, follow-on maintenance and calibration is critically needed on a scheduled basis. Belts fray, sensors drift, and performance declines (not unlike our human analog),’ explains Bill Southard, president of DST Controls, a system integrator. Keeping a control system in peak condition over the long haul requires users to be ever vigilant in their choices and uses of test and measurement equipment. ‘Good integrators know their customers and hence will always recommend a list of calibration equipment critical to maintaining systems at peak performance—and if necessary train that customer’s staff in their use. The customer paid good money to ‘own’ the system and that often can only happen with proper maintenance tools ready-to-hand,’ Southard continues. ‘The cycle should go like this: Automate, calibrate, perpetuate.’ Even these words of wisdom may have gone unheeded in the recent economic downturn. However, things seem to have turned around.

Hopeful signs

Even with leading indicators rising and the stock market recovery in the news, progress in the U.S. industrial sector’s turnaround has been slow. Ask anyone in the domestic industrial sector what they see leading to the recent ‘recovery’ and you are liable to get an earful.

However, one hopeful sign has surfaced in a recent survey on trends in test and measurement equipment undertaken by Control Engineering magazine and Reed Research Group—both part of Reed Business Information ( www.reedbusiness.com ). The study, conducted in April 2004 with a Web-based questionnaire, asked test and measurement equipment users about their product preferences. Responses were received from 170 subscribers who evaluate, specify, recommend, install, and/or purchase test and measurement equipment. Survey results provide a snapshot of what users see as important technologically and economically.

Traditionally, cutbacks in staffing and new equipment purchases mark economic downturns. Replacement and upgrade of test and measurement equipment also felt the pinch. Compared to a previous Control Engineering survey in 2002, respondents’ outlooks for purchasing test and measurement equipment over the next 12 months improved: 28% said they expected to increase new equipment purchases (up from 12% in 2002), 60% of respondents felt their purchasing would remain the same (compared to 78%), and just 12% expected a decrease (compared to 18%).

Needs are broad, varied

Keeping processes running to specification and within quality limits requires that production equipment be maintained at the highest level of functionality. Troubleshooting and preventive/predictive maintenance programs require test and measurement equipment that is accurate, easy to use, and reliable. It must allow accurate field calibration of process instrumentation and quality control equipment—online or in the lab. Test and measurement equipment also is used to monitor power quality, help in complying with OSHA and EPA regulations, and provide a basis for a variety of process improvements. It seems to follow that the more complex and/or sprawling the operation, the greater the need for test and measurement equipment. Meeting this need, however, is a small price to pay for fine-tuning and maintaining today’s automated factories.

Trends in primary applications of test and measurement equipment for a given industry remain unchanged from the previous survey—no surprise considering industry’s long-range investment in infrastructure and commitment to proprietary manufacturing methodology.

According to the 2004 survey, combined continuous and batch processing applications account for the greatest use of test and measurement equipment at 35%. Discrete product manufacturing operations accounted for 20% and utility services followed at 18%. The final primary applications for test and measurement equipment fell to continuous processing only (11%) and batch processing only (8%). The other category accounted for the remaining 7%. Trends in primary applications of test and measurement equipment for a given industry remained unchanged from the previous survey, no surprise considering industry’s long-range investment in infrastructure and commitment to proprietary manufacturing methodologies already in place.

Who’s measuring what?

Types of measurements taken using test equipment showed little change from the previous survey. Electrical parameters comprise the bulk of measurements taken at 48%. Calibration accounted for 22% of device use. The next largest category at 15% was temperature measurement —often considered a process variable but also an important value in discrete manufacturing, utility, and test operations.

As demands to do more with less increase in industrial plants, temperature measurement equipment manufacturers are seeing greater demand for their equipment, often as part of preventive/ predictive maintenance programs designed to lower operation costs. Non-contact, infrared temperature measurement, in particular, is growing because it is convenient, versatile, and safe. ‘Temperature monitoring is an excellent predictor of degrading performance in both electrical and mechanical equipment,’ according to Jason Wilbur, thermography segment manager at Raytek Corp.

‘In particular, Raytek is seeing a growing demand for thermal imaging devices that provide a two-dimensional thermal picture. This technology—now far more affordable for small to medium operations—dramatically reduces the time required to scan a manufacturing line, electrical panel, or piece of production equipment. Thermal imaging devices can provide information on where potential problems may exist in real time,’ Wilbur adds.

Of the remaining ‘big four’ process variables ( pressure, flow , and level ), none accounted for more than single-digit usage. Event frequency was taken in about 1% of required measurements. Other measurements (6%) included checks on dimensions, chemical properties, surface roughness, and color.

Convenience still an issue

The trend toward using multipurpose instruments continues. Respondents to the recent survey again chose to use these types of equipment in test and measurement service. Most preferred multipurpose instruments by a wide margin. Use of multipurpose instruments versus single-purpose units was also strong in analytical equipment. Use of multipurpose instrumentation in calibration service was the least in demand. Nonetheless, demand in this area is growing.

According to Jim Shields, senior product specialist at Fluke Inc., ‘A growing number of instrumentation calibration professionals now expect their field calibrators to perform multiple functions. Just 10 years ago, a calibration tool with HART (highway addressable remote transducer) communication features hadn’t even been conceived. Now, several manufacturers include some level of HART integration in documenting process calibrators. Instead of carrying a loop calibrator, a pressure calibrator, a temperature calibrator, and a HART communicator, technicians can now access all those functions in one tool. However, these new multi-function calibrators are still designed for discrete use on 4-20 mA systems.’

Digital multimeters have evolved at a similar pace, first combining an ammeter, voltmeter, and ohmmeter, and now adding features to measure adjustable speed drives and perform temperature data logging. However, they are intended only for low-voltage measurements. As a result, technicians still carry multiple tools, just fewer of them. Each tool provides multiple functions for specific areas of the plant.

So what’s driving user demand for multiple functions? Shields sums it up in two words, ‘Productivity and networks. To stay profitable, industry needs to increase productivity in all aspects of plant operations, including facility and equipment maintenance. At the same time, industrial functions are increasingly interdependent, forcing technicians to troubleshoot multiple systems at once.’

Test and measurement products

For more manufacturers, visit www.con-troleng.com/buyersguide ; for systems integrators, go to www.controleng.com/integrators . Also visit the company websites of the products discussed.

DMM for challenging uses

The 87V Digital Multimeter (DMM) is a test tool designed to maximize productivity and safety in challenging industrial settings. Circuitry can accurately measure voltage and frequency on adjustable speed motor drive systems. These increasingly common systems create electrical noise that ordinary DMMs cannot handle. The 87V has a built-in thermometer and features large display digits and a bright white backlight for easy reading in low light. It is rated for use in 600 V Cat IV and 1,000V Cat III environments and is engineered to withstand voltage spikes of 8 kV to help protect users against arc flash hazards. www.fluke.com

Fluke Corp.

Tool measures power, power quality

Amprobe ACD-50 Series of power and power quality clamp-ons offers full power quality capability plus true RMS clamp-on amp, volt, and resistance meters. Device measures ac current up to 400 A and ac/dc voltage up to 600 V. Easy-to-read screen displays voltage and current harmonics (THD, dc, and individual up to 25th), power factors, active, reactive and apparent powers, energy, and frequency. Unit offers up to 90 hr of continuous measurement using two 1.5 V AAA batteries. Series comes in three models: ACD-51HP measures power, power factor, and frequency; ACD-55HPQ measures harmonics and frequency; and ACD-56HPQ combines all these features, measuring power, power factor, harmonics, and frequency. www.amprobe.com

SPX Corp.

Thermal imager easy to use

ThermoViewTi30 portable thermal imager is said to allow technicians with minimal training to conduct cost effective and accurate predictive maintenance inspections and equipment troubleshooting. Multi-featured device is designed for use in utilities, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, pulp and paper processing, and manufacturing facilities concerned with asset protection, increased productivity, quality control, and reduced downtime. It is rugged, lightweight, and provides fast image scanning and radiometric measurements on a large LCD screen. Images can be downloaded into companion thermal analysis and reporting software. A carrying case, universal power adapter, docking station, pouch, imager software, and two days of training are included in the price. www.raytek.com

Raytek Inc.

Monitor, record remotely

iTHX transmitter lets users monitor and record temperature, relative humidity, and dew point over an Ethernet network or the Internet with no special software except a Web browser. Device connects to an Ethernet Network with a standard RJ-45 connector and sends data in standard TCP/IP packets. It serves Active Web Pages to display real-time readings, display charts of temperature and humidity, or log data in standard data formats for use in a spreadsheet or data acquisition program, such as Microsoft Excel or Visual Basic. It comes with one temperature/ humidity probe. An additional probe for two-channel monitoring and differential measurement is available. An alarm function can be sent by email to an Internet-enabled pager or cell phone. Price is $295. www.omega.com

Omega Engineering Inc.

Graphical development

Latest in the family of LabView graphical development products is LabView 7.1. It extends Express Technology to automated instrumentation and real-time applications with new Express VIs for NI modular instruments and NI-DAQmx, advanced debugging and low-level execution timing for the 7.1 Real-Time Module. Upgraded version simplifies development for all LabView users, regardless of hardware platforms. Using five new Express VIs for NI digitizers, signal generators, and high-speed digital I/Os, users can configure sophisticated measurements and acquire data using mouse clicks. PDA Module delivers more data acquisition functionality, including faster multi-channel acquisition and analog and digital triggering. www.ni.com

National Instruments

Measurement seminars

Tutorial CD contains a collection of its on-line measurement seminars. Making Measurements with Confidence offers practical, helpful techniques for obtaining accurate and precise measurements. Seminars include: four steps to precision measurement, how to get the most from your low-current measurement instruments, understanding measurement uncertainty, and eight others. They are archived versions of original broadcasts narrated by Keithley experts. Download from www.keithley.com/pr/002.html

Keithley Instruments

Online Products

Series of digital scopes

DL7400 Series digital oscilloscopes are 500 MHz devices with 8 analog channels and 16-bit logic inputs. Series consists of four models: 4-channel with 2 MW of memory per channel, 8-channel with 2MW/channel, 4-channel with 8 MW/channel, and 8-channel with 8 MW/channel. All sample as fast as 2 GS/sec. Configuration is said to eliminate the cost and inconvenience of trying to synchronize one or more oscilloscopes with a logic analyzer. Advanced triggering allows the instruments to trigger from an analog signal, a digital signal, or a combination. Trigger types include pattern triggers (analog and logic), pulse width and glitch triggers, and TV triggers. Scopes can save previously acquired waveforms into acquisition memory, then analyze them when acquisition has stopped.
Yokogawa Corp. of America

Test equipment

Dwyer Instruments offers a variety of calibration, test, measurement, and control instrumentation, for calibrating and testing pressure, temperature, and electrical equipment. Devices include modular pressure calibrators, analog and digital gages, pneumatic and hydraulic hand pumps, precision manometers, digital thermometers, RTD and T/C calibrators, multimeters, and switch testers. www.dwyer-inst.com
Dwyer Instruments Inc.

Versatile DMMs

XR-Series of digital multimeters consists of five models. Basic 30XR meter features a built-in noncontact voltage detector and “data hold” function for $59.95. Top-of-the-line 38XR includes 750-V true-RMS capability, RS-232 PC connection for data acquisition using a standard laptop, and an easy-to-read 10,000-count display with unique blue-black backlight. Autoranging, capacitance, frequency, and temperature functions are also featured, and it has 0.25% basic accuracy and an IEC CAT IV safety rating. Price is $149.95. Ergonomic design of all models integrates a holster with a functional Magne-Grip hanging strap and includes an easy-access battery door. www.metermantools.com
Wavetek Meterman Test Tools

High calibration dry-well

Model 9122A high-accuracy dry-well can simultaneously calibrate up to nine temperature probes, with four of its test wells accepting interchangeable inserts. It calibrates a variety of temperature sensors within the range 50-700ts RS-232 port provides an interface to PCs, and with proprietary software, users can perform fully automated probe calibrations. Product includes a certificate of NIST traceability. www.hartscientific.com
Hart Scientific Inc.