The steady shrinking in size of cell phones and other types of electronic equipment has not bypassed test & measurement equipment, and handheld equipment is attractive to many users who have to make measurements in a wide variety of locations, of just want to keep things compact. To gauge trends in this product sector, Control Engineering and Reed Research Group, both part of Reed Business ...
The steady shrinking in size of cell phones and other types of electronic equipment has not bypassed test & measurement equipment, and handheld equipment is attractive to many users who have to make measurements in a wide variety of locations, of just want to keep things compact. To gauge trends in this product sector, Control Engineering and Reed Research Group, both part of Reed Business Information, asked subscribers about their views and preferences on handheld test and measurement equipment via an e-mail survey. In addition to accuracy and repeatability, easy to read and easy to use are among most important attributes.
Selected results presented here are based on 459 full responses received in 2008 from subscribers who evaluate, specify, recommend, install, and/or purchase handheld test and measurement equipment. The vast majority (81%) buy this equipment for in-plant requirements, while 15% buy for both in-plant and OEM requirements; just 4% buy for resale.
Of the people with valid responses, 34% are involved in both continuous and batch processing, 24% in utility services, and 21% in making discrete products. Interestingly, just 8% did only continuous processing, and 4% only batch processing.
Handheld test & measurement equipment finds use in a wide range of applications. When asked what they measure most with this equipment, 83% reported that they use it most often to measure electrical parameters (voltage, current, resistance, frequency), while 77% use it to measure temperature, 54% for electric power and 51% for pressure. Forty-six percent use handheld equipment mostly for calibration, 39% for flow measurement, and 22% for position/dimension. Level is measured by 21% of respondents, vibration by 20%, and force/torque by 18%. Accounting for 15% is event frequency; at 10% is acceleration, and at 8% is optical power.
Multimeters, temperature measuring instruments, and oscilloscoopes are the most popular handheld devices, survey says.
Asked what variables they measured most, 70% of respondents reported it was analog voltage, 67% 4-20 mA loop currents, 50% for 0-10 V signals and 66% electric current in general. Temperature measurement is also popular; 55% of respondents report using their handheld equipment for measuring thermocouple signals and 37% for RTDs. Twenty-three percent of users use their handheld gear for measuring digitally encoded signals.
For measurement 73% of respondents use single-purpose instruments, and 92% use multipurpose instruments. For calibration, 52% use single-purpose instruments, and 51% use multipurpose instruments. For analytical work, 40% use single-purpose instruments, and 41% use multipurpose instruments.
One instrumentation & control engineer said of multipurpose instruments, “I’ve found that most 'all in one’ meters do not do as well or as reliable as single purpose meters.” Another advised: “Buy multifunction units from a company with a good reputation.” And another said, “Devices which do only single parameters are simpler to use than multifunction devices. If you have someone with limited experience who will be using the device or if you do not require multiple parameters, consider using a device which does only what you need, and does it well.”
Types of test instruments
In keeping with variables most measured, 89% of respondents reported buying multimeters, 81% buying temperature measuring instruments, and 54% buying handheld oscilloscopes. Handheld data acquisition instruments and calibrators were used by 48%, followed closely by 47% who use power monitors. Twenty-four percent report using HART calibrators and vibration measuring instruments, and 20% noise meters.
Instrumentation for RF measurements and the like was a bit less popular, with 18% buying RF/communications test instruments, 12% EMI/RFI/EMC instruments, and 9% ESD (electrostatic discharge) testers. Finally, just 8% bought audio testers.
What to look for
What’s the most important requirement for handheld test & measurement equipment? Accuracy? Reliability? Price? Among respondents, 89% said accuracy and repeatability were very important, and 11% said they were important. The next most important characteristic was ease of reading, with 54% saying it’s very important, and 45% saying it’s important. This is followed closely by ease of use, with 63% finding it very important and 35% important. As one respondent put it, “Simple operation and use is important. Easy to read and understand display is important.” Another said, “Make sure the equipment is easy to use. If not, no matter how good the test equipment is, the techs will not use the tools or setup will not be correct.”
Durability, like the two previous characteristics, was important to 99% of respondents, with 73% considering it very important and 26% considering it important. As one respondent said, “Remember the user — can the instrument survive mishandling?” Added another, “Make sure the test gear can survive living on a service truck.”
Cost was a somewhat less pressing concern, and while 64% rated it important, only 30% considered it very important. A fair number of the responses stressed one thing: “Go for quality; you get what you pay for,” and “Get the best that you can afford! This will save you money in the long run. And reduce frustration.” On the other hand, one respondent suggested, “Buy the cheapest unit that will do the job. There are many very-low cost ($30-50 range) DMMs (digital multimeters) that do 95% of daily jobs just fine, and save the high-end DMMs for only when you need the extra accuracy or resolution, etc.”
Sixty-five percent of respondents thought that an instrument’s warranty was important and 20% thought it very important. One respondent cautioned: “Don’t believe everything manufacturer’s claim in their literature or on the Intranet. That is a good starting point, but take time to have the instrument demonstrated, preferably on your application(s).” Another added, “Even if not planning to keep instruments in an ongoing calibration program, paying the (usually) extra fee to receive a calibration certificate is worthwhile to verify correct quantitative operation of the instrument. Some manufacturers have shipped us instruments so far out of calibration as to be useless.”
Availability and quick delivery were important to 65% and very important to 20%, while on the low end, 46% found field device tool (FDT) or electronic device description language (EDDL) capabilities unimportant, and while 48% considered them important; just 6% felt they were very important.
While cost is a consideration, other attributes rank higher in importance for those purchasing handheld test and measurement devices.
Bandwidth, outlook, advice
Most of our respondents seem to do their measurements at fairly low frequencies; 77% measure signals between dc and 20 kHz, 42% between 20 kHz and 2 MHz, and 32% between 2 MHz and 100 MHz. Getting up into the UHF ranges, 18% measure signals at 100 MHz to 1 GHz, and just 6% are involved with signals above 1 GHz.
Regarding plans for purchase of handheld test and measurement equipment in the next 12 months, 68% of respondents said they would stay at the same level, while 19% expected to buy more, and 13% expected to buy less.
Respondents were asked to advise about using, buying, or specifying handheld test instruments. Several mentioned batteries. “Find instruments that can work off standard batteries. Rechargeable batteries (especially rechargeable packs) will always be dead when you need them the most!”
Multiple respondents had similar overall advice on specifying and buying handheld test and measurement equipment. As one senior advisor, process control put it, “Understand the user, the environment and the results expected before deciding what the requirements are for the device. Too often 'we need a better calibration program’ leads to unnecessary purchases and wasted time because the real requirements were never understood. What is the business purpose? How does this purchase, and training associated, help achieve that purpose?” or as one succinctly said, “Do your homework.”
New Products: Handheld test and measurement equipment
Control Engineering subscribers, using a list provided, identified the following vendors as leading suppliers of handheld test & measurement equipment. More than a dozen additional vendors appear online.
See more products online
Get up to 4,000 samples per second
Wireless power quality analyzer
Wireless field data collectors
High voltage insulation tester
Spectrum analyzer with tracking generator
Software upgrades HART field communicator
Lower price for handheld multimeter
Fluke Corp.’s Ti25 and Ti10 thermal imagers are designed for everyday troubleshooting and maintenance of electrical equipment. Both models incorporate IR Fusion, which integrates infrared and visible light images in full screen or picture-in-picture views for enhanced problem detection and analysis. Temperature measurement range is -20 °C to +350 °C for the Ti25 and -20 °C to +250 °C for the Ti10. The units also feature SmartView software tools for viewing, annotating, editing and analyzing infrared images, plus a 2 GB SD memory card that will store at least 3,000 basic infrared images (.bmp file format) or 1,200 radiometric (.is2 IR Fusion file format) infrared and linked visual images, each with 60 seconds of voice annotation. An SD card reader (USB) for downloading images is also included.
Omega Engineering’s Omegasays UV1000 handheld universal verbalizer multimeter measures 0 to 10 V dc voltage, 0 to 20 mA current, and Type K thermocouple inputs and verbalizes them in any range and over 100 built-in engineering units. The unit is battery powered and can be configured for input range, engineering units, and high and low alarm set points via an RS-232 interface. The unit’s front keypad allows input and speech mode selections, and volume control. The instrument provides process and alarm announcements to help monitor and control any process measurement application where there are no local displays.
Handheld ultrasonic flowmeter
Series PUX ultrasonic flowmeter from Dwyer Instruments uses the transit time difference principle for measuring flow rates through pipes from the outside. The unit is compact, portable, and lightweight. Since it is non-invasive, it allows multiple flow measurements of different running systems and offers a significant cost advantage over time. The flowmeter may be set up with a wide variety of sensors, and it is available with an integrated type graphic printer.
AN200 and AN100 CFM/CMM thermo-anemometers from Extech Instruments feature a large (9999 count) LCD back-lit simultaneous display of air flow or air velocity, as well as air temperature. Easy-to-set area dimensions (cm2) are stored in internal memory. Includes built-in non-contact IR thermometer with laser pointer. Can measure remote surface temperatures up to 500 °F (260 °C) with an 8:1 distance to spot ratio. Other features: resolution of 0.01 m/s, 20 point average for air flow, and 3% velocity accuracy.
Full vendor list, as ranked in the survey of handheld test and measurement suppliers, follows: Fluke (Altek/Transmation, Amprobe, DH Instruments, HART Scientific, Meterman, Raytek, Robin Electronics, Tektronix, Wavetek: Danaher); Omega Engineering; Dwyer Instruments; Cole-Parmer; Extech; Megger (AVO, Biddle); Honeywell Process Solutions; Simpson Electric; B+K Precision; Emerson Process Management; Agilent Technologies; National Instruments; Yokogawa Corp. of America; Keithley Instruments; Invensys Process Systems, Foxboro Measurements & Instruments Div.; GE Sensing (Druck); Triplett (Jewell Instruments); Dranetz-BMI (Global Power Technology Inc.); AEMC Instruments (Chauvin Arnoux); MSA Worldwide; Beamex; Instek America Corp.; Test Products International (TPI); Willtek; Anritsu and other.
More advice from readers surveyed: In keeping with variables most measured, 89% of respondents reported buying multimeters, 81% buying temperature measuring instruments, and 54% buying handheld oscilloscopes. Handheld data acquisition instruments and calibrators were used by 48%, followed closely by 47% who use power monitors. Twenty-four percent report using HART calibrators and vibration measuring instruments, and 20% noise meters.
Instrumentation for RF measurements and the like was a bit less popular, with 18% buying RF/communications test instruments, 13% EMI/RFI/EMC instruments, and 9% ESD (electrostatic discharge) testers. Finally, just 8% bought audio testers.
Multiple respondents had advice on specifying and buying handheld test and measurement equipment. As one senior advisor, process control put it, “Understand the user, the environment and the results expected before deciding what the requirements are for the device. Too often‘we need a better calibration program’ leads to unnecessary purchases and wasted time because the real requirements were never understood. What is the business purpose? How does this purchase, and training associated, help achieve that purpose?”
Wireless power quality analyzer
PA9Wireless power quality analyzer from Megger is used for remote recording of electrical signals on low voltage power lines. The newest member of the PA9 family, it incorporates a Raven cellular modem that allows the user to configure the unit remotely, view real-time data via the remote screen and
preview all recorded data without downloading it. The user can then choose what data to download. A backlit LCD confirms setup information and displays real-time status, phasors, frequency, harmonics, harmonic power, voltage, current, per phase and total power/energy data, and minimums/maximums by phase. From data already recorded, charts of trended voltages, currents, waveform graphs, and reports of historical out-of-limits information by event type may be viewed.
Wireless field data collectors
IntelaTrac PKS from Honeywell Process Solutions is an integrated software and hardware solution for wireless field data collection and intelligent asset management. It enables users to integrate field data with data from multiple other sources, including production, process control, and work management systems. It provides mechanical and engineering data to managers and field personnel. On-site computing helps management improve the tracking and reporting of inspections, tests, and repairs for pumps, valves, vents, pipes, vessels, and other plant process equipment. Inspection and mechanical data can be collected while operators are in the field and downloaded to reliability, engineering, and equipment databases electronically.
Honeywell Process Solutions
High voltage insulation tester
Simpson’s model 505 high voltage insulation tester can measure insulation resistances from 10 kilohms to 1 teraohm with eight selectable test voltages up to 5,000 V. As a safety feature, the insulation tester acts as an ac/dc voltmeter to measure the absence of voltage in networks up to 2,000 V. In addition the cables are permanently attached, preventing possible injury that could occur by the accidental removal of the cables. Other features include automatic discharging of capacitive units under test and a lock-in test switch, for hands free operation. Two LEDs indicate the selected measuring range, and one LED signifies valid measurements and battery charge status.
Spectrum analyzer with tracking generator
B&K Precision Corp.’s Model 2652 is a handheld, PC-compatible spectrum analyzer with a tracking generator added. Weighing 4.0 lb including battery, it is aimed at engineers and technicians who perform field measurements in the 50 kHz to 3.3 GHz range. The included tracking generator can be used to rapidly determine transmission characteristics of two-port RF devices. Other features include one button auto tuning, channel power measurements, adjacent channel power measurements, min/max hold, average and over write mode, peak search, marker measurement, occupied bandwidth measurements and more.
B&K Precision Corp.
Software upgrades HART field communicator
The 375 Field Communicator from Emerson Process Management is available with version 2.0 software, offering a new version of Microsoft Windows CE operating system, requiring 25% less boot up time and 35% less time to connect to and communicate with a HART device. It also improves battery life and augments graphics, such as trends, bar charts, gauges, and images. For FOUNDATION fieldbus diagnostics, fieldbus signal level for all devices on a segment can be displayed. A mode button helps in changing a block’s parameter. Ability to instantiate FOUNDATION fieldbus function blocks has been added. SD card provides quicker updates for existing devices.
Emerson Process Management
Lower price for handheld multimeter
The new U1240A handheld multimeter from Agilent Technologies has wider measurement ranges. The meters feature true RMS readings on 10,000 count display. The adjustable backlighting prolongs battery life. Other features include built-in switch counter, harmonic ratio, dual temperature and differential temperature capabilities, with a push of the button. It comes with certificate of calibration and test report - at no extra cost. Interactive demo and price comparisons are available.
Smartphone-based vibration spectrum analyzer
Editor note: Product Research product coverage includes technologies from companies that rated highest among respondents. This is included because it combines a consumer product with a handheld instrument—not the first, but worthy of mention.
Datastick Systems Inc. has begun to ship its handheld SiteConnex VSA-2215 vibration spectrum analyzer, which allows machine maintenance personnel to collect and view vibration waveform and spectra measurement data, e-mail measurement data, converse on the VSA smartphone, and send and receive e-mails or text messages. The system is a high-performance handheld vibration analyzer/data collector with a maximum frequency of 20,000 Hz and FFT resolution of up to 3,200 lines that attaches to the Palm Treo smartphone, and has a standard BNC connector and low-noise input that accommodates and powers almost any ICP-type piezoelectric accelerometer.
The unit allows immediate connectivity between inspection site and decision site for fast collaboration, so technicians, decision-makers, and consultants can work together seamlessly. A maintenance technician can collect and view vibration data in waveform or spectra on a vibration data collector/analyzer, e-mail the data to a colleague, talk on the phone about the measurements while looking at the results on the phone’s display, receive email or text authorizations from the colleague, and more — all with a single pocket-sized handheld instrument.
Included with the unit is PC software that enables the recipient of the measurement data files to import them quickly into the Microsoft Excel-based DRS program on the desktop, see the same data that the person sees on the smartphone VSA, write reports, publish to the Web, and more.
Fluke product, more information:d visual images, each with 60 seconds of voice annotation, as well as an SD card reader (USB) for downloading images into a computer.
Omega product, more info: The instrument provides process and alarm announcements to help monitor and control any process measurement application where there are no local displays.
Extech product, more info: This built-in infrared measurement capability is useful for measuring the temperature of surfaces that may be dangerous to access or hard to reach. Other features include resolution of 0.01 m/s, 20 point average for air flow, and 3% velocity accuracy via a low friction 2.83-in. (72-mm) diameter ball bearing vane wheel on a 3.9-ft (120-cm) cable.
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