PAT adoption allows for safety in electrical testing

European system seeing wider adoption in U.S. markets

By David Danner, Megger September 18, 2013

Testing electrical equipment before it leaves a manufacturing facility, or before work begins on it at a calibration facility, has become increasingly more important in the United States over the past several years. What was once thought of as something that only European countries did has now become a growing trend in the U.S., due to the increased interaction between world markets.

With safety and cost savings in the forefront of everyone’s mind around the globe, it is no wonder that companies are looking for ways to better themselves and the products that they sell or need to repair.

In an effort to meet the needs of all involved, manufacturers of electrical testing equipment have adapted to the regulatory mandates from authorizing agencies around the world to produce testers that facilitate conformance and safety. 

Making testing safer

Portable appliance testers, or PAT as they are more simply referred to, have been designed to perform many of these mandated electrical tests quickly, easily, and reliably, while maintaining strict conformance to the specifications and guidelines required by authorizing agencies around the globe.

Using a PAT to perform a testing regime in places like manufacturing plants or calibration facilities helps to identify potential trouble spots in the design, manufacture, and repair of equipment; greatly reduce the risk of using dangerous products; and enhance the quality of products developed by companies that aim to put a respected and trusted brand name on the market. 

Expanding world markets

To operate in today’s global market, manufacturing companies need to be aware of, and adhere to, factors outside of their standard marketplace. Many U.S. companies have either subsidiaries or branches in European countries and must share test data, and in some cases, use the same model of tester. Other companies in the U.S. calibrate equipment and then send it back to Europe for use.

PATs are very popular in Europe because of the many rules and regulations surrounding electrical safety overseas. European nations enforce regulatory demands on everything from building wiring to individually operated pieces of equipment.

In places like the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia, electrical appliances are routinely checked for safety. Health and safety regulations in those countries require that electrical appliances be tested routinely to ensure their safety.

In the UK alone, Electricity at Work Regulations (1989) placed a legal responsibility on employers and suppliers to take reasonable steps to ensure that no danger resulted from the use of electrical equipment.

All products that require PAT testing, whether produced or calibrated in the U.S. and sold or shipped back to the European market, must be labeled “satisfactory” and in compliance with European electrical safety regulations and demands. PATs make this stamp of approval possible with a single cable hook-up and a push of a button.

Companies that use a PAT automatically broaden their interaction with other world markets because they are able to test and conform to other countries’ specifications and guidelines, ensuring that the products they are manufacturing will meet foreign safety standards.

Using a PAT

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Agilent Technologies offers the broadest broad range of innovative measurement solutions that help scientists, researchers, and engineers. The company’s four business units include Chemical Analysis, Life Sciences, Diagnostics and Genomic, and Electronic Measurement.

“Our research laboratories conduct studies that anticipate customer needs and produce breakthroughs that power growth; while our Roseville Service Center, the largest of its kind in the world, calibrates and repairs electronic and physical/dimensional test equipment for our customers around the globe,” said Larry Cohen, PhD, manager of the Quality and Engineering Department for the Americas Service Region.

“Many companies rely on us to calibrate and repair their equipment accurately, and we need to make sure we always keep our employees safe during the process. Our Roseville Service Center helps us to achieve these goals daily,” added Cohen.

Prior to servicing units that have come into the Roseville Center for repair, technicians need to be certain that whatever is coming into the facility for testing is safe and free of electrical shorts. “We don’t ever want to endanger our workers in any way,” Cohen said.

For years the service center used a preliminary testing method that, on occasion, would apply test voltages that were too high for some of the units coming into the facility, damaging them beyond repair. “This was frustrating for our customers and costly for us,” said Cohen. “The old method did not always meet the two most important criteria: keeping our workers safe from electrical shorts, while being able to repair a unit 100% of the time without damaging it.”

After looking at various testing options, a PAT proved beneficial for Agilent, because it combines the needed technical performance, portability, and short cycle time, while keeping its workers safe.  

Electrical testing made easy

Because they are portable by design, most PAT testers are compact and user-friendly with the ability to test quickly, easily, and cost-effectively. Production lines at plants and manufacturing facilities around the world use PATs for final verification of electrical safety. And these testers are effective facility management tools because they can record the fault location as well as test status of electrical equipment and appliances.

PATs are easily modified by the manufacturer to meet a company’s specific testing needs, including decreasing the time between test cycles so that more tests can be performed in shorter periods. 

PATs can perform manual or automatic testing and users can select PASS/FAIL limits to speed up individual tests and simplify results. Most offer simple push-button operation for direct access to tests via a keypad. Some PATs have the ability to download test data onto a PC, and Bluetooth-enabled units can wirelessly transfer the data.

In addition to being easy to use, these portable testers are sturdy, so users can confidently set a unit on a workbench without fear of it being knocked over or off. The unit can also remain stationary for testing, eliminating the possibility of dropping or damaging it during transport. 

Testing made easy

PATs are valuable because they easily help companies save time and money by determining if a piece of equipment is faulty before turning it on. They can perform a variety of tests including:

  • Earth bond and continuity tests to verify the integrity of exposed metalwork on grounded appliances
  • Insulation tests to check that equipment conductors are isolated from the earth
  • Touch current tests that power the asset at the supply voltage as if it were in use
  • Differential leakage testing that examines the difference in current between the live and neutral conductor during operation
  • Substitute/alternative leakage testing performed in the same manner as the insulation test to check for any leakage path
  • Function load testing to ensure that the asset works as it should
  • Standard insulation and earth bond tests can be performed, with an additional polarity test to ensure leads are wired correctly. 

PAT testers are an excellent solution to testing needs. It is as simple as plugging one machine into another and running a test. “By using PAT testing, we know that we are doing the best we can for our employees and customers,” said Cohen. 

David Danner is national distribution sales manager for Megger.