MRO Magazine


Using wireless testing to increase MRO safety

Testing requirements vary greatly for professionals working in plant maintenance, repair and operations (MRO). Whether you work for a manufacturing facility, a contract MRO company, or are in a specialized industrial setting, one thing remains...

Testing requirements vary greatly for professionals working in plant maintenance, repair and operations (MRO). Whether you work for a manufacturing facility, a contract MRO company, or are in a specialized industrial setting, one thing remains relatively constant: chances are that when it comes to performing essential electrical testing and monitoring, nine times out of 10, you’re reaching for your digital multimeter (DMM).

Advances in design, functionality, safety and accuracy have improved the usefulness and value of the DMM tremendously. Increased selection in the marketplace has also led DMM manufacturers to push innovation to increase the versatility of their testers and meters.

Still, take a scenario where you need to monitor or datalog readings over a period of time. You soon discover that several perennial safety problems persist with even the latest test equipment.

In many cases, for example, the proximity to hazardous voltage or moving components is inevitable. In essence, you’re as close to dangerous connections or components as your test leads permit. Monitoring readings can be hazardous. You can step away to safety if you initiate datalogging, but you’re limited to reviewing readings after you’ve retrieved the DMM following the monitoring period.

In some cases, a technician might wish she could clone herself to get the job done right. Consider a situation where a remote task is required, such as opening or closing a breaker, activating equipment to simulate a typical load, or flipping a remote switch. In most of these cases, to monitor or datalog resulting trends on one’s DMM, the help of a second person is needed. At some jobsites, this is a non-issue if there are other workers nearby. But in the MRO world, many technicians are working on their own, often during off-shifts.

From a convenience and versatility perspective, many technicians add the processing power of a laptop computer to make datalogging more sophisticated and useful. The downside is that if testing is needed at a number of spots at a jobsite, you now have extra hardware to lug around and set up repeatedly at each measurement point.

Multimeter companies have taken note of these limitations, and DMMs have officially entered the world of wireless versatility. A little over a year ago, a major DMM maker introduced a meter with a detachable display for remote, wireless viewing of readings. What you could previously read only on the fixed display of a DMM, you can now take with you and read from a distance. It’s a clever step in the right direction in terms of remote monitoring.

Another company’s wireless DMM introduction took the technology a step further with remote streaming of data back to a laptop or PC for real-time monitoring or datalogging. That development came from Extech Instruments, which added the Extech EX540 as a new addition to its EX500 series of industrial multimeters.

The new meter offers wireless connectivity to a laptop or PC using a USB receiver with a range comparable to Bluetooth (10 metres). The EX540 transmits real-time data for monitoring, trending and analysis (using included software) on one of two available frequencies (433 MHz or 914 MHz).

With it, MRO professionals can both monitor and datalog readings at a safe distance from hazardous locations. Additionally, it is easier to perform remote tasks such as powering up a device from a control panel that is not nearby. From a time-saving perspective, the EX540 permits a user to set up a laptop at a centralized location and then sequentially datalog readings throughout a site without relocating the computer.

The EX540 is a true RMS DMM that, in addition to wireless datalogging, can log up to 10,000 readings internally and also reads voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, frequency, duty cycle (dwell), continuity, diode testing (2.8V), and even temperature. Its accuracy is rated at 0.06% and it has a Category IV overvoltage safety rating, protecting users even on outdoor wiring.

Beyond the gee-whiz effect of a heavy-duty wireless datalogging multimeter, MRO managers can now expand how they think about testing scenarios and logistics, not to mention how jobs can be performed more quickly and easily. For the invaluable versatility and added safety of remote monitoring and datalogging, the wireless datalogging multimeter has arrived and is here to stay. MRO

André Rebelo is with Extech Instruments, Waltham, MA.

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