Advances in electrical safety testing data collection and management systems have significant benefits, says Jim Wallace of Seaward
With advances in technology making everything faster, smarter and smaller, and computer programs streamlining data management for even greater efficiency, the needs of those contractors and engineers involved in test and measurement work have never been better catered for.
Advances in test instrumentation mean new lightweight, Bluetooth enabled hand held instruments complete safety test sequences very quickly and with the minimum of fuss - no matter whether installation testing or portable appliance testing is involved.
Over time the introduction of advanced microprocessor based testers, powerful software-based record keeping systems and PDAs, mobile phones or specialist modems to transmit test results, have succeeded in helping the test engineer or contractor to provide a faster, more efficient electrical safety testing service.
All these advances have been made in recognition of the need to improve and also to enable them to add value to the test process. The result has been not only better operating efficiencies, but also an enhanced relationship with customers and end users, generating important new business opportunities in the process.
With the ever present need to undertake inspection and testing quickly without compromising quality, there is increasing importance on the linkage between test instrumentation used in the field and central test records systems that produce test certification and other test reports.
Rather than simply ‘electrical testers', in broad terms the most advanced 17th edition testers and portable appliance (PAT) test instruments might now be regarded more as test data collection tools - gathering the important measurements and checks carried out on electrical systems and equipment.
On a practical level there is now greater emphasis on the ability to enhance the transfer of this data between the tester and the database - and particularly on how the collected data is acquired, interrogated, managed and presented for more effective control of safety testing programmes.
In this respect new innovations in both test instrumentation and record keeping software programs have not only brought electrical engineers and PAT service companies opportunities to provide more efficient test services, but have also created a means of real differentiation between the services offered by different electrical contractors.
17th edition testing
For example, in 17th edition testing the latest specialist instrumentation incorporates an electronic copy of the inspection and test certificate within the hand held tester - and in the process becomes a combined multi-function electrical tester and data logger.
Onboard electronic certificate software enables electrical installation test and inspection data to be recorded directly by the tester using a replica of the inspection and test certificate which is displayed on the instrument.
During inspection and testing, the user can navigate around the onboard certificate and when measured values are required, the results are automatically placed in the correct certificate fields.
Once all inspection and test data has been collected, onboard software scans the certificate and warns the user if any fields appear to be incomplete or invalid. The integral ‘certificate assistant' also holds many of the commonly used tabulated values, such as earth loop impedance tables, avoiding the need to take bulky reference material onsite.
When inspection and testing is complete, the certificate held inside the tester can be transferred to main PC records for the completion of certificates which can be printed or supplied in electronic format to customers in line with the 17th edition wiring regulations.
The latest version of this program enables test results obtained from larger individual sites, such as shopping malls or commercial office complexes, can be merged onto one certificate.
Another new feature is the ability to ‘clone' certificates from an existing master document. This allows the user to select an existing certificate and use this as a template to create multiple certificates for identical or similar electrical installations - for example of the type required for a housing development of the same type of properties and electrical systems.
As a result, not only does the combined inspection, testing and certification system eliminate the need to record results on a dummy certificate while inspection and testing is being carried out, it also means that the often cumbersome and problematic use of PDAs, smart phones and laptops for test data transfer is avoided.
The new instrument incorporates Bluetooth download and upload of data to and from PC certification and record keeping systems and a wide variety of certificate templates can be loaded into the tester using the accompanying PC software.
The specially developed software program includes all required 17th edition certification and can print onto ECA, NAPIT and NICEIC stationery.
The result is a highly efficient and effective 17th edition inspection, testing and certification system with full traceability and reduced likelihood of human error in the recording and transfer of test data.
Portable Appliance Testing
In the PAT testing sector powerful test data management packages are available to facilitate the two-way transfer of data between the tester and the test records software.
In this way engineers can pre-program or upload their testers directly from the PC with the necessary equipment details and testing information required before the day's work begins and then download updated results directly into the records programme at the end of the shift.
The same software programs can also be used to create asset registers for customers, print test certificates and output test reports in different formats.
The use of Bluetooth enabled testers further enhances this flexibility and means that for large PAT service and contracting organisations the effective use of data management software can greatly improve the margins associated with operating efficiencies gained for remote or off site working.
For more specific monitoring of PAT productivity in the field special software is also available that works alongside the PAT results database to provide a clear picture of tester usage.
Special time manager software provides clear information on the test activity of individual users and engineers - providing such details as time of test, number of tests undertaken and time between jobs.
Analysis of such information enables service or contract managers to understand how often testers are being used, identify improvements in staff training and help field staff to test faster and work more efficiently.
In terms of customer service improvements, another innovation is the use of PAT management software to identify and plan re-testing schedules quickly and effectively.
This feature works through specialist software that constantly monitors the test records stored in a PAT results database, automatically triggering re-test notices for those that are approaching the next test date.
The pre-trigger feature enables re-test schedules to be highlighted prior to appliances becoming overdue for test, with special e mail alerts being sent to customer contact personnel to give advance warning of the presence of any potentially unsafe electrical equipment in the workplace.
The system can also be configured to submit formal re-test price quotations with the alerts for a complete test scheduling and costing proposal, boosting repeat business and enhancing the levels of customer support provided.
For all types of electrical test and measurement activity, the combination of innovative test instrumentation with sophisticated record keeping programs provide real practical benefits to contractors - reducing costs, increasing revenue and improving productivity.
In addition, integrated test systems can also play a significant role in enabling a contractor to provide a truly professional approach and this can only help in the long-term development of their business.
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