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How proper testing can help with a post-pandemic budget crunch

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Mark Johnson of Metrel outlines the potential difficulties faced by electricians in a post-pandemic world, and the importance of multifunctional test equipment when it comes to helping mitigate these issues.

BBC Radio have been doing a lot of chattering about a recently published public opinion survey, which suggests that after the coronavirus, Britain will become a kinder country. All those small acts of kindness conducted by people known and unknown will aggregate to make Britain a kinder, gentler place to live and work.

I hope they are right, but it is hard to believe given the economic state we will find ourselves after the lockdown is relaxed. The bills will need to be paid; not just personal but national too. Building hospitals to be hardly used, even if it was done in next to no time, sourcing millions of pieces of PPE, and paying millions of workers to stay at home does not come cheap, and it all has to be paid back.

The purse strings are going to be so tight for the foreseeable future that every penny spent on capital investments such as buildings and renovations will be scrutinised to the nth degree. This includes both future projects and those in process now. The three lost months will have already increased costs hugely.

Only the fittest will survive, which sounds like the law of the jungle, and not the kind world envisaged by the BBC. For survival, cost will be of the essence. The standard of work has to be guaranteed, it will have been agreed at the start of the contract. 

Material standards are defined by regulation, so savings can’t be made there. So where can we go? Efficiency savings, as they euphemistically are called in other industries, can be made by electrical contractors. 

The source of those efficiency savings is in the test equipment used. I have not met an electrician who does not sing the praises of the autoRCD test function; it saves time and their legs. Yet do they use the available technology to the full?

In some of the premium test equipment, manufacturers have extended the range and complexity of automatic testing sequences. The benefit is the reduced time required for testing; manufacturers appear to agree that this can save up to 40% of the time taken to test an installation. 

How do you make such big savings? The main answers seem to be in connecting to the circuit under test a minimal number of times, and the facility and speed with which the machine makes the internal connections. Additional savings can be made by reducing transcription times and error by exploiting on-board results storage.

The AutoSequence function was pioneered some years ago by an instrument maker. It was so well accepted in Europe that they introduced it, in varying forms, to much of their range of multi-function testers. Meanwhile another manufacturer with good European scale has introduced a similar function called Auto Test Sequence on their top of the range tester, and the ability to send the results to the cloud for sharing.

For the company that boasted ‘the end of the pencil’ at the beginning of the century, it is sad that the resulting automation process requires on-board saving of results, but notes and comments as to which result refers to which circuit still have to be kept using pen and paper. But, it has the option of bluetoothing the results direct to a notebook or laptop on site.

The adoption of dot-matrix screens has benefited test data management on some multi-function testers. It permits schematics of the circuits under test to be built on the screen, based in the drawings, making it easier to visualise. The individual test procedures or autosequences required can be allocated to the circuits; the testing too can be initiated from the schematic if desired. The results with their pass or fail status can be labelled, saved and commented on using the on-board keyboard.

For those who would prefer, tests can be performed and then saved to the appropriate part of the circuit diagram, circuits labelled and comments made. 

I look forward to the promise of a kinder Britain post-coronavirus, but know businesses will be even more hard-nosed and cost savings will be driven downwards until it stops at the folks actually doing the jobs.


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