Technology tip submitted by Tech
Well, here we are again. It’s the holiday season and we find ourselves distracted, (at best) by the almost chaotic activity around us. We are bombarded by the media to get with the program and just “Be Happy and BUY!” We are pressured by family and friends to attend this party and to make sure we are on time for that function and to not forget to buy dear old Aunt Mavis her favorite fruit cake, again (YUK!). So it’s not surprising that with all the distractions around us that the quality of performance in our jobs can suffer as a result. We may consciously decide to not follow certain processes/protocol in the performance of our duties, (usually because of a previously scheduled holiday party) or we may become so “caught up” in the activities of the season that we might just forget to pay attention. Either way, now is a good time to step back and reflect on just how much impact we are allowing the holidays to have on our job performance. This is especially true when it comes to using any type of electronic testing equipment.
All test equipment is highly sensitive and requires that it be handled with care before, during and after the testing procedure. It is imperative that extreme care be taken whenever you use your equipment. All testing equipment is required to be calibrated to insure that the testing process culminates in accurate readings. This calibration is usually pre-set at the factory and allows for in field re-calibrations prior to any use. We are fortunate to be living an age when most test equipment not only is easy to use but is also very compact. An example is the testing of Coaxial Transmission lines. There was a time, (some 15-20 years ago) when testing of this type required four or five pieces of very large and heavy units of equipment that was extremely sensitive to any external conditions. Since then, that equipment has been reduced to a single hand-held unit that incorporates the various components required for testing and can survive in almost any environment. This is not to say that these newer units can be abused but, they are definitely more robust than the older type of equipment. But, in order for your equipment to continue to perform to the standards required, certain procedures will need to be followed each and every time it is used.
Besides the obvious of keeping your equipment clean, it is very important to recognize that any connection that is made between your equipment and that which is being tested be as clean as possible. This means that before your test cable is connected to the line to be tested, you should physically look in the ends of both cables to insure that no debris/dirt is present. An easy way to make sure is to always have a “can of air” to spray into each connector end to remove any debris. This insures that if a particular test does not meet the required threshold, you can eliminate the possibility that any contamination influenced the result.
The next most common item to be overlooked is the actual connection itself. Is the connector installed correctly? Does the connector mesh appropriately with the test equipment? Is the connection with the test cable tightened according to the specifications? Any of these issues not applied correctly can and will degrade the quality of your results.
Next, you should be adequately trained on your equipment to be able to troubleshoot any anomaly that arises during the testing process. Although most text books and Engineers want us to believe that the field of RF is an absolute science, the reality is that once the signal leaves the source of transmission there can be any number of external influences on that signal that do not fall under the “rules” of RF propagation. Ambient air temperature, wind, dust, heat and moisture, (among other things) can have an effect on the particular signal. So, when the testing does produce sub-standard results, the tester will need to have enough experience to separate the “real” issues from the anomalies.
Once the test has been completed, it needs to be documented. This is where the newer type of a single hand held device pays for itself. The older type of equipment could not store the test results due to a lack of space within the processing unit and had to be physically plotted before performing the next test. Nowadays the storage capacity built into these devices allows for an almost infinite number of test results to be stored until they can be downloaded and forwarded to those requiring the results. So it behooves the tester to insure that each individual test be labeled in such a way as to quickly identify the particular test. Most clients have a very specific syntax for labeling test results. The good news is that these new devices make it easy to adhere to the requirements.
Now that the testing has been completed, you need to make sure that the device is properly stored. Again, we are fortunate to be living in age when storage cases are not only readily available but come in almost any size and shape. Most test equipment should be stored in a hard –sided polypropylene case that is filled with a dense foam insert. The case should be large enough to contain the unit, (isolated in the foam cushion) the test cables and any ancillary parts required for the various tests. This type of case not only protects the unit from impact but also keeps dirt and moisture from infiltrating the equipment.
Does this sound like a lot to remember? Perhaps. But we need to be on guard during this holiday season and not forget these basic procedures. It is easy to become distracted when we allow ourselves to get caught up in that “holiday spirit”. Remember to stay focused so that your inattention does not ruin your holidays!
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