Electrical testing equipment-Types & uses

Regardless if you are a novice or a professional choosing the right electrical test equipment can be a daunting task, there are a multitude of different types & equally as many manufacturers all wanting the sell.

When I started out there wasn’t the variety & the choice was limited, therefore we were stuck with only a few well-established brands, the range of electrical test equipment wasn’t that diverse either, so there was nothing really aimed at the beginner.

As a result mastering some of the equipment became challenging due to it is complexity and the amount of different kit you had to have was way more than required by today’s standards.

Today there is a vast array of electrical testing equipment, so selecting the correct equipment will depend on, budget, task requirements & skill level. My aim is to help you make the right choice and to feel comfortable in knowing you got the kit that best suits you & didn’t spend extra on features you didn’t really need.

What will you need

This really depends on what trade discipline you are working in, there are so many diverse job titles in this field. My background started in the Rail industry which required a large variety of differing equipment, some bespoke, some off the shelf but we did use most of the early examples of what’s available today.

After nearly 20 years in industry I left to become a domestic electrician, obtained C&G2391; on the way & a host of other qualifications. The majority of my time in industry was devoted to testing, so moving into the domestic domain was not too difficult a transition.

If you know the arena you will be working in, then choosing the correct electrical testing equipment will become an easier task. I do have a preference for domestic & automobile systems but went back into an industrial / commercial arena as circumstances changed, perhaps this may explain my choice of preference.

The domestic/commercial sector

For me when I started, I chose something simple that would do all, was accurate. Didn’t cost the earth and was easy to use.

I settled for the Di-Log Multi function tester. I still have this today and is still my weapon of choice. As a beginner this was perfect, ticked every box and still does. I progressed to a Fluke, again a relatively simple multi function tester, and would have ticked all the boxes initially but was more expensive.

I then acquired a Megger MFT, what top quality kit this company manufactures, very accurate, initially more complex to use & Three times the price, again it really only does what the Di-Log does, yes it is a little more accurate, more polished and has a few extra features, none that I have ever needed to use I must add.

There are many more manufacturers of MFT’s and all produce good quality, accurate & reliable gear, for me initially it boiled down to cost

If you are in the or going into the domestic arena you’ll need a multi function tester (MFT). This can perform all the tests you’ll ever need to satisfy the requirements of BS7671 18th edition of the wiring regulations (if your in the UK).

If your outside of the UK then I would make the assumption that the testing requirements would be not too dissimilar to ours.

If you are beginning a career in the domestic domain, I would recommend either Di-Log, Fluke, or Kewtech

The industrial arena

For me working in the industrial domain has required some additional equipment with extra features that are not really required in the domestic environment. You don’t normally come across 3 Phase supplies, maybe a little in the commercial environment but is definitely a constant in the Industrial arena.

For this you will need a phase rotation indicator, these ensure that the Phases have been wired in the correct order and indicate any anomalies. Fuse finders are also a valuable addition as seldom one finds that DB boards are not labeled up and tracing unidentified circuits can be time-consuming, and risky if there are circuits that are feeding critical equipment that cannot be isolated.

A good GS38 voltage indicator & proving unit also make a good addition as you need to be 100% sure that what you are working on is proved to be a dead circuit, additionally a LOTO kit is also part of my standard attire, this can be a life saver & ultimately it could be your own your saving.

LOTO stands for Lock Out Tag Out and is a device used to lock circuit breakers OFF and is supplied with unique locks & keys so only you can remove, thus preventing anyone other than you from flipping the breaker back ON. On most sites there will be an isolation procedure that has to be followed and LOTO will be part of this mandatory requirement.

Most MFT’s as discussed in the domestic section above will suffice for nearly all the testing requirements on an industrial site, as all can measure ZS, ZE, continuity, RCD/RCBO tests & Insulation resistance 500V tests.

I also use a volt stick, however these don’t offer the surefire guarantee of a good GS38 voltage tester, they are useful as a quick verification when circuit tracing, but I always do a thorough dead test using a voltage tester before I commit to work on any circuit.

Another good addition is a good multimeter as these can be used again for verification and quick non accurate testing, you don’t need to spend big bucks on one as all in the £30 range are good enough for simple quick testing.

When on site I usually deploy the Megger MFT as it is more accurate than the DI-Log, has more features and is a little more robust, I must sometimes admit the DI-Log does get used and still performs well, but the Megger does have the edge so this is normally my 1st line piece of kit

Another valuable bit of kit is a plug top tester with an audible buzzer/sounder on as this is very useful when you’re on you’re own and trying to locate a ring circuit in an un labeled distribution panel as you can hear the tone go on & off when you’re flipping breakers so you can quickly identify the circuit you want, this does save an enormous amount of leg work.

Another invaluable addition are good quality screwdrivers, cutters and general hand tools. I can recommend the CK & Wera brands as these really are 1st class and will last a lifetime if used correctly. I am not represented by either but have a set of both CK & Wera drivers & they are honestly the best drivers I have ever used.

Another item that you will really require is a good LED torch, one that will last for hours, give a good spread of even light, has a magnetic base so you can stick it where you need it, normally the DB door or just inside the DB as once it is dark you never want to not be able to see where your hands are.

Auto electrical requirements

Cars have come on leaps & bounds over the years & the technology utilized has also progressed at the same rate.

When I started tinkering with cars you really only required a multimeter & a torch, now you need ODB2 hardware & software to allow you to read trouble codes and reset engine warning lights (MIL lamp), a basic 2 channel oscilloscopes to look at the cars CAN signal, a laptop or a good tablet and a protocol analyzer.

It all sound expensive, some of it is but you won’t get far without it, you simply can’t anymore.

I have a few basic cheap OBD2 dongles, one a USB type and the other a Bluetooth item, both are invaluable and didn’t cost the earth. I also have a USB oscilloscope that hooks up to the laptop and this is used for probing the CAN bus, this gives a pictorial representation of the Packets of data whizzing round the network, most if not all modern cars work on a CAN bus system (Control Area Network).

This is really just a data network that runs on a single pair of wires interconnecting all the sub systems in the car, allowing them all to communicate with each other, passing information back and forth as and when required. Most cars today have more than one CAN bus, usually a high speed and a lower speed & other more simplistic data buses (LIN bus being one)

To really drill down deeper you need a protocol analyzer, this allows you to look at the contents of the packets of data that are transmitted back & forth, for this I have a cheap USB interface that connects directly to the CAN bus wires and a PC to examine & display the packets in a binary or hexadecimal format.

All the items above can and are readily available on line, coupled with an unimaginable amount of on line information & advice on how to use the above mentioned equipment. It takes a while to learn this but once understood it is really not that difficult to grasp the concepts.

I have learned a lot from YouTube videos, books, people in the know, on line pages & sites devoted to CAN bus applications & I am still learning & enjoy the technology we have & to be able to work with it. There is still a lot more I need to learn, mostly around the CAN data and packet structure to localize failing modules.

Conclusion

I hope I have offered some useful advice and hope this may help someone who is training, about to start training or who is currently working in this fantastic environment.

You can never know enough or learn enough in this field as it is constantly expanding with new products, innovations & progressing technologies. In a way I am thankful of this as to me it will always be interesting and there will always be something new to learn. And the biggest advantage is we rarely get wet, I nearly became a plumber, but by god I am glad I didn’t !

One other area I must cover before I sign off is the importance of good training, to me this is of paramount importance & anyone wishing to undertake this as a career or venture will really benefit from a good training course & a good trainer.

There are never bad students just bad teachers, I have had both throughout the years and believe me they are worlds apart. I did however have an excellent tutor prior to undertaking the BS2391 Testing & inspection exams, this really made the difference between passing & failing, his contributions were invaluable and his teaching style, level of knowledge and personality were absolutely 110% on the mark. As a result of this we are still good friends after many years & he is still a trainer and his commitment has also remained at 110%.

There are also some very good on line options in the training sector, these are and can be just as invaluable and I would recommend that everyone keeps educated & refreshed throughout their career as for me this keeps complacency  at bay and removes the attitude of I know everything, I can assure you, you won’t !

Everyday I try to learn something new, or better myself on something old, I will always be learning & happy to do so.

Please feel free to contact me & if I can help I will & if I can’t I will try to connect you with something or someone who can.

Kindest regards

Mark

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