Recently, my colleague Caleb Kraft posted Unlocking Hidden Features of Your Tools and 6 DIY Hacks for Measurement Tools, where he entices you to tell stories about how you "modified" electronic equipment. Some of this is test equipment. These posts made me think about when modifying test equipment is reasonable and when the risks are too high.
Here's my point. It's one thing to open a $50 meter and add some hardware to give it a new function, if it's for personal use. But, would you add hardware to a $50,000 spectrum analyzer or even a $5,000 oscilloscope that's under warranty? You'd be taking a big risk. For starters, you'd void the warranty. You'd also void the instrument's calibration. If you're using that instrument for characterization or production measurements, voiding the warranty means you can no longer trust your measurements. Is that a problem? You bet it is.
Have you ever hacked an oscilloscope?
Tell us in the live chat on March 5.
If you use an instrument to characterize a device or system but the measuring instrument's calibration is broken, you could be providing not only invalid data, but that data might end up on a data sheet for your customers to see. If you design anything, you depend on data sheets for specifications. If you trust published numbers made of questionable equipment, you could be in trouble.
What if you use that "hacked" instrument for production? Without maintaining calibration, your company could be shipping out-of-tolerance parts (false positives) or you could be rejecting good parts (false negatives). Either way, you're costing the company money and possibly its reputation. You could be exposing you customer to a risk of injury. Worst of all, your product could make the company liable in a lawsuit.
Let's face it, we all like to "beat the system" and add some value to something we own or maybe add an unauthorized feature. It's fun and challenging. Under some conditions, that's fine, but not always. I've been talking to my contacts at test-equipment companies as well as a few "real" engineers in their labs to get their side of the story. What's your side?
So, Mr. Kraft, let's chat about modifying test equipment at Modify Test Equipment: Yes or No? on Wednesday, March 5 at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT) or whatever time zone you're in.
Martin Rowe, Senior Technical Editor