In an EDN post titled When wires become components, you can see the care that goes into making calibration-grade resistors and inductors. Today, we'll get a look at test equipment that remains in products after many years.
At IET Labs, as at most companies in the calibration and metrology business, you won't find the latest, coolest electronic equipment. You will find equipment that has been manufactured the same way for decades. That because new isn't always better. Calibration people are a skeptical group for whom "new" equates to "unproven." A proven history of measurement quality overshadows the latest digital technology.
In addition to seeing many decade boxes, I saw a megohmmeter that's still made with a vacuum tube (see the first video after the sideshow), reference capacitors used as capacitance transfer standards, and reference inductors. The second video below shows how to perform a comparison of a reference inductor to an unknown inductor.
The last few slides in our slideshow tour of IET Labs were taken in the front lobby. There are all kinds of equipment there, some dating back to before you were born.
Click the image below to open our slideshow.
A megohmmeter manufactured by IET labs still uses a vacuum tube. "We'll manufacture these meters for as long as we can get the tubes," said electrical engineer Joel Goldberg.
When I was a TA in charge of the physics lab, we had a closet with old but working equipment, including some voltmeters that were made in the thirties. What really impressed me though is the note inside stating that it was made to a design by Lord Kelvin from 1870s. That's longevity.
On the top of my cube wall is perched a 6201 / 12AT7 dual triode for all the younger staff to see. They may not know how it works, but they can now say they have actually seen a real vacuum tube (valve).
The old test equipment just keeps on going - and going - and going. No flash memory to degrade and guarantee failure in just a few years.
One thing surprises me is that how they are able to maintain their staff or train their new staff. As the fresh grads coming out of colleges wouldn't 'have seen something called Vacuum tube, they need to have some retrograde training on basics of electronics and components of the older generation.
That's the thing about test equipment. Not only does "If it works, don't fix it" apply, but most people buying these already have them. They know what to expect from the equipment. Even if you can make it better, you don't. Well, not always. Why? Because having something better might reveal faults that would otherwise go undetected. Igorance is bliss.
Hi Martin...I can understand tubes in a megohmmeter, for the high impedance, but you'd think they'd be able to transitorise a Tach. Then again, if it works (and you can still get the tubes) don't fix it....
Thanks David. It's fixed now. What's impressive is the care that goes into these old instruments even though they are still manufactured. Follow the link in the first paragraph and see the rest of the story.