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Calvin and Hobbes (not the comics)

August 2011

By Chuck Newcombe

In the early 1990s Fluke decided not to invest further in the time and frequency test equipment market. This left the company with the challenge of generating greater profitable growth than was offered by the cancelled programs. A small team of marketers and engineers came up with a suggestion for how to do this. The innovative process used to meet the challenge was appropriately named “The Phoenix Process,” signifying the rebuilding from the ashes of the time and frequency business.

Hand-picked teams of idled engineers, along with representatives from marketing and other company disciplines, were formed to identify test and measurement opportunities in markets adjacent to those already served by the company. A sense of urgency was created when the teams were asked to report back with recommendations to management in 100 days. The urgency was reinforced by the limited budgets provided.

Two of those teams embarked on a journey that would lead to two new businesses for Fluke. Their first task was to name their teams. After a brief discussion, the communications networks team was named Calvin, after the then-popular comic character, and the process calibration team was named for Calvin’s stuffed tiger and alter ego, Hobbes.

The two teams did literature research, visited potential customers, attempted to size markets, and explored available technologies. After their first 100-day reports to management, they were directed to narrow their choices and make specific product recommendations.

The Calvin team’s products for testing and analyzing communications network cables and signaling protocols

The Calvin team was able to enter the network testing market within a year, with products adapted from available designs from industry partners. These products, called “Wooden Arrows,” allowed the team members to participate early in an unfamiliar market, enabling them to quickly modify their product definitions and come up with new original ones to better address market needs. With a better understanding of those needs the team expanded its product family, and by the end of the decade the business unit formed was a dominant player in what was essentially a new market for the company.

The Hobbes solution for testing and calibrating process transducers

Fluke 744 Documenting Process Calibrator

Fluke 744 Documenting Process Calibrator

The Hobbes team had a problem: no ready candidates for partnership. Due to the nature of their target market, including the need for companion modules for pressure and temperature, it was two years before they were able to introduce a first product developed from scratch. They introduced the models Fluke 701 and 702 Handheld Documenting Process Calibrators (DPC) in 1994. These units allowed a technician to test, analyze and calibrate analog 4-20 mA transducers and current loop control systems, and easily document the results.

Only four years later, in 1998, after learning much from their first entry, they introduced the 740 family, with its flagship model, the 744 DPC, at the top of the line. The model 744 was an improved model of the 702 design, with improved display and backlight, and included the ability to calibrate process transducers using the HART digital protocol to deal with emerging smart transducers. A modern version of the 744 is still sold today - thirteen years after its introduction.

Today, Fluke’s process calibration product line has testers and calibrators specialized for temperature, pressure, and a full selection of accessory precision transducers. There are also intrinsically safe models suitable for use in explosive environments. And, Fluke DPC/TRACK software makes the job of documenting calibrations, and keeping track of plant instrument inventories and calibration schedules, much easier.

Soon, Fluke will be introducing the 750 series, the latest version of the product first introduced in 1994. When you first look at the 750 products, and assuming you have experience with earlier DPCs, you will find a familiar list of features and capabilities. The front panel also looks familiar, with subtle differences like a color high resolution display with wide viewing angle replacing the 200x240 display of previous models.

Electrical safety is also improved in these new models, which qualify for tough Category II, 300V overvoltage installation ratings.

Higher calibration confidence levels for these new products

Fluke 754 Documenting Process Calibrator

Fluke 754 Documenting Process Calibrator

When I worked in the calibration lab for an aerospace industry company, we calibrated instrumentation every 3 months. And, if a unit was found to be out of calibration, we had to trace back to all items that it had been used to test since its last calibration to ensure that we weren’t delivering potentially unsafe products to the space program.

So, when I see a calibration confidence level of 3 sigma on a DPC like the new 754, it tells me that the chance that the calibrator will be out of its tolerance is less than 0.4 % - less than 4 in 1,000 measurements are likely to be suspect over its two-year calibration interval.

In a world where 2 sigma is a common confidence level, you have the potential for 4 in 100 questionable measurements.

When dealing with critical industrial processes, this is a big deal, so I’m excited to see Fluke stepping up with this important improvement in performance.

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Fluke Documenting Process Calibrators »