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The world - and technicians - go wireless

March 2013

The snowballing growth of wireless communications has surprised some of the world’s technology leaders - including computer and software makers and wireless carriers.

Today, from airplane cockpits to the factory floor and beyond, mobile devices are reporting to work.

More and more engineers, technicians, and their companies are learning to use wireless test systems and devices like smartphones and tablets to get work done more easily and faster, with greater accuracy and improved convenience and safety.

“So fast that we don’t realize what’s happening”

The first “smartphone", a blocky IBM device called Simon, appeared in 1994. Two years later the Nokia 9000 showed up, offering cellphone, personal digital assistant, email, and limited web browsing capabilities. Suddenly one device could do what used to require two or more…and do it almost anywhere. The revolution had begun. Then, in June 2007, Apple’s Steve Jobs showed the world the first iPhone. The game had changed, and it changed again with Apple’s 2010 introduction of the iPad.

By August that year, Fortune Magazine’s Seth Weintraub said “what we are seeing in smartphones is bigger than anything that has come before it…and it is coming so fast that we don't realize what's happening.” He added: “Smartphones, or Mobile devices, will soon become the dominant computing platform for humanity and supplant the PC, which has reigned since Apple ignited the Personal Computer revolution in the late 1970's.” Six months later, PC Magazine said that smartphones outsold PCs in Q4 2010 for the first time. And they didn’t even count tablets.

Techs log in to the wireless revolution

Electrical professionals were quick to see the benefits of a portable or even pocket-size wireless device that could contain a library of documentation, perform calculations, and even receive, log, and process test results - all without wires. In August 2012, Fluke News Plus reported how technicians were using more than a dozen different applications on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops to perform a multitude of tasks, from calculating electrical loads to storing service manuals and logging data.

Wireless test tools had already proven their ability to make electrical testing easier and safer. The award-winning Fluke 233 Remote Display Multimeter and Fluke 381 Remote Display AC/DC Clamp Meter with iFlex® gave technicians the ability to, in effect, work in two places at once. One place - where the test unit had to be connected to live circuits or conductors - could be inconvenient, uncomfortable, impossible to see…and lethally hazardous. At the other place - anywhere within 10 meters - the technician could position the remote wireless display in comfort and read the test results in safety.

Introducing the Fluke Wireless Team

Fluke CNX 3000 Wireless Series

A digital multimeter serves as the hub of the Fluke CNX Wireless Series tools.

Into this wireless world, last fall, stepped the Fluke Wireless Team, also known as the Fluke CNX 3000 Series tools. A digital multimeter serves as the hub of the system. With test probes installed, it functions much like a normal CAT IV 600 V/CAT III 1000 V meter. But there’s a difference. This digital multimeter (DMM) is wireless, and can simultaneously display its own readings, plus those of up to three wireless modules that log and transmit AC voltage, AC current, and/or K-type temperature signals to the base unit. The modules can then be connected to a special PC module to download the readings - up to 65,000 separate data points - into a Windows PC.

If four simultaneous readings aren’t enough, a technician can log a more comprehensive view from as many as ten wireless modules by connecting them wirelessly to a computer through the PC module.

The system uses the 2.4 GHz ISM wireless band. Many cordless telephones and baby monitors in the United States and Canada use the 2.4 GHz frequency, the same frequency used by Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi standards 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n.

According to Fluke DMM (digital multimeter) expert Duane Smith, the 2.4 GHz band has performed well in electronically noisy plant environments, enabling the CNX family to connect, under ideal conditions, at distances up to 20 meters. Interference from plant equipment has been minimal. Where there is heavy use of Bluetooth, WiFi, and other applications in the 2.4 GHz band - an unlikely problem in the factory - distances may be reduced.

Tough enough

Like other Fluke tools (and unlike most smartphones or tablets), the CNX Family is engineered for use in harsh industrial environments. The CNX 3000 wireless multimeter has a 300-hour minimum battery life (compare that to your smartphone) and complies with international safety standards: US ANSI: ANSI/ISA 61010-1 / (82.02.01): 3rd edition; CSA: CAN/CSA-C22.2 No 61010-1-12: 3rd edition; CE European: IEC/EN 61010-1:2010. The meter also carries the IP54 rating for resistance to dust or splashing water. Specifications of the various CNX wireless test point modules may differ. For instance, they all have a minimum battery life of 400 hours.

The CNX Family delivers the same jobsite advantages as the Fluke 233 Remote Display Multimeter and Fluke 381 Remote Display Clamp Meter, and much more. The convenience, comfort, and safety benefits of taking readings at a safe distance from energized equipment - those are the same.

But the CNX System adds important new capabilities: With these tools you can simultaneously measure multiple phenomena (DC voltage, AC voltage, AC amps, and temperature) across as many as ten separate test points. They can log those readings for hours or days. And you can save those readings on a computer, where the test results can be further analyzed.