I've mentioned several times just how important it is for Fluke (or any other company for that matter) to keep in touch with their customers and their experiences with company products and services. In this column, I'd like to relate one of those stories where the customer led our originally intended development approach in a somewhat different, and much more beneficial, direction.
About ten years ago, we got a call from a field salesman, informing us that we were about to lose an important dmm customer to a competitive lower cost upstart. Since it was a local business, and we had a new product about to be introduced, we decided to visit the customer and ask him to 'beta test' our creation, a month or so before its introduction to the market. I should point out that our new product had more features and was actually more expensive than the Fluke meter he was using at the time.
The product was the 89-IV, which later became the 189, which has now been replaced by the 289 logging DMM. But I'm getting ahead of myself - back to our initial visit.
We were introduced to an engineering technician who was all set to show us the features of the threatening competitive product, but decided to see what we had to show him first.
His ears perked up when he heard the words 'data logging' (not a significant feature of the lower cost competitor). He asked a couple of questions and then consulted with a colleague. Their conclusion was that they wanted to hear more. We later found out that he saw an opportunity to record several independent voltages and currents at the same time using a few dmms, thus negating the need to buy an expensive multi-channel data logger. He also pointed out that when they weren't being used in that way, they would provide the additional new meters they were about to buy anyway.
Even before they conducted the beta test, the conversation quickly turned to the question of how soon they could get production units.
When I checked back about a month later, I discovered that he ordered four 89-IVs, and the companion FlukeView Forms software.
On our return visit we were shown the application (recording input and output voltages and currents for a power supply product under development) and besieged with a whole new set of questions -Could they synchronize the recordings using our software? (yes). Could they show multiple traces at a time on the graphs appearing in the PC software? (no).
They also had a list of desired additional capabilities that they knew were not available in the dmm - the most significant of which was the ability to observe a trend graph on the meter itself, before uploading the recorded data to a computer.
The next year was pretty exciting for us. We identified several customers who showed us additional unique applications for the 89-IV. They each, of course, had their own wish list of product improvements that would make the dmm even more useful to them, and the result was that we introduced the 189 within a very short time.
The present day 289 logging dmm is the result of our experiences with more than a thousand customers who shared their wishes and needs as well. Yes, we finally introduced a trend graph - tough, because it required a fully graphic high resolution display - a feature that was prohibitively expensive ten years ago. That one capability opened up opportunities to add flexible menu systems to simplify the meter front panel operation.
Another major request from our experience with 89-IV and 189 customers was the ability to store multiple recordings on the meter before an upload to a computer was required. The desire was to spend one or two days in the field doing recordings and then return to the office later to complete the test reports. That capability led to the desire to name or identify each recording as it was stored in order to reduce confusion when back at the computer.
FlukeView Forms software has undergone several upgrades as well over the years. It was fairly quickly modified within a few years, to provide not only the multiple traces on a single graph, but also multiple vertical scales so that voltage and current could be scaled independently for greater clarity in a report. And now, the ability to see a snapshot of the actual dmm display presented in a FlukeView Forms report is a nice addition.
It's rare that a product developer has the opportunity to work with such enthusiastic and innovative customers. Hats off to Fluke tool users!
If you have comments or an idea about a new Fluke product or a modification of an exisiting one, we'd love to hear about it!