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Solid ground: Found at the workbench

By Jack Smith

May 2012

Fluke 115 True-rms digital multimeter

The Fluke 115 True RMS digital multimeter for field service technicians is equipped with a large white LED backlight to work in poorly lit areas.

Fluke 116 digital multimeter

The Fluke 116 digital multimeter was specifically designed for the HVAC professional - for taking temperature and microamp measurements to quickly troubleshoot problems with HVAC equipment and flame sensors.

Fluke 117 True-rms digital multimeter

The Fluke 117 True RMS digital multimeter was optimized to help electricians keep commercial buildings, hospitals, and schools running right.

The other day, my wife reminded me that I had promised to "organize" my workbench area in the basement. Everything else was tidy except for my workbench, which holds collections of tools, fasteners, electronic components, and other odds and ends from my past. Reluctantly, I obliged, although I knew that embarking on such a task would take much longer to accomplish than either of us anticipated.

I got started, at least. While digging through a box I haven't touched since we moved into this house, I found my first - my first Fluke digital multimeter (DMM), that is. Although it made big news when it was introduced in 1977, I didn't get my Fluke 8020A until 1980. I still have it, and it still works.

My "newer" DMM is a Fluke 112, which was introduced in late 2000. While the 112 is considered a modern DMM design, a search on the Fluke website indicates that it is a "discontinued item," as is the meter that started it all, the 8020A. However, the website is helpful in that it suggests current models based on the model for which one searches. This is true whether the model or product is a DMM, clamp meter, or power quality analyzer.

Why discontinue a successful product?

I can think of several reasons to discontinue products, even though they are popular and their designs are valid. Safety is one reason. Safety standards are evolving continually. The more safety experts learn about working on and around electrical systems, the more requirements and definitions are added to the standards. As these standards change, the test tools that were once the latest and greatest become obsolete. Yes, they still operate. However, the inherent risks are better understood. Fortunately, a migration path to a newer, safer instrument is available.

For example, standards organizations such as ANSI, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and the IEC have created stringent standards for test equipment used in environments of up to 1,000 V. Specifically, ANSI S82.02, CSA 22.2-1010.1, and IEC 61010 cover systems of 1,000 V or less. Because many of the circuits electrical workers encounter are 480-V or 600-V 3-phase, they obviously fall under these standards. Also, the 2010 edition of IEC 61010-1 stipulates that test equipment must not cause shock, fire, or arcing - even due to operator error. Fluke meters protect both the user and the meter in such cases.

The aforementioned safety standards also include a four-category system for rating electrical hazards in equipment and circuits up to 1,000 V. They also define overvoltage transients. Fluke products not only exceed these standards; the company has also done an outstanding job in publicizing these categories as well as how to recognize if a test instrument complies with them. There's plenty of information about these categories available from Fluke, so I won't be redundant here.

Fluke 289 True-rms Logging Multimeter

The built-in low-pass filter of the Fluke 289 True RMS Logging Multimeter allows technicians to troubleshoot variable frequency drives - accurately.

Fluke 233 Remote Display Multimeter

With the Fluke 233 Remote Display Multimeter you can view electrical measurements - wirelessly - when the display is up to 33 feet (10 meters) away.

ScopeMeter® test tool

With this ScopeMeter® test tool, technicians and engineers can measure and capture everything they need to capture with an oscilloscope and a digital multimeter.


Another reason is innovation. Keeping electrical measurement tool development moving forward requires an understanding of the needs of those who work with and on electrical equipment and systems. No, the laws of physics haven't changed. Yes, RMS still stands for root mean square, the value of which still equates an ac current or voltage to a dc current or voltage that provides the same power transfer.

Innovation enabled technicians and engineers to work hands-free by using magnetic hangers for their test instruments. Innovation made temperature and frequency measurements using a DMM possible. Innovation allows technicians to troubleshoot variable frequency drives - accurately - using a DMM that includes a built-in low-pass filter. Innovation makes it possible to view electrical measurements - wirelessly - by locating the display up to 33 feet (10 meters) away from the meter body. Innovation allows power quality engineers to measure transients, harmonics, phase sequence, and power factor - affordably. Innovation allows technicians and engineers to measure and capture everything they need to capture with an oscilloscope - and DMM - in one affordable handheld instrument.

Balancing the needs of yesterday and tomorrow

Safety and innovation are good reasons to continually upgrade products. So is moving forward. In a business environment, a company must evaluate supply and demand. When component suppliers replace existing parts with newer and better parts, it becomes necessary to evaluate how long to maintain product lines. "It's a matter of balance between the needs of yesterday and tomorrow," said Chuck Newcombe, former product planner and researcher for Fluke, and now retired (except for his monthly column for Fluke, occasional consulting, and seminars).

The quality, reliability, safety, and longevity of electrical and electronic components have changed immensely since 1977. Consequently, products that use these components reflect these constantly improving attributes. This is a good thing.

I'm sure I'm not the only person with a fully functional Fluke 8020A. However, it is now retired - with the battery removed so that it won't corrode. For the few times I need to make simple electrical measurements, my Fluke 112 serves me well.

Enough nostalgic reflection - now, I need to finish "organizing" my workbench.

Until next time, keep standing on "Solid Ground."