Have you ever found yourself troubleshooting an application at a remote site but without the necessary tools available? I learned a long time ago that the scout motto of “Be Prepared” applies to fieldwork as well. Back then, this involved dragging a suitcase with oscilloscope, bulky isolated probes, a “luggable” computer (remember the old Compaq’s?) and other tools to the remote site. Today, we can do what we did then and more with a laptop and a shoebox of accessories. In the not too distant future, we’ll be able to substitute a smartphone for the laptop or perhaps not even travel at all.
Emergency services like police and first responders maintain “Go Kits” for when they need to rush to an incident and be prepared upon arrival. I’ve taken the same approach for my fieldwork. Here’s what it contains;
A Bitscope Pocket Analyzer replaces the bulky oscilloscope. Together with an assortment of probes and my ever present laptop, this not only replaces the scope, but adds capabilities like a signal generator and real time data logging and sharing over the internet.
Current is the heartbeat of a motion system so my “Go Kit” has a Fluke 80i-110s current clamp. In one field incident we successfully used this at the end of a 100 ft. coax cable to diagnose a difficult to reach brushless motor.
For safely measuring isolated voltage, the kit contains a P5200A Differential High Voltage probe from Tektronix. Recently, this proved invaluable in detecting generator distortion in an off grid application.
One particularly unique tool in the kit is a USB load cell, made by Loadstar. With this, and a little on-site mechanical ingenuity, we’ve fabricated a to measure and plot torque, right on the application with the real load.
In the future, fieldwork will probably rely less on actually going to the field. Many drives on the market can and are networked. For the more one time measurements that would require the capabilities of my “Go Kit” I can see sending out a kind of “engineer in a box” via FedEx that the field technician can hook up to the application and connect to the internet, leveraging engineering expertise at a lower expense than travel. One can just about do that now with inexpensive single board computers like the Raspberry Pi (http://www.raspberrypi.org/) and the Beaglebone Black.
As always, questions, comments and suggestions are all welcome. I can be emailed at email@example.com.