Test and Tag Products Overview
In life there’s the ‘easy’ way and the ‘hard’ way to do something, the ‘fast’ and the ‘slow’ way and the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ way. Sometimes though a persons’ individual requirements will dictate what is the ‘best’ solution for them.
At Metrotest we want to show you the options and help you figure out what is the best option for you. For example, if you only test a few items every test cycle then a basic tester without a label/tag printer is probably all that is required. The tester will almost certainly be a PAT Tester (Portable Appliance Tester) obviously some are basic, some very advanced, but all of them will normally be designed to make testing easy – normally the appliance just plugs into the PAT socket. All PATs will have one main test lead often referred to as the ‘wander’ lead.
When trying to choose the correct PAT testing equipment, the right labels/tags to use and the other necessary items to ensure that you are testing correctly; it can be not just confusing but difficult to understand all the information provided. Comparing PATs is not easy – it is like trying to compare a tomato and a strawberry both are fruit, but most people won’t put a tomato on their breakfast!
Knowing what tests you need to do with your PAT is an essential part of the process of deciding what PAT tester to buy. Not all PATs are equal and not all tests conducted by a PAT are equal and this is very true of the earth test feature on a PAT. You can test for ‘compliance’ or you can test for ‘compliance + safety’. It does not cost any more.
Metrotest have developed some innovative solutions over the years to make testing easier and quicker whilst also giving greater accountability to the whole testing system. Our PATs use the ‘dual time coloured tags’ and ‘double tagging’ system which results in greater efficiency. Using our systems you can stand out and ‘prove’ you tested an appliance easily and quickly (there’s a lot of test and tag fraud out there). You can have a 2D barcodes on the tag which has all the testing details and you can print the test results (in a compact format) physically on to the tag.
Metrotest strive to provide auditability in all our testing and believe that the testing systems we provide test for SAFETY as well as compliance and give full audit trails for full accountability.
Barcodes and Scanners
Barcodes were originally in linear form on the test tags and had limited information within the coding eg asset number and test code used; this made retesting a little easier with the asset number being reused and the ability to trace an asset’s history of testing.
Now commonly a PAT will print a 2D QR coded tag (this may have a lot more information contained in the coding including asset ID, site, location, test code etc) and this on some systems can speed up retesting greatly. On our own designed system the METROiPAT SupaPAT, providing the tag is readable, you can scan the tag and the tester then selects the correct test and runs the test, then prints the tag (no new data entry is necessary).
If you need a PAT Tester think about not just the purchase cost, but consumables cost (label/tag) along with the volume you need to test. If it is above 1000 items per year that’s a lot of tags to manually write and records to keep! The purchase cost in this case may appear cheap, but what about the time.
The right printing system will hugely increase production, add accuracy and auditability, all of which are worthwhile benefits.
Since 1998 Metrotest have sold, developed and built lots of systems and we also use the units we sell. My all-time favourite PAT was the AlphaPAT, others that stand out include the Supernova, PAT220, PAT900, Ethos 9500 all of which are pretty much out of production or running old technologies, but for the time were good testers. One thing they all had in common was a high current protective earth test, sadly very few have this very worthwhile test function now. This function made them electrical safety PATs not compliance PATs.
Our testing technicians scattered around the country use the METROiPAT SupaPAT which does a high current earth test.
Metrotest is an electrical safety company – we aren’t interested in cheating or shortcuts that compromise safety. The testers we develop are at the very top of the list of real safety testing PATS. These are quick, accurate, user friendly and are in mid-price range of PATs.
We stock other brands too, there are some though we will not stock as we don’t want to just sell anything to make a dollar!
When choosing who you purchase from consider their ‘real experience’ and not just their advertising. Are they only an ecommerce company with possibly pretend support or what about repairs, calibrations or training backup testing questions? Since 1998 Metrotest has supplied, repaired, calibrated and trained people as well as run a nationwide test and tag service.
Test And Tag
Portable Appliance Testers
PATs start in price from around $1000 but these will be PATs that can only test the earth at 200 milliamps – legal but not, in our opinion, designed for ‘safety’ rather just for ‘compliance’. To get a PAT that checks for compliance and safety, which will test the protective earth at 10 Amp or 10,000 milliamps, you will likely need to spend around $1700. The expensive PATs will normally be a complete system and can cost as much as $8500.
Here is something you need to know; just because you spend $8500 does not mean you get a PAT that tests for compliance and safety – there is one with a camera built in where the system costs around $8500 which still only tests at 200 milliamps for the protective earth.
Most people will likely, if interested in safety, need to spend somewhere between $1700 and $6000 on a tester.
Many PATs have an on-board memory and now commonly can print tough tags directly from the PAT memory via a suitable label/tag printer.
Memory Capacity of a PAT
Many advanced PATs have an onboard memory ranging from being able to save 1,000 items to 1,000,000 items – most PATs now will save around 10,000 to 50,000 items.
Memory size is not critical in most situations as PATs should have data transferred regularly in case of loss or theft. Various options are available on PATs for downloading test results including via USB and memory sticks, WIFI and direct WIFI. There are also Apps available for direct communication from your smartphone to the tester for saving results where a tester does not have an internal memory.
Printers and Labels/Tags
Printers can be battery powered, mains powered running from a DC power source or a combination of both and there are different types of print systems:
Direct Thermal – this relies on heat to print onto the label/tag and therefore it is ‘heat sensitive’ and and life span for readability is often short.
Thermal Transfer – this is the most common printers used and uses a ribbon to transfer the information on to the label/tag which means a tough material can be used resulting in more durable tags.
Over the years we have used and sold many printers, but thermal transfer is definitely, in our opinion the best solution as the tag should always remain readable. Direct thermal labels/tag swill often become unreadable if subject to heat or sunlight (much like a till receipt left in sunlight).
Thermal transfer printers will normally be bigger than direct thermal and most are designed to run from the mains via a DC adaptor. If they are small, then they will be expensive maybe 3-4 times the normal price and consumables will also be expensive.
Labels/Tags will normally be of a set size, often 100 x 50mm or variable length. Variable length uses continuous roll with a cutter which automatically cuts to length the required tag. This is a big advantage when sometimes you may want just a small tag.
A problem with any printing system is that you can only have one roll in use at a time, meaning one colour only. This is a problem when doing tests in environments with different retest dates where using different colours make it easy to see what is due for testing and when.
Metrotest have found a solution with ‘dual time tagging’ coloured rolls and with the METROiPAT SupaPAT you can actually get at least 3 colours from any roll without changing the roll! See out METROiPAT SupaPAT.
Another item developed by Metrotest, using knowledge gained through actually doing millions of tests, is the ‘double tagging’ system. When testing a computer monitor with lead in tandem (both are tested at the same time) if the test is a pass then this result is saved twice and two tags are produced (with incrementing numbers) – this cuts testing time in half as without this function you have to redo a test to get the second tag. Metrotest use these testing innovations everywhere, they are brilliant and really work.
If you want to test accurately and with an auditable tag (each tag has a unique asset number and a 2D audit code for quick audits should there be concerns over whether testing has been done properly.
Test Results in Software and on Tags
There are many options available for software to download, save, organise, export and report on tests that have been done there are both PAT instrument manufacturers software and generic brands of software. The manufacturers software will download their brand of PATs, however generic software will download many different PATs which is useful if you have several different brands of PATs.
There are now also printing formats available on PATs which will print the test results directly on to a tough test tag (in a design so that the tag is still small).