Calibration: When & Why

Calibration: When & Why

When the Heck Do You Calibrate These Things?

 

So you are a proud owner of some fiber optic test equipment. It may be an OTDR, fusion splicer or PM & LS set. One of those magic questions is when the heck do you calibrate these things? Well there are several factors in play with this question so let’s take a journey down the road into the realm of calibrations.

 

The first and most important reason to calibrate is to ensure the piece of equipment you have is working to factory specification. When a unit is built it is not just simply thrown together and kicked out the door. These highly precise items are calibrated at the factory and set to ensure they perform the job they are intended to do accurately.

 

Now generally, a calibration is recommended annually. However, that could increase based on several factors. If your equipment is in a lab setting and does not come off a nice shiny clean desk during that year then of course you should be all good without worry. But then again, if you are bringing that gear all over creation and exposing it to different harsh environments, temperatures, sewers, high heat, cold, rain and so on that gear might be in need of some love sooner than that annual recommendation. 

 

You know those super cold winter days where you’re sitting watching the game.  You’re enjoying some adult beverages. Then you hear your home pop, crack and make noises. You think what heck is that, a ghost or an intruder? Well. Think of that but in a much smaller scale. Think of the inside of your OTDR or splicer. 

 

These units have some pretty advanced internal workings. An average OTDR contains a microprocessor, a pulse trigger and generator, in addition, a laser diode, an optical coupler, a detector, an analog-to-digital converter and a display. Now think of going in and out of different environments, remember that house popping thing? Well that same thing happens to these components. Over time that physically changes these sensitive internal components. It may even cause damage. Even though it may be on a small scale it all adds up for sure. These units get bumped, beat up and simply “used”. You need to always ensure that your equipment is getting the proper service. Not just annually, but sometimes when it’s needed, even before that scheduled maintenance.

 

Now, technically most job sites require you to have that calibration cert showing your unit is all good. You may think well it’s still in “calibration” so I’m all good, I have no worries. In many cases that just might not be the case. Remember, it may be your reputation on the line that determines whether or not you get additional work. That future work equals that one universal thing we are after…MONEY! So remember, if you do put your gear through hell and back you might want to take a moment during some down time and get that unit some love.

 

Setting up a calibration or a repair is something many technicians deal with on a constant basis. You don’t want to get tossed into one of those dreaded “un-planned” equipment issues. Nothing worse than being at a beautiful new job site, weather is gorgeous making you think of fishing or camping more than working. Everything in the world is going perfect and then oops, Carl drops your OTDR off the tailgate of your truck… your whole world just crumbles and Carl takes the wind out of your sails. The hope would be that a back up unit is available or hopefully, you can rely on a great company who has a rental service (cough, cough Fiber Instrument Sales). If not, you know what you need to do. Pack up, postpone and send that unit in to be serviced. Unfortunately, there is not much else you can do in these situations, so you push forward and take it on the chin.

 

There is one thing I see often that will drive calibration folks crazy It’s that phone call or email from a good customer saying “Hey I think it’s been like 6 years, I should get it calibrated.” I won’t lie, when I get these I get that little shiver up my spine and mutter the words, “oh boy.” Now, if it has been sitting in a box it may be ok. But if the unit is consistently in the field for numerous years, that scares me the most. It’s safe to say these units are being used on job sites and are producing inaccurate results for customers. That is something none of us should ever want. Remember that whole reputation thing? Yeah. This is not something that will help that.

 

I like to compare this issue to not changing the oil in your car for 5+ years. Sure your car is most likely still moving down the road getting you from point A to point B but do you realize what you are doing to the inside of that motor? You just don’t see the internal damage. Jay Leno, America’s famous car collector and guru, would shed a tear and we do not want to hurt Jay. The same thing is happening to your unit. It’s absolutely just a matter of time when you finally have a breakdown or inaccurate results. 

 

We highly recommend you never go past the manufacturers recommended calibration cycle, never. You are only asking for trouble. Most reputable calibration labs such as FIS will not only provide you with the required ISO certified calibration certificate but we will label each unit, identifying the next date when your equipment needs servicing. This is a great way to remind you when that gear needs to get back in for calibration. As stated before. There may be several situations when you do need to get it to us before its normal schedule. But please, please, send that all important unit in sooner than every 5 years.

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