With difficult economic times, the opportunities for profit opened up by PAT testing are very welcome. However, testing on hundreds or even thousands of assets need PAT testers that have been designed with this type of work in mind. Dave Moore of Megger explains what the best of these instruments have to offer, and how they can help users to increase the profitability of their PAT testing operations.

PAT testing is a good way of generating additional income for one very simple reason: every business with employees, and there are an estimated 4.5 million businesses in the UK, needs PAT testing services. PAT testing itself isn’t compulsory, however, throughout the UK employees are protected by the Electricity at Work Regulations, along with various other acts and regulations, that legally require electrical equipment to be checked at regular intervals for its safety.

High-volume PAT testing is a very competitive business. And, as testing is usually priced per asset, achieving good profitability depends on keeping testing time to a minimum. However, testing quality must never be sacrificed to save time as lives could be put at risk. In addition, the publicity surrounding just one adverse incident can destroy the credibility and reputation of a PAT testing business. In short, testing needs to be done quickly, but it must also be done well.

The key is to choose the right PAT tester. There are many simple testers available that are an excellent choice for users with small testing requirements, but for large volumes – particularly in commercial environments – these instruments are not the best option. One reason is that, when considering testing speed, it’s not enough just to think about the time the test itself takes. The time to record, store and organise the results must also be considered.

With simple PAT testers, managing test results is a manual process. This is fine for small numbers of tests, but for high-volume testing a more automated approach is needed.

And that’s exactly what is provided by “professional” PAT testers, such as Megger’s PAT400 range. These instruments have internal storage for test results, some holding up to 10,000 records, which means that it’s no longer necessary to write the results down manually. This saves time and virtually eliminates errors. The results can be downloaded to a PC running software that makes generating professional reports quick and easy as well as providing facilities for organising and storing the results.

The best professional PAT testers also have full QWERTY keyboards and large easy to read colour displays to allow convenient entry of project and asset details. Another invaluable feature is barcode support. With the addition of an optional barcode scanner, some testers can read asset and location identification barcodes. Using generic codes, such as “kettle”, “photocopier” or “office 1” is a big time saver as it is far quicker to scan a pre-printed code than to enter details via the keyboard.

It’s not only results handling that should be considered when choosing a PAT tester – many other features affect overall testing time. Some testers, for example, are very slow to start up. This may not seem to matter, but if testing the assets on a site involves moving between many different locations and the tester takes a couple of minutes to start up in each location, the delays quickly add up.

To address this issue, the latest testers have a relatively short start up time and some also incorporate a fast-restart feature. This uses an internal battery to keep the tester in a standby state for several minutes after it is unplugged, allowing it to restart instantly after it is moved between locations.

In appropriate applications, the automatic testing feature offered by some PAT testers is another big time saver. Users configure the test structure applied in automatic mode to suit their own specific requirements, which means that a supervisor can pre-define a test structure with pass/fail limits to provide instant identification of faulty assets. This speeds up testing and ensures that all tests are performed exactly as required.

A final point worth considering is whether it is suitable for a high duty cycle. Some instruments, if repeatedly called upon to perform 10 A and 25 A bond tests, periodically shut themselves down to prevent overheating. The user then has no option other than to wait for them to cool down. Testers are now available that allow uninterrupted testing even under the most arduous conditions.

As mentioned, high-volume PAT testing is a competitive business. Nevertheless, there is a large and constantly growing demand for PAT testing services, so it also has the potential to be a very profitable business. To achieve good profitability, the essential requirement is to operate efficiently and, as we have seen, choosing a test set that has been optimised for high-volume use is the key.