A few months ago, I listed Fluke’s CNX system of wirelessly connected multimeters, measurement modules, and thermal imaging cameras as one of my 5 favorite tools from 2013. The CNX system is based on wireless modules, a multimeter base station, and an optional USB adapter that allows for desktop and laptop viewing of real-time measurements.
In that post I offered a prediction:
It probably won’t be long until you can control a bunch of test meters from your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet.
Fluke has just announced their new line of Fluke Connect tools and accessories, which provide even greater interconnectivity and wireless measurement functionality. And, as predicted, there is a new Fluke Connect app for iOS and Android devices that takes everything to the next level.
Fluke Connect is a system that lets you share live measurements with your team and view all the data you need in the field.
Fluke Connect consist of more than 20 Fluke wireless test tools, including voltage, current, and temperature modules, Fluke Connect iOS and Android apps, and a Fluke Cloud-based storage system that helps pull everything together.
Fluke Connect Tools
- Digital Multimeters: 3000 FC series meters, 187, 189, 287, and 289 when used with IR3000 FC Connector
- Temperature (T3000 FC) Fluke Connect test module
- AC and DC voltage (V3000 FC, V3001 FC) Fluke Connect test modules
- Current (A3000 FC, A3001 FC, A3002 FC) Fluke Connect test modules
- Thermal Imagers: Ti100-series (with Fluke wireless SD card), Ti200/300/400 series thermal imaging cameras
- Vibration Meters: 805 FC (coming soon)
- Process Tools: 789 (with IR3000 FC connector)
- Insulation Resistance Testers: 1550 and 1555 (with IR3000 FC1550 connector)
Certain existing Fluke models can be retrofitted, such their 287 and 289 digital multimeters, and later on down the road, new tools might be re-engineered with built-in Fluke Connect functionality.
The IR3000FC adapter needed to retrofit compatible tools is priced at $40-$50.
Other current Fluke multimeters, like the 87V we recently reviewed, do not have datalogging or communication capabilities built-in, and so they cannot be retrofitted for Fluke Connect compatibility.
Smaller modules will connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth, and point-to-point WiFi is needed for the multimeters and other devices with larger files and data streams.
Pricing will be around the same as with the predecessor CNX meters and modules, or about $350 for the Fluke Connect meter and $150-250 for the meter module. Accessories to retrofit compatible meters will also soon be available.
Fluke Connect App
Fluke conducted a survey and found that smartphone was widespread among their customer base. Most users are equipped with personal or employer-supplied smart devices.
The Fluke Connect app, which is free to download and use, allows for easy real-time viewing of wireless test and measurement data in compatible iOS and Android devices. It can retrieve live readings at once from up to 10 Fluke Connect tools that are positioned up to 20 meters (65.6 feet) away.
Fluke Connect allows you to take multiple measurements simultaneously, and from a safe or convenient distance away from the testing location.
Smartphones (and tablets as well) can be used as simple readout devices, but the functionality goes beyond that. The Fluke Connect software can capture and save individual measurements, as well as trends over time.
Saved data can be tagged, flagged, compared against other saved measurements, and shared (through the Fluke Cloud) with other parties.
Fluke Connect was designed for iPhones 4s and newer running iOS 7 or higher, and Android phones such as the Galaxy S4, Nexus 5, and HTC One running Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and up.
The iOS app is available now, and an Android version will be available this month.
I am told that a tablet version is in the works, and that there will also be software that works on desktop and laptop computers.
Fluke’s Cloud-based infrastructure allows users to connect with other remote team members. Through the Fluke Connect app, you can share measurements and visuals, and discuss problems as they arise.
Cloud data is cached to the phone, and datalogging can be done with or without internet access. This means that users can always collect new measurements or access measurement history in the field of industrial settings where cellular internet access might be spotty.
Why Should You Care?
If you use a $15 generic multimeter maybe once or twice a year, then these new products and capabilities probably won’t mean much to you. Fluke’s Connect tools, apps, and cloud-based data-sharing infrastructure will be most useful to electricians, field technicians, and industrial users.
Let’s say a tech encounters an unfamiliar issue in the field. Fluke Connect allows them to consult with a colleague or supervisor while they’re still on-site. The supervisor sees what they see and can help direct the tech about what to do next.
Or maybe in an industrial setting a tech is conducting routine maintenance or safety checks. Fluke Connect allows them to log the exact measurement without the need for a pen and paper.
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Fluke is not the only test and measurement company to see the potential for device and smartphone connectivity. However, Fluke’s Connect tool lineup and system treats mobile devices in a different manner.
Flir’s ONE thermal imaging camera piggybacks onto an iPhone to make use of its processing power, display, and touch interface.
Agilent’s new BenchVue software allows for easier desktop and mobile control of benchtop equipment. I have encountered a few minor issues with their mobile BenchVue app, but for the most part I think they’re following a good path.
Flir’s ONE is a low-cost thermal imaging camera that requires supplementary hardware. Agilent’s software allows for mobile control of more sophisticated instruments. Fluke’s Connect platform, on the other hand, treats mobile devices as a way to enhance readout, reporting, and collaboration.
I think that there’s a lot of potential in the new Fluke Connect system of wireless tools and apps. Fluke’s CNX system was good, but Fluke Connect takes things even further in terms of convenience and connectivity. It’s too soon to tell for sure, but given what I’ve learned thus far, it looks like Fluke Connect will be great.
Good idea, being able to connect to another technician. Been in a couple situations where the tech didn’t have the proper specs with them on what they were testing.
This seems like a great concept, being able to take the data acquisition bench with you everywhere, so to speak. I have three DMMs that can make use of the ir3000 FC adapter, but it appears there’s a very limited set of phones/devices it will work with, so it’s a completely unavailable option for me. Agilent BenchVue has a similar means of connecting to smartphones, but it needs an in-place instrument and controlling PC setup to do this. I already have that setup and can report it works quite spiffy using my old Android phone as well as my 4th gen iPod Touch, and I have the entire range of my high-power wifi to work within. Unfortunately, every manufacturer will have their own proprietary, non-interoperable solution in the pipeline soon if it’s not already there.
You’ve already discovered the dark, ancient underworld of instrument communications as far as GPIB interfaces and how difficult it can be for hobbyists and other lightweight users to make use of interconnected instruments. There’s a reason any “serious” bench instrument has GPIB as their (often sole) communications interface, it’s a hoary old standard that has worked better than any other over the years, but USB and Ethernet have made inroads. Like camera makers in the early days of digital cameras, certain industries are afraid of embracing the computing device craze of the day, knowing it will be completely replaced with something else in short order. Instrument product cycles for equipment more involved than portable DMMs and similar gear are notoriously long and dragged out. Many currently sold instruments from the likes of Fluke, Agilent, Tek, R&S, National Instruments, etc have been in production for 10-20 years if not more. Firewire has come then fell out of favor during that time. USB has had three major revisions. Ethernet gained speed in that time. Bluetooth and 802.11x wifi are newcomers. GPIB is the tortoise that has remained in that race.
Depending on the implementation of these new interfaces, a product lifetime might be mercilessly tied to something that gets superseded in a few short years, leaving people with still usable tools with suddenly limited functionality. Apple is notorious for locking down the Bluetooth interfaces on their iThings compared to Android, leaving wifi as the only sensible interoperable interface, but that has it’s own limitations when trying to be used in standalone situations. The Fluke Connect stuff doesn’t specify their interface.
Previously, Fluke used ZigBee protocols. Now, Bluetooth and WiFi.
From what I’ve told, Fluke has been working on this for a very long time, and I believe they have a roadmap in place to cover all possible market directions.
The comparison between Agilent’s BenchVue system and Fluke’s Connect apps isn’t exactly apples-to-oranges. The desktop-based software, which requires hard-wire connection between instruments and PCs, is great for readout, datalogging, and instrument control. But the mobile version of BenchVue is primarily meant as an extension of the Desktop version. I have had a few issues using the mobile BenchVue app to control an instrument in the same room. I keep running into occasional instrument connection disruptions, and this seems to stem from the mobile BenchVue app. I cannot tell if it’s due to the software, the WiFi connection (the access point is in the same room), or something that I’m doing or not doing.
Fluke and Agilent’s plans aren’t mutually exclusive, with Fluke focusing on handheld testing tools and Agilent focusing on benchtop ones. I don’t see the two crossing paths anytime soon, even if Fluke’s sister company Tektronix gets into the mix.
Regarding iPhone and Android devices, it seems that the Fluke development team focused on the latest 3 generations of iPhones and popular Android models from the last year or so. That the Android version might require Android 4.4 could limit the number of devices that the app works on, but I don’t think this will be a big detractor in the long run.
My BenchVue setup (currently running just a E3644A power supply, a Nat’l Instruments PCI GPIB (internal) card on a dual processor HP xw8400 workstation PC) seems to have its own connectivity issues somewhere between the instrument and the PC. I have to exit the program and restart, it often gets lost after the log period has ended. It could be between the card and the instrument, or the PC and the card, it is not obvious either way. It might even be the VISA environment acting up too. I use the NI VISA primary, the Agilent can be loaded instead. As long as the equipment on the bench is working properly, the app in my iThing works fine. It’s basically a simplified version of the desktop interface, and it works remarkably well given the tiny form factor. When BenchVue grows up a bit (hopefully) and can be configured for longer logging periods, being able to peek in on progress from the general vicinity will be a feature too convenient not to use.
I plan on picking up the Fluke interface when it becomes available and more information comes to light on what sort of devices it can run on. If indeed this uses a subset of wifi, I would hope it can eventually be turned into a wireless version of the LAN interfaces on bench instruments. Part of me has “legitimate” uses for this stuff, but the inner geek wants just to experiment.
I find it particularly hopeful that there could be desktop adapters and software as well as browser-based apps that connect through the Fluke Cloud infrastructure, minimizing the reliance on a local network to connect multiple devices. Will have to see.
These types of apps would be a boon to me for those times I am chasing down intermittents and other tough problems and don’t want to sit there staring at displays on the bench or in the garage. I have a logging multimeter, but that requires me to go through the logs to find the time and the fault if it even happened. I would write little programs that would note when a parameter fell out of spec and when, this is a step closer. To have it forwarded to my smartphone when it happens is the natural extension of all this.
The Fluke 3000 FC has a maximum ac/dc current rating of 0.4A whereas many other multimeters seem to have a max rating of 10A.
Why is there such a difference with this multimeter and should it put me off buying it for use as a general purpose tool?