We have a saying in Greece, which I will try to translate into English:
The outfit doesn’t make someone a priest.
This means that even if you wear a priest’s clothes, you won’t get to be one! In my subject, electronics, and laboratory environment, this translates: whatever equipment you might get, this won’t make you the best or even a decent tester.
Indeed testing equipment isn’t as complicated as it used to be, for the easy procedures, at least, but if you don’t grasp the basic concepts is like driving a Ferrari without having the credentials even to drive a Fiat Panda. In any case, today’s article won’t be about how much someone can spend on equipment alone and boast that he is the best, but it will dive deeper, showing that having more than the necessary equipment is bad! Yes! You read well, having more equipment does more harm than good, and I will explain in the following paragraphs why.
For those of you that probably haven’t heard my nickname (crmaris) before, besides writing reviews at Tom’s Hardware, TechPowerUp, and my own page and YT channels, I am also the chief testing engineer at Cybenetics, a testing, and certifications agency with huge ambitions. Cybenetics owns a professional lab, so it has to follow some strict guidelines. For starters, we have been preparing for quite some time now for the ISO 17025 certification, and later we will take a shot at the ISO 17065, which is on a top-level.
For every respected lab, an ISO 17025 accreditation is the ultimate goal because it proves that it has an effective quality management system in place, and it also has the ability and competence to provide accurate testing and calibration results if it also enrolls in calibration procedures.
Lately, I have been watching a race between some significant players in the YouTube field on who will buy and put in operation some expensive pieces of equipment. Still, these machines won’t be fully exploited without a proper quality management system and the corresponding procedures. To make matters even worse, every piece of equipment in your lab, besides the proper guidelines on how to use it according to your unique system, which fits your needs, also requires something else, certification and, according to the results, calibration.
To put it simply, the difference between certification and calibration is that the first checks if your equipment is within some acceptable ranges in terms of the readings that it delivers, and the calibration part is when you try to bring the equipment within its acceptable reading ranges, in case it is way off.
And here comes the best part, the more equipment you have in your lab, the more the cost for certification and possibly calibration. If you have an ISO 17025, all of your equipment, the one used in the lab, must be certified and have the corresponding label, or else the lab won’t meet the ISO’s 17025 requirements! According to the equipment, you have to certify or even calibrate it after a specific period, usually 12 months. Needless to say here that the certification cost is not low. The cost for the certification of a handheld multimeter can be $200, while the certification cost for a full Chroma station can go up to $5000; Cybenetics has three Chroma stations, and we have already ordered another three! As you can imagine, the certification and calibration cost per year can climb up to 30-40K dollars easily if you have a ton of equipment in your lab, and on top of that, you also need to renew the ISO 17025 every year, which can be another 10K. This is why you don’t keep in the lab equipment you do not use because even if you don’t use it, it still needs calibration!
Let’s say you spent top dollar to get a full Chroma station and have been using it for more than a year without calibration. You simply cannot trust the results it will provide from a point forward, rendering it completely useless! I still remember a talk I had during a previous Computex show when this show was a thing, and people attended it physically and not through the web, and a guy owing a large review lab somewhere in Europe was bragging to me about the amount and the cost of equipment he has, in his lab. Once I asked him how often he calibrates this stuff, he simply moved to another table, obviously irritated because I was rude enough to ask him things like that, for which he had no answer. From his expression, I got my answer, he never bothered with certification and calibration processes, and probably this was the first time someone told him about that!
Cybenetics decided to invest in a top multi-calibrator to solve the certification problem, but this is a topic for another article. What I want you to remember from all above is that the next time you read a review or you hear someone boasting about their super expensive equipment, just take a big breath and wonder the following:
- Does he/she has the background to use it?
- Is the equipment certified and/or properly calibrated to deliver accurate results?
The replies to the questions above will reveal to you the complete picture. Also, keep in mind that there is a big difference between a reviewer’s lab and a pro-grade lab. Money alone cannot get you up to that level. You need highly trained staff and to strictly follow procedures. In Cybenetics, part of my job is to supervise the work that the engineers do, collect data at random and check it, re-check some specific products after some time to verify results with older ones, and also provide constant training. Each personnel member has to choose a subject related to what they do, write a presentation and present it to the crew. There are also frequent evaluation reports for every one of us, which are conducted through checking their performance in the field and/or through tests, like the ones we had in school. Having a lab operating according to the strict ISO 17025 is not easy, but it is the only way to keep its performance and accuracy at the highest possible levels.