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Profitable PAT

Portable appliance testing is potentially a good source of income for electrical contractors, says Simon Wood of Megger. But as he explains, if you’re going to be successful, you have to get it right.

Portable appliance testing is potentially a good source of income for electrical contractors, says Simon Wood of Megger

So why is PAT testing a good business opportunity? The answer is that there are more than 4.5 million businesses in the UK, most of which have employees. And any business with employees has a potential requirement for PAT testing. However, let’s be clear, no one is compelled by law to have equipment PAT tested. So why are they going to bother?

The reason is that the Electricity at Work Regulations, along with various other regulations, legally requires electrical equipment to be checked at regular intervals. This doesn’t have to mean PAT testing, but if an employer decides on some other approach, they will need to be able to show in court, if called upon to do so, that this approach is at least as good as PAT testing. In short, businesses don’t have to have their equipment PAT tested, but they are well advised to do so.

There are clearly plenty of potential customers for PAT testing, but before a contractor can offer PAT testing services, there’s an important formality to be taken care of. PAT testing has to be carried out by competent people and specific qualifications are therefore desirable.

Next, it’s important to realise that PAT testing is a very competitive business and in order to make money from offering PAT testing services, it’s essential to work efficiently. And that means choosing the right test equipment. In theory, it’s possible to carry out PAT testing with basic instruments but in practice, testing this way is far too slow. A dedicated PAT tester is essential, and even then, care must be taken to choose the best instrument, as PAT testers are most certainly not all created equal.

In fairness, most PAT testers will meet the minimum requirements for testing most types of assets, but where they really differ is in how easy and convenient they are to use. These are important factors as generating good profits from PAT testing means carrying out a lot of tests and carrying them out quickly. Despite the need for speed, however, the results must be dependable and they must be properly recorded.

The first decision is whether to choose a PAT tester that can store test results internally for later downloading. These instruments are a little more expensive, but the extra outlay will quickly be recovered by the time saved if a lot of testing is carried out. Nevertheless, an instrument without storage can be a perfectly satisfactory starting point for those who offer services mostly to smaller clients.

Irrespective of the type of tester, it should be quick and easy to use. Units that offer automated testing with user-defined pass/fail limits are very convenient as these reduce testing time to an absolute minimum for standard assets. It is important, however, that the tester also allows manual operation, as this will almost certainly be needed to deal with the occasional not-so-standard asset.

When considering speed of operation, one factor that it is easy to forget is start-up time. Most testers take a few tens of seconds to start-up when they are first switched on. This isn’t a problem when testing is carried out at a single location and the tester is left on all day. Often, however, assets are distributed around a site, and the tester will have to be switched off and on again every time it is moved between locations. In these circumstances, the start-up delay quickly becomes annoying and also adds significantly to the overall testing time.

For this reason, some testers have a built-in back-up battery. This keeps the instrument ‘ticking over’ for five minutes or so after it has been switched off so that it is ready for use almost instantly if it is switched on again within this time.

For assets needing high current bond testing, there’s another issue that affects testing time. This is the ability of the tester to operate continuously at high currents. Many types, when used to carry out several high current tests in succession, shut themselves down to prevent overheating. The user then has to wait for the tester to cool before testing can be resumed. A tester that’s continuously rated is, therefore, a distinct advantage.

When PAT testing services are provided, records must be kept. It’s possible to compile these records manually, but it is time-consuming tedious work. It’s much better to keep the records on a computer and specialist software packages are available for this. The best of these incorporate ‘wizards’ that make them easy to set-up, and they also support downloading of results directly from compatible instruments.

Like almost every other way of earning a living, PAT testing requires dedication and effort. And there can be no doubt that the potential for profit is out there.

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