Following the launch of its LanTEK IV cable certifier, IDEAL Networks shares its research into the challenges and demands that end users really face. Global Product Manager Dan Barrera explains.
Over the past two years, the team at IDEAL Networks has conducted extensive research with cable installation companies in the US and Europe, observing how they work when certifying cable installations and conducting more than 60 hours of in-depth interviews to delve into the specific challenges they face when using their certifiers.
Extensive research with cable installation companies in the US and Europe has been conducted by IDEAL Networks, observing how they work when certifying cable installations. In this article, we will look at some of our key findings around cable certifier usage trends.
Top line takeaways
A core part of the research investigated what cable installers consider the most critical when choosing a certifier. It identified that durability is the factor that the market deemed most important by far, followed by the ability to set up tests simply, and having an accurate and easy to use fault finder.
How the current available certification solutions performed against the customer outcomes identified was also measured. To do this, the devices on the market with the most common test methods requested by customers were tested. In each scenario, the tester’s performance was benchmarked against the customers’ average expectation.
Investigations also looked at which areas users felt performed worst regarding the capabilities of cable certifiers and found there were several areas with potentially concerning market satisfaction gaps, with the largest concerning labelling, results transfer and management software.
This was closely followed by fault finding– a potential worry for manufacturers as this was picked out as one of the most critical elements of a cable certifier to users. The industry’s requirements around fault finding were expanded on as part of IDEAL Networks’ more in-depth product investigations.
Minimise fault finding time and improve accuracy
Good cable installations tested with a correctly configured tester should not have many faults. However, when faults do occur, it is important that they are fixed quickly.
Installers simply do not have time to spend reviewing measurements on the certifier to understand, and then fix, the failure – they do not want complexity in this area. Instead, they are demanding products which show the type of fault, what has caused it and most importantly where along the cable they need to go to fix it.
Simple test setup
A need for simplicity was also expressed when it comes to setup in order to test the installation. During research, it was found that technicians may make hundreds of inputs on average for setup. This includes typing the address and labels, selecting standards, moving between functions and configurations.
This always happens at the end of the project when the pressure is on and there is simply no time to absorb delays. Complex certifier setup can take a lot of time, as well as leading to mistakes – many standards are similar so in a rushed situation, it can be easy to choose the wrong one.
Incorrect setup can also lead to failed links which cause engineers to spend time fixing issues by re-terminating or pulling a new cable in the hope it will pass and resolve the problem, even though the problem will persist. On some occasions, installers may also encounter problems from mistakenly selecting a lower standard, like Cat 5e rather than Cat 6A. While the installation will test without problems, when the results are submitted for warranty, they will not be eligible.
Misconfiguration leads to project delays affecting cashflow and retesting reduces margins with unforeseen labour costs. Therefore, installers are keen to have access to products which make setting up the tester as simple as possible and consider the way that engineers work, not just the standards they are testing to.
Make data entry effortless
Cable installers on site need to be able to accurately record the links tested using the correct naming convention to properly detail location. The most significant improvement that customers wanted, was a reduction in the time spent correcting errors and adding in missing details before submission for warranty for the customer.
Users want ways to automate this process, and to have more ways to collaborate among teams. Especially for large and complex projects, installers feel that their options are limited.
Simplify results transfer
At the end of the project, installers want to get the results off the tester and back to the office or Project Manager quickly. The faster they do this, the sooner they can submit the finished project and get paid. However, this can be time consuming.
Often remote engineers are required to download results to a laptop via a USB stick or cable and then email the results back to the office. Their laptop is in the van, not the tool bag so this process does not mesh well with their standard working day. Other engineers downloaded the results when they return to the office once a week, sometimes less. Either approach wastes time and can cause a bottleneck at the end of the week where Project Managers have multiple projects to process.
Cable installers told us that the process of transferring results from their cable certifier leads to delays, and in some cases lost results. The most common feedback from engineers was that they want to be able to ‘press one button’ to send the results back to the office to the job site. As tester manufacturers, this need should guide the development of our cable certifiers.
Improve management software
The right management software helps minimise the time required to organise reports for customers, helping to ensure payment can be invoiced more quickly. However, research showed that satisfaction in this area was low.
Project Managers typically explained that they must follow a structured formatting and quality checking process when creating reports. Often the data they receive from the certifier requires a significant amount of time. This process assures customer acceptance, warranty approval and quality, which in turn reduces call backs.
The challenge when developing improved cable certifiers and the related management software is to reduce the labour involved, without compromising the objective the process is designed for.
More efficient port labelling
Without accurate labelling, installers are handing over an installation that will be difficult and time consuming for the owner to manage and resolving mislabelling issues takes up a huge amount of time.
It is also vital that the completed test report ID’s match the installed links on site whether the labels are printed beforehand or while on site. Issues occur because the cable list is input to the tester and then into the printer as well. This double handling can lead to mistakes and mismatches.
As the area of cable certification with the largest market satisfaction gap, labelling is a clearly a very important area to get right with cable certifiers.
Decrease lifetime cost of ownership
A unanimous recurring theme was that test equipment is a big investment for cable installers and can put pressure on their business. Many tales are heard of of installers making bad equipment choices which meant they did not have the equipment needed to win work or enter an adjacent market segment, the result of which was needing to purchase yet more costly equipment. The investment required in some cases significantly impacted the company’s ability to grow.
Cable installers also need to know that the certifiers they buy will be supported long enough for them to get a return on their investment, and that they are designed to meet the testing needs of the future.
Reduced calibration and service downtime
Due to the relatively high unit cost, many cable installation businesses are running operations with far fewer certifiers in their fleet than would be ideal and without carrying spares. If testers require calibration or service they require time out of the business, and this needs to be carefully managed.
In our research, installers told us that this could result in downtime onsite and complexities in managing completion dates to fit in with resources. If calibration dates are missed, sites can inadvertently be tested by equipment out of calibration which will mean warranties are denied, certification needs to be repeated, and profitability is reduced. Installers are keen for manufacturers to support them in keeping calibration and service downtime to a minimum.
Cable installers work in an industry which is constantly evolving. As such, what they really need is access to cable certifiers and test equipment that can change with them and address their biggest day to day challenges.