Keysight Technologies at the Museum Site

Article by Tony Bell

No doubt some members have seen the unusual looking shipping container with Keysight Calibration Laboratory written on the side. The container has been in the south-east corner of the Museum precinct, next to the toilet block.

First of all, what is a calibration laboratory/facility/centre? I can recall many years ago when buying petrol, a person at a nearby petrol bowser carefully filling a strange looking conical container with a spout and handle to a prescribed level. He was from ‘weights and measures’ and checking the accuracy of the bowser. Similarly I can recall a person weighing some blocks of steel at a supermarket. The blocks of steel kept in a felt lined wooden box were obviously very accurate weights and he was checking the accuracy of the supermarket scales. With electronic test equipment, it may also be necessary for it to be calibrated, particularly if the test equipment is being used to test or calibrate critical equipment. Electronic test and measuring equipment is generally calibrated annually.

When I retired 9 years ago, most of the larger organisations using electronic test equipment, such as the R.A.A.F. and BAe Systems, had closed their internal calibration centres and outsourced the calibration. The Army actually had a calibration facility built in to a standard equipment shelter mounted on a F1 Mk 5 truck. This truck moved from base to base, calibrating equipment. When I retired, the R.A.A.F. facility at Edinburgh had closed and my wide range of test equipment was either out-sourced by the unit or I outsourced the more specialised equipment to the original equipment manufacturer (o.e.m.) or the Australian agent.

So who are Keysight Technologies? In 1938 two friends, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard formed a company, Hewlett Packard (the order determined by the toss of a coin), which soon gained a reputation of producing high performance test and measuring equipment. In the 1960s, HP, as the company became known as, began to divest its interests, particularly in to the digital world, producing some of the earliest small computers and scientific calculators. I can recall buying a HP 35, the world’s first scientific calculator, in about 1973 for about $270, its price had just fallen from about $470 on the release of the HP 45 at the latter release price. The rapidly growing computer industry was run side by side with the electronic test and measurement division. In 1999 HP “spins off” Agilent Technologies, consisting of HP’s former test and measurement and medical divisions. In 2013 Agilent Technologies “spins off” Keysight Technologies consisting of Agilent’s former test and measurement business.

What is the container? Agilent, as a major supplier of test and measurement equipment had a responsibility to provide a prompt calibration service in Australia for its customers due to the risk of maintaining calibration of test equipment when transporting the equipment over long distances. In Australia, Agilent developed a portable laboratory in a rather cleverly modified shipping container and visiting all of the mainland capital cities annually. The container is moved by one of the larger transport companies. Two crews operate the facility, alternating at roughly monthly intervals. The sign writing was changed to Keysight after 2013.

So what has this to do with the M.V.P.S. or Museum? When Agilent/Keysight has come to Adelaide they have found that the site that they used in the previous year has become unavailable for one reason or another. Phu, my technical officer in the R.A.A.F., knowing of my association with the N.M.V.M. suggested to my successor, Paul, that the Museum would be an ideal site, particularly considering that the R.A.A.F. and BAe Systems are two of Keysight’s larger customers, Paul contacted me with Peter, the Keysight facility manager’s , contact details. I presented the idea to both Peter and the Committee, and the rest is history. Due to severe damage to the facility in Perth, this year’s schedule is somewhat unusual in that the Laboratory will be here for two separate periods, 13th to the 23rd of June and the 31st of July to 11th of August. The facility is required in Melbourne in July. Next year Peter anticipates that the Laboratory will be in Adelaide continuously for some 5 weeks in the June to August time frame.

What is the benefit to the Society and Museum? Keysight offered a rent rate that the Society could not, and did not have any reason to refuse. It certainly helps with the mortgage. The benefit to Keysight is that they do not have to seek out a new site with suitable facilities every year and their customers will soon get to know where the site is, if they do not already know. So it is a case of both parties winning. An extra lock will be placed on the gate for their and their customers’ access. Peter intends keeping the gate locked when there are no M.V.P.S. personnel present.

What about the future? Peter can envisage still being at the N.M.V. M. in 20 years.

And the fringe benefit? Peter is an ex-R.A.E.M.E. calibration technician and commented on social media to former colleagues about the signals collection. We are likely to get some 50 more visitors through the door.