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Thread: New Tool!!! Hawkins 600A B.L.T. Battery tester.

  1. #1
    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    New Tool!!! Hawkins 600A B.L.T. Battery tester.

    Hawkins 600A B.L.T. Battery tester.

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    I'm always excited to buy new tools but I was particularly excited with this one because it's locally made (Durban).

    As it says on the tin, it's a 600Amp battery tester that puts a variable, selectable load on a battery and tests the voltage it maintains under the load. It can test 6 volt and 12 volt batteries and it's very useful for anyone who works on deep-cycle lead acid battery powered back-up inverters/UPS's or even automotive batteries.

    It's a crude but fairly effective way of testing the charge a battery can hold and deliver under an electrical load. It uses a large, low value resistor to introduce a high load across the battery which causes several hundred Amps to flow for a short time. During this time the voltage is monitored and the rate and amount the voltage falls indicates the health of the battery.

    There's a number of good reasons the test is kept to a short duration, namely when there's a circuit with 600 Amps flowing, which is ten times the current a household DB is capable of, things get hot very quickly. It's running the battery very briefly beyond its normal duty and can cause internal damage to the battery if it continues too long... not to mention the battery may start emitting acid in vapour or liquid form and other dangerous gasses. The internal resistor in the tester effectively will be a 7.2kW heater during the test of a 12 volt battery at 600 Amps. It's going to get hot and very quickly.

    As testers go this thing is a real grunt. I don't mean that in a bad way as such, it's just a hand operated, analogue tester with no frills and no built in intelligence. That said I'd also warn there's also no built in safety either; there's no protection to prevent damage from reverse connecting, no protection to prevent damage due to excessive test time or over-enthusiastic test currents, no internal or external fuses etc so it's only suitable for use by a trained person with appropriate PPE and unfortunately no warnings are given about this.

    The only info I received with mine was on the foil sticker on the front of the tester. There was no instruction or user manual included although I managed to download the basic instructions (same as the instructions on the sticker) from the manufacturers website. It just arrived in a plain brown cardboard box with no branding whatsoever and no internal baffling or cushioning to prevent transit damage which was also a bit disappointing.

    Combine all of the above with a slightly skew 12V/6V sticker and a casing screw that was obviously protruding and not tight ......overall first impressions weren't great but it was all small things that could have been much improved by some minor attention to detail.
    Last edited by AndyD; 30-Mar-19 at 05:28 PM.
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  2. #2
    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    The battery clamps and the leads are very high quality.

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    The clamps are a decent size, they're made of solid material and won't bend or distort. The spring tension is very convincing and also they have copper teeth inserts which is important when they have to make good enough contact to handle 600Amps. They have a bolted lug to connect the cable and even the plastic hand grips are nice. Some strain relief for the cables (wires) would have been the cherry on top but as long as the plastic hand grips remain in place the wires can't bend at acute angles to the lugs so it's not essential so no deal breaker.

    The cables are high quality 35mm² stranded and very suitable for the application but one thing I would have preferred to see is strain relief for the cables where they enter the tester. The positive cable is bolted to a solid shunt which looks strong enough not to be damaged if the cable is pulled. The negative cable however is terminated directly on the end plate of the carbon pile resistor. This end plate could be bent if the cable is strained and could even cause resistor damage in an extreme case.

    You can see the negative wire bolted to the resistor brass end plate in this photo.

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    Each battery clamp has a separate thin wire running to it as well as the thick 35mm². The other end of these wires go directly to the voltmeter on the front of the tester. I like this a lot, it gives much better accuracy for the voltage reading and this accuracy is exactly where it's needed. It's an elegant touch that indicates care in the design.
    Last edited by AndyD; 30-Mar-19 at 05:31 PM.
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  3. #3
    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    The general build quality of the enclosure and internal chassis is great. The enclosure is thick steel sheet that won't bend or distort even if/when some idiot inevitably uses it as a step ladder on site. It's nicely manufactured, finished and powder coated and the handle is solid and well fixed. The only problem I found is that the holes for the cover screws were all slightly oversized.... either that or the screws themselves were undersized. Either way the cover screws don't tighten properly, they just perpetually spin even under very low tightening torque.

    The beauty of this tester is it's simplicity, there's only a handful of components and nothing really to go wrong if it's used as intended. Inside the tester is basically just a shunt and a resistor.

    The shunt is just a very low resistance that means the full test current doesn't flow the the analogue Ammeter. Usually shunts are precisely manufactured and calibrated things that cost a fortune but in this particular application it doesn't need to be accurate because it's on the current measuring circuit, not the Volt measuring side. With this type of test it doesn't need any degree of accuracy with the current being drawn, even a 10% discrepency will have very little effect on the outcome of the test. The designer was obviously aware of this and shrewdly didn't add unnecessarily to the manufacture cost by specifying a high tolerance device where it's not needed.

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    The brass bolt or threaded rod does the job admirably I'm sure and would even allow for some calibration adjustment by moving the nuts. The right angled brackets that hold the shunt are slightly bent and I'm guessing this was intentional and done during final calibration.

    The resistor is equally interesting, it's what's known as a carbon pile rheostat or at least that's what it was called 40 years ago when I last encountered one. It's basically a stack of carbon blocks with a connection at each end and some kind of mechanical way of compressing them together. The tighter you squish them together the better contact they make with each other therefore the lower the resistance gets.

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    Because of the high currents involved they've actually doubled up and used two piles of carbon blocks back to back in parallel so it's actually two carbon pile resistors that act together as one component. The carbon blocks are slightly dog-eared but this resistor is a psychopathic thug compared to most resistors and a few chipped corners isn't going to bother it in the slightest.

    Compressing the carbon piles is achieved by turning the steam-punk looking handle on the right hand side of the tester until the correct test current is achieved. The handle is pretty big and beefy, maybe a little too big and beefy. Only a small amount of compression on the carbon piles gives a surprisingly large amount of current increase and it will be very easy to overshoot the desired test current and possibly even crack/crush the carbon blocks if you're a bit heavy handed whilst winding the handle. It might have been a more idiot-proof design and less prone to unintentional damage if there was a spring incorporated somewhere in the adjuster to dampen the compression force and make it less likely for over tightening to occur.

    Big currents go hand in hand with big heat and when you're running 600A through any resistor it's going to get hot. This means heat management and mitigating the effects of the heat would play a big part in the design of any tester like this. Containing the heat in zones where it's appropriate and managing it quickly by conduction sinking it into a larger area and getting rid of it efficiently by good ventilation are essential. Both aspects are well covered here by a combination of a thick metal mounting chassis around the resistor, heat shield/deflector above the resistor and a massive amount of louvred ventilation on every surface except one on the outer case.

    Last but not least there's two moving coil analogue meters on the front of the tester, one to indicate the current being drawn from the battery and one to indicate the voltage it's giving at that current. They're a nice size, they look sturdily made and they're marked nicely with informative scales. There's no anti-parallax mirrors on them but to be honest that level of accuracy really isn't necessary given the physical size of the scales. It looks like you might be able to replace the clear plastic covers on the two meters and I'm not sure if they sell them as separate spares but this tester is for use in a heavy industrial type environment so it would have been nice to have a mesh guard for bash and bump protection.

    Interestingly there's a small PCB on the back of the Voltmeter that has two resistors on it to allow a 6 Volt supply and 12 Volt supply, selectable by a switch to the same meter. There's also a couple of trim pots that would allow some calibration to be performed. I'm not sure if the manufacturer offers a calibration service or not, their website is a bit thin on details but it would be a big plus if they did.

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    I almost forgot the selector toggle switch, it's there to select the voltage of the battery being tested. Not much to say, it's a standard toggle switch that feels like it's good quality and easily replaceable should the need arise.
    Last edited by AndyD; 01-Apr-19 at 12:25 PM.
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  4. #4
    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    Okay, well the testing was good news and bad news. It was good news for the tester but alas it was bad news for the 10x Trojan T105 batteries I used as guinea pigs.

    The tester states on the front that batteries being tested must be fully charged and the specific gravity of their acid must be at least 1.225. This instruction alone is a little confusing because fully charged would usually give a sg reading of 1.26 and a sg reading of 1.22 would usually indicate a battery that's around 3/4 charged so I guess they're suggesting the battery must be between 75% and 100% charged for the test to be accurate.

    First thing I did was to check the acid levels in all the batteries and top up those that needed it. Next I numbered the batteries and checked the SG. All the batteries are were taken directly off back-up inverters over the last few months and they were supposedly fully charged when they were removed but they all failed the SG test miserably so I charged the batteries using my Optimate charger which is only a 6 Amp charger and took around 12 hours to complete its charge cycle. Next I retested the SG and recorded it......the readings were better than the first time but all the batteries failed to reach 1.22 so it was already a forgone conclusion that they were all problematic.

    The batteries are rated at 225Ah so the recommended test current would be 3 times that (675 Amps) but the Hawkins tester is only rated to 600 Amps but that's close enough and there's nothing to stop you exceeding this current a little if you want to. The plan was to give the tester a decent run for its money by lining up all 10 batteries and performing ten 600Amp tests at a rate of 2 tests per minute or quicker if possibly. Realistically speaking it would be unlikely the tester would ever be pushed harder than this; 30 seconds per test is damn good going when the test itself takes a few seconds to set the test current with the winding handle, then a further 15 seconds to do the test, a further few seconds to record the results and maybe another 10-15 seconds to move the clamps across to the next battery.

    I managed to perform all 10 tests in 5 minutes but the bad news was that none of the batteries were able to deliver 600Amps, the current they could deliver ranged between 215 Amps and 470 Amps which was a bit disappointing. The tester operated well, it was easy to do the test and I didn't find any problems. Both the leads and the clamps got pretty warm to touch but not hot enough to be a problem and the temperatures inside the tester also remained sensible, within the couple of minutes it took me to remove the cover everything was cool enough to touch.
    Last edited by AndyD; 06-Apr-19 at 08:17 PM.
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  6. #5
    Gold Member Sparks's Avatar
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    Made in SA or New SA or India and re-labelled SA? Of more concern is the SANS approval for sale. It does not meet requirements far as I can tell. No warnings? No instructions? No safety devices? More likely zim import re-labelled.

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    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    Hi Sparks, the Hawkins dot coza website redirects to digisec who seem to be their sales agents.

    From the Digisec website;

    Hawkins battery chargers are the leading brand in South Africa. Since Hawkins developed the 36/10 dual charger in 1961 Hawkins battery chargers covers a wide range of applications in the, domestic, leisure, professional and industrial battery charger suitable to every industry’s needs.

    The Hawkins battery charger brand is synonymous with quality, reliability, ruggedness, robustness and serviceability. Stringent quality processes ensure that products meet demanding industrial standards and specifications.

    Hawkins battery chargers offers a 2-year warranty and a Standard Repair Cost per product if it is less than 10 years old. Simply call our service department or e-mail: service@hawkins.co.za for the standard repair cost that applies to your product.
    I think Hawkins are the manufacturers... I ran a search for similarly spec battery testers and I couldn't find anything that suggests that it's a re-badged Indian or Far East product.

    SANS approval I can't comment on, there's no info regarding that on their website and no SANS sticker on the tester itself. I'm not sure if fusing is really necessary, I guess something could go with a bang if it was connected to a large enough 24v battery by accident but looking at similar battery testers on the market, including one that's made in the USA, there's no fuses in those either.

    In conclusion to the review;

    As a customer I'd like to see some PPE warnings on it and maybe some thermal protection. The batteries I tested were all badly deteriorated but I can imagine it would have got a whole lot warmer if I'd tested ten new batteries in the same time frame.

    The lack of glandng and strain relief where the leads enter the body of the tester is something I'm sorely disappointed and somewhat concerned about and I'm actually going to retrofit mine with glands.

    In a nutshell it's a tester that's generally well made from good quality components. I'm sure it's going to work well for me and give me good service, I just wish there was better attention to details such as loose casing screws, lack of glands and better documentation and I see the lack of branding and packaging it arrived with as a great shame and a missed opportunity on behalf of the manufacturer. Those quibbles aside I'll probably be buying a second one so I have one for mobile in the field and one in the workshop.
    Last edited by AndyD; 06-Apr-19 at 09:01 PM.
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    Sparks (07-Apr-19)

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    I give hawkins a thumbs up...bought an auto pro 10 battery charger from them back in 2004... for charging my boat 105 amp/hr deep cycle batteries ...i got 5 years out of my batteries. The charger is still going strong.

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