Introduction to the 2000-Series Oscilloscopes

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Tektronix 2213 (1981)

History of low-cost instruments at Tektronix

The predecessor: T912, an early low-cost model

Until their acquisition of Telequipment (TQ as Tek abbreviated it), Tektronix was a company that strictly developed and sold high-end laboratory oscilloscopes and equipment. The TQ instruments immediately gave Tek a line of low-cost oscilloscopes that were primarily targeted at the television service industry, as one of the standard features of TQ was television line and frame triggering. But this was a temporary fix to fill in the low end of the product line. The T900-series was developed and marketed in the mid-1970s. This was the first time that Tektronix advertising appeared in electronics hobbyists magazines such as Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics rather than just the professional engineering magazines.

With their entry into the low-end market, the Japanese manufacturers began to take notice and increased their penetration into the same market with models that offered fair performance and a decent price. And the imports were beginning to take a large market share away from Tektronix and from Hewlett-Packard who had also developed a lower-cost line of oscilloscopes.

Asian competition

Tektronix management knew from history that the Japanese used the consistent business example of beginning at the low end of a product line, gradually working its way up the lines until they were manufacturing was in direct competition with the highest product lines on the market. They had historically done this with cameras and optics, cars, trucks, motorcycles, televisions, calculators, watches, stereo equipment, communications equipment. Their first products were considered “junk” (e.g. Soundesign) by American consumers, but after several years, the Japanese were offering the desirable products (e.g. Sansui). Tektronix management saw the beginning of their move into the oscilloscope market and wanted to do something to counter it, knowing that after the Japanese took hold, then products from Taiwan, and South Korea would follow in the same pattern. And today, the Chinese would be part of that progression.

Tektronix attempted to form a consortium of U.S. manufacturers with the intent of working together to counter the Asian threat. Hewlett-Packard declined that cooperative effort as being too risky as did the others, leaving Tektronix to work out the problem on their own.

Researching all of the available Japanese oscilloscopes, Tektronix decided to combat this “invasion” by developing a new low-cost oscilloscope design that was still reliable, had that Tek “look and feel” and remained a high performance instrument. The Japanese offerings were a rat's nest of wiring and cable harnesses and connectors. They were very labor-intensive to construct. After intensive analysis, the 2200-series was born using manufacturing processes that Tek had never before used.

Cost-saving measures

As a cost-saving measure, the entire instrument was manufactured on one large printed circuit board (PCB). The vertical attenuator board was snapped out of one corner and mounted above the main board. The front panel board had been “scored” and wired with jumpers over the score so that it could be snapped and flipped up ninety degrees to form the board for the front panel potentiometers and switches. The entire board was assembled using automated equipment and then wave-soldered. A minimum of human hand work was used to cut down on labor costs.

Tek then began using Torx hardware rather than their usual Pozidriv cross-point hardware for better torque and less cam-out of the fasteners. A minimum chassis design was created and a new high-efficiency power supply design was used to cut down on weight and cost and improve efficiency. Tek used essentially the same cathode ray tube (CRT) that they had always been using in their portable products, keeping the quality high. The front panel was a plastic laminate that would keep the lettering and markings from damage. The die-cast front and rear castings were gone, replaced by stamped sheet metal and plastic moldings. The metal inserts and setscrews were eliminated from most knobs, making them of the push-on variety. As many connectors as possible were eliminated as well as all sockets for semiconductors. Only about four or five connectors remained, and that included the power cord, post deflection anode and CRT socket, three of the most reliable connectors in an oscilloscope. Gone were any cable harnesses.

Introducing the 2000 series

The 2213 and 2215 along with a few higher-end models were offered for the first time in the 1982 catalog. Technicians and sales personnel were gathered in district meetings to educate them on the product. These two low-end models were being sold for less than their Japanese counterparts. That year, the Japanese cut the retail price of all their oscilloscopes, many of which were being sold for less than their manufacturing costs. They knew that they had to get rid of their current production any way they could and begin their own redesign program to counter this new offering from Tektronix. Tektronix learned a lot from that. Now, the company focuses on new technology for the low end as well as the high.


Did the 2213 and 2215 fix the problem? Yes and no. It didn't thwart the Japanese. They came back with a vengeance and were able to do what they always had done with a product. Digital oscilloscopes such as the TDS220 designed for the low end of the market still pack a lot of performance. Tek learned to manufacture products more economically. They increased reliability and cut those manufacturing costs because of it. When one thinks about it, technology changes so quickly that equipment cannot be made expensively as it had been in the 1960s and 1970s, for it will only be replaced in a few years because new technology will demand it. Much of technology such as computers and consumer equipment have become "throw-away" items rather than repairable items. Repair costs are high, often higher than the purchase of a new item. Besides, the technology will have changed so much that the old item had only a short time to remain compatible with the technology around it while the new item embraced all of the new technology that had been developed. Test and measurement equipment isn't to that point yet ..... but it isn't far away for some products.

Such is the “game” of worldwide competition.