Fluke Corp. President Jason Waxman at the Everett offices on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fluke Corp. President Jason Waxman at the Everett offices on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

By every measure, Everett tech powerhouse Fluke celebrates 75 years

From meat thermometers to infrared cameras at Yellowstone National Park, the science of measurement underpins Fluke products.

EVERETT — You might think of Fluke Corp. as a company that designs electronic testing tools and trouble-shooting devices.

But the Everett-based firm is really a metrology company, according to Jeff Gust, the company’s chief metrologist.

Metrology is the science of measurement, and it’s been around since before the Egyptian pyramids.

“It’s the science that underpins most other technologies,” Gust said. “You really can’t advance any technology unless you understand the measurements behind that technology.”

Founded in 1948 by John M. Fluke Sr., a Tacoma native, the company is celebrating 75 years in business this year. Today, Fluke is a subsidiary of Fortive, a Fortune 500 company that opened its global corporate headquarters in Everett in 2016. It is the only Fortune 500 firm based in Snohomish County.

Last year, Fortive had annual revenue of $5.82 billion.

Located north of the Everett Boeing plant at 6920 Seaway Blvd., Fluke and Fortive share a verdant campus shaded by Douglas firs and dotted with rhododendrons.

Fluke tools can measure temperature, gauge energy output and pinpoint the faint hiss of an air or gas leak in a noisy factory. The sound shows up as a color image on a computer screen.

“If you’ve ever had somebody come to your house and pull out a shiny yellow hand-held device, it’s one of ours,” said Jason Waxman, president of Fluke Corp. Waxman’s friends regularly send him photos of Fluke devices in the hands of plumbers, electricians and other home repair technicians.

Waxman came to the company two years ago from Intel, the semiconductor chip manufacturer.

The two industries share a connection, Waxman said.

Fluke equipment is used to monitor production of the high-tech chips and make sure they’re cooling at the right temperature, “a finicky process,” Waxman said.

Fluke products regularly turn up at museums, national parks and cooking shows.

Museums and art conservators use Fluke light meters to monitor illumination. Too much light — natural or artificial — can damage a painting or art object and cause fading.

“Light levels are crucial for works on paper and textiles,” said Kenneth Be, museum conservator at the New-York Historical Society and frequent Snohomish County visitor.

Chef Roy Choi, co-host of The Chef Show on Netflix, has used a Fluke meter to test the temperature of cooking oil, said Waxman, who tuned in to the program one day and caught sight of the device.

Fluke also played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in Yellowstone Live, a TV miniseries that offered a unique view of Yellowstone National Park.

Researchers used a Fluke infrared camera to record the water temperature of Old Faithful and other park geysers.

“When you look at them with your eyes, you can see the steam and the water, but you never get an idea of how hot they are,” Peter Fison, a producer for Plimsol Productions, told the company.

Because Fluke tools are used in many different industries, its competitors vary from sector to sector, a company spokesperson said.

A display of some of the first Fluke tools on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A display of some of the first Fluke tools on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Company launch

Like many businesses that start small, Fluke was born in the founder’s basement.

John M. Fluke Sr. graduated from the University of Washington in 1935 with a degree in electrical engineering. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As a naval officer during World War II, he tackled electrical problems aboard Navy ships.

In 1948, he founded Fluke Engineering in Connecticut. Its first product was a power supply unit; its first customer was General Electric.

Fluke almost relocated his fledgling company to California. In the early 1950s, David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard, urged Fluke to move his business to Palo Alto, the heart of what would later be known as Silicon Valley.

But Fluke reportedly said he “just wanted to move home.”

Fluke returned to Washington in 1952, and set up shop near the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle.

In 1976, Fluke Corp. moved to Everett.

There the company built a 500,000-square-foot building near Seaway Boulevard.

Fluke Sr. retired in 1983. A year later, he died. His son, John M. Fluke Jr., became CEO, and later board chair.

In 1998, Fluke was purchased by Danaher Corp.

In 2016, the Washington D.C.-based firm split into two companies and created Fortive. That same year, Fortive went public on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol FTV.

The Fortive roster of companies now includes Industrial Scientific Corporation, Provation Software, Advanced Sterilization Products, Gems Sensors & Controls, Fluke Health Solutions and Tektronix, based in Portland.

Fluke Corp. President Jason Waxman shows how to use one of Fluke’s new thermal measuring tools on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fluke Corp. President Jason Waxman shows how to use one of Fluke’s new thermal measuring tools on May 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Strict quality control’

Metrology, the science of measurement, is as old as civilization, Fluke metrologist Gust said.

When ancient traders agreed to exchange an ounce of gold for bushels of wheat, both parties wanted to know they were getting the correct amount and weight, Gust said.

Metrology also served as a platform for architecture.

Construction of the Pyramids of Giza was based on the cubit, a measurement based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the end of the fingers, plus the width of the hand, Gust said.

To ensure uniformity, pyramid workers were issued a wooden cubit stick, while their supervisors were given a granite cubit, Gust told an audience during a 2021 Metrology Day conference.

“Every full moon, everyone had to return their cubit for measurement against the master cubit,” he said. “The failure to return your cubit was punishable by death.

“That was a strict quality control program!” Gust said in jest.

Today, Fluke employs about 35 metrologists.

Thousands of industries depend on accurate measurements.

Ferry workers use Fluke test tools to measure the voltage, current and temperature of the engines and propulsion systems, Waxman said.

Airplane manufacturers and airlines use Fluke instruments to measure a plane’s speed and elevation as a function of pressure.

Their products can also help save lives.

While Fluke doesn’t make defibrillators, the life-saving cardiac devices, it does make analyzers that test to make sure the medical devices are delivering the right amount of energy, Gust said.

“If it delivers too little power, it may not save the person. If it delivers too much, it might burn or injure them,” Gust explained.

When electric vehicle chargers debuted, the only way to determine the amount of energy they dispensed was “to hook up your car,” Waxman said.

Fluke developed a system to ensure that the number of kilowatts you pay for is the number you get.

When the solar industry needed to determine whether solar panels were functioning properly, Fluke developed hand-held testing meters. A good idea — because faulty solar panels can spark rooftop fires.

The company’s metrologists, designers and engineers often job-shadow industry technicians to find out what measurements are required, and how laborious and how long it takes to gather the information, Waxman said.

“Our job is to help professionals do their job fast, accurately and safely,” Waxman said.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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