Utilizing test equipment and instruments to test electronic equipment is vital to ensuring that the equipment functions well. These tools are critical to developing, designing, and producing effective electronic equipment.
Electronic equipment can sometimes fail due to age or not being made properly, so test tools can ensure it’s ready to sell or is still working well. There are several excellent tools available. Below, you’ll find 14 commonly used test instruments for electronic equipment that have proven to stand the test of time.
14 types of test instruments for electronic equipment
Switches test electronic equipment by facilitating signal routing. They do this between the devices and the instruments or units under test.
They’re ideal for general functional tests, radar tests, high-power fault insertion, and semiconductor parametric tests. Platform modules work to integrate with hardware to create a custom system to help test electronic how your equipment is functioning.
There are several types of switches you can use for a variety of electronic equipment. There are optical switches to test optical equipment, matrix switch modules for automated test systems, and relay module switches.
An oscilloscope can measure changes in electric signals over some time. It is used to detect problems in complex circuits and find out where exactly they are located.
When using an oscilloscope, you’ll see a graph on the display screen. The Y-axis shows the device’s voltage and the X-axis shows time. You can choose to use a standalone oscilloscope, or you can turn it into an automated test instrument and integrate it with your standard desktop or laptop computer.
3. GPIB, Serial, and Ethernet
GPIB, serial, and ethernet are interfaces that allow for connection between computers and automated test instruments. The GPIB was initially created by Hewlett-Packard and later on approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, becoming the international standard.
Using these connection interfaces, it’s possible to connect several instruments to a PC, configure them, and collect and analyze all the data produced during the tests at the end.
4. Source Measurement Units
One high-precision and highly accurate test instrument is a source measurement unit. These can simultaneously measure the current and voltage of electronic equipment. These devices source and measure how well the machine is functioning by sourcing and sinking measurements in all four quadrants at the same time. You can use source measurement units to get a flexible yet accurate measurement, where current and voltage span across negative and positive values.
Source measurement units are often used for automatic test equipment, because they feature a USB or GPIB interface that allows them to connect to a PC.
5. PXI Controllers
Remote controllers can help you manage your entire PXI system from your laptop, desktop, or server computer. They have a high-speed data output, long cables, and there are several form factors.
All PXI controllers are remote or embedded. Embedded controllers have all the tools you need to run your PXI system without a server computer, laptop, or desktop.
6. Digital Multimeters
If you’re looking for the most versatile electronic equipment testing device, then digital multimeters are the best choice. Digital multimeters can measure not only current but also resistance, voltage, and other elements of an electronic circuit.
One of the main things for which people use digital multimeters is to measure the continuity between two separate points in a piece of electronic equipment. You can also measure the inductance, temperature, and capacitance of a circuit.
Some of the electronics you can use digital multimeters to test are aerospace production equipment, fuel cells, and other consumer electronics. They come with two probes that you’ll use to connect to the appropriate terminals on a battery. You’ll see the readings on the digital screen, making it very easy to use.
7. PXI Chassis
PXI Chassis is the backbone of the entire PXI system. The best way to understand it is that it’s comparable to a PC desktop’s motherboard and mechanical enclosure. It helps the system cool, communicate, and provide power.
This test tool module provides high-performance cooling and can synchronize to other test tools in the module if you need it to.
You can choose a PXI Chassis with four to 18 slots, which can help fit the needs of any electronic equipment you need to test. Our PXI Chassises are compatible with PXI hybrid modules, express, and standard PXI tools.
If you know anything about test tools for electronic equipment, you may have heard of a megohmmeter but referred to as a “megger.” This is a type of ohmmeter that can help measure insulator electrical resistance.
These devices produce a high voltage level with a battery-powered circuit. The circuit is internal, and the generator is manually operated. The output ranges from 250 to 15,000 volts.
Megohmmeters are used frequently and are very common. They are ideal for testing equipment in circuit breakers, switchgear, cables, and transformers.
9. Power Recorder
One excellent tool that you can use to analyze electronic system conditions is a power recorder. They work by collecting the voltage and current data of electronic equipment. Once the data and voltage are collected, they’re downloaded onto software for analysis.
Power recorders are perfect troubleshooting tools that can locate specific electrical problems. You’ll be able to find voltage flickers, swells, sags, and poor power function of the device. They also help see how much power is used over time, which can be valuable information.
You’ll plug the power recorder directly into the electronic device to gather information. Then once the information is downloaded, you’ll be able to read the results collected in real-time on your PC or another computer.
10. Pulse Generator
Pulse generators are test instruments that are mostly self-explanatory. The tools generate a signal and then create high-voltage pulses. They’re ideal for testing analog and digital circuits by pulsing when circuits are triggered.
The pulses can be issued with varying delays. Sometimes there are specific rise and fall times to show how well the electronics are working.
There are multichannel pulse generators available if you need to test multiple channels simultaneously. They can trigger multiple signals as a result of a single event.
11. Frequency Counter
Frequency counters can be used for a variety of electronic tests, but are most commonly associated with testing radio frequency engineering. These tools will allow you to measure frequency signals and get an accurate reading.
Frequency counters are frequently used and only require you to plug the input cable into the device and turn it on. When you use this tool, you’ll be able to see repetitive signals and measure the time difference between digital and edge signals.
Frequency counters can also act as timers if you perform a simple reconfiguration. Reconfiguring the internal circuits allows you to time the difference between frequency signals and see if they’re functioning correctly or if there are errors.
12. Logic Probes
Logic test probes are versatile and easy-to-use handheld test tools for electronic use. A set comes with two probes in different colors, so you know where to connect each one. Many come with a memory function that can remember four different states. It will detect high, pulse, low, and high-impedance changes in the circuit.
These probes are suitable for troubleshooting and analyzing the digital circuit’s state. They’re also some of the most accessible and affordable tools available for testing electronic equipment.
The one downside to using logic probes is that you won’t be able to record many logic levels unless you have a logic analyzer.
13. Secondary Test Set
If you have a circuit breaker with a microprocessor trip unit, you can test it using a secondary test set. They work by injecting a secondary current into the unit instead of letting it pass through the primary current (like you would with a high current test). Many people use them to defeat any trip unit protection functions of circuit breakers.
The downside to using this test tool is that it only tests for solid-state trip unit logic.
14. Power Factor Test Set
Power factor test sets are comprehensive diagnostic tests for high voltage electronics. They’re ideal for use with circuit breakers, lightning arrestors, rotating machinery, bushings, and transformers.
Sets consist of one high voltage lead, two low voltage leads, and a ground. Power factor test sets come with safety switches and a strobe light for your protection while using the device. You’ll operate them using a computer and USB or ethernet cable.
These test tools measure the current and voltage of a device using an impedance. Every result you see comes from the vector voltage and current—the results factor in power factor, capacity, and power loss. The results are derived from measuring the dissipation factor and capacitance of whatever you’re testing. However, the device can skew results if you’re testing under undesirable conditions like rain.
There is a wide variety of test instruments available on the market today. Different test instruments may be more or less suitable for your needs, depending on the type of electronic equipment you need to test.
Even better than using these instruments individually and offline is to connect them to a PC, turning them into automated test instruments. This way, you’ll be able to detect complex issues and analyze the data collected more efficiently. These instruments are designed to expand your equipment’s capabilities into the future—just be sure you take the time you need to determine which is right for you. Hopefully, this article has helped you narrow down the best tool for your needs!
Daniel is a community manager for NI (formerly National Instruments), where they create the tools needed for companies to Engineer Ambitiously™. His current interests are at the intersection of software engineering and DevOps. Outside of work, he is a marathon runner and is working on his first novel.